The Underground Railroad

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The Underground Railroad Chapter 12: The North Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The final chapter of the novel is preceded by a runaway ad for Cora; however, unlike the other ads, this one deviates from the conventional script by announcing: “She has stopped running,” and “SHE WAS NEVER PROPERTY.” The narrator explains that Cora leads Ridgeway and Homer to the underground railroad station. Back on Valentine, she fought and kicked Ridgeway while the farmhouse and library burned in the background. When Ridgeway points a gun at her, she tells him where the station is. Ridgeway looks ill and disheveled. Thinking about Royal, Cora feels full of regret that she rebuked his advances for so long. Ridgeway again tells Cora she’s “going home.” On seeing the station, Ridgeway reflects that while most people think the underground railroad is just a “figure of speech,” he always knew it was real. Ridgeway unshackles Cora and forces her to dig, while Homer snickers. Eventually, she reaches the trapdoor. Ridgeway is the first “enemy” to see the underground railroad with his own eyes. Cora grabs him and they scuffle until Cora manages to throw him down the stairs, leaving his body mangled.
Cora and Ridgeway’s relationship is ultimately depicted as a mythical coupling of a hero and her arch enemy, doomed to be locked into battle until one of them dies. In this sense, Ridgeway symbolizes the entire system of slavery and white supremacy that seeks to deny Cora her freedom at all costs, while Cora symbolizes the spark of black rebellion. Ridgeway has always had a huge advantage over Cora, due to his weapons, his crew of assailants, and the law, but in the end, their struggle becomes a one-on-one battle in which Cora manages to overpower him through cunning and sheer force of will.
Themes
Family, Heritage, and Home Theme Icon
Endurance vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Death and Freedom Theme Icon
Value, Ownership, and Commodification Theme Icon
Brutality and Violation Theme Icon
History, Myth, and Fantasy Theme Icon
As Ridgeway lies in agonizing pain, he calls for Homer and asks him to write something down in his journal. Ridgeway begins to make grandiose statements about “the American imperative,” which Homer copies down. Cora, meanwhile, pushes against the handcar pump with all her might, and eventually manages to roll out of the station. She digs the tunnel as she goes, swinging a pickax into the rock. She stops to sleep for a while, and, upon waking, decides to walk the rest of the way. She sleeps twice again, dreaming of Royal and waking up in tears. Eventually, she finds the tunnel’s opening and emerges into warmth. She can tell from the sun that she has made it north, although she has no idea where exactly. Cora finds a trail and eventually comes across three wagons. One of the drivers, a redheaded Irishman, stops on seeing her and asks if she needs anything. Cora says no, but on seeing another driver—an old black man—she admits to him that she’s very hungry. He gives her some bread and suggests that they catch up. He introduces himself as Ollie, and explains that they are on the way to California. Cora tells him that she is a runaway from Georgia, and wonders what Ollie is running from.
The final passage of the novel is concerned with the mythology of America. The traditional story told of American history is that the country began as a place of refuge for people facing persecution in Europe. However, as Cora’s story shows, the underside to this narrative is that America became a place of persecution for black people. Unlike the European settlers, however, black Americans had no place to escape, and thus became permanent runaways in their own land. Cora’s journey through the underground railroad tunnel is the climax of her fight for freedom—just as it seems to be impossible, she breaks out into the open air and has the good fortune to meet kind strangers. Although little information is given about Ollie, he and Cora form an instant bond through their shared experience of flight.
Themes
Endurance vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Death and Freedom Theme Icon
Brutality and Violation Theme Icon
History, Myth, and Fantasy Theme Icon