The Underground Railroad

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Arnold Ridgeway Character Analysis

Ridgeway is the son a blacksmith, Ridgeway Sr., who grows up to become a notorious slave catcher. He has a fearsome reputation as a slave catcher, but is also known for his strange personality. He is a fervent believer in “manifest destiny,” the idea that white people have a right (and even a duty) to colonize America and enslave black people in order to construct the country. Ridgway is more honest about the reality of America than many other white characters in the novel, refusing to uphold myths about the country and its history. He is obsessed by his failure to capture Mabel and Cora, and he ends up being killed by Cora in Indiana in a final physical battle that resembles a dance.

Arnold Ridgeway Quotes in The Underground Railroad

The The Underground Railroad quotes below are all either spoken by Arnold Ridgeway or refer to Arnold Ridgeway. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Family, Heritage, and Home Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Doubleday edition of The Underground Railroad published in 2016.
Chapter 3: Ridgeway Quotes

The cotton gin meant bigger cotton yields and the iron tools to harvest it, iron horseshoes for the horses tugging the wagons with iron rims and parts that took it to market. More slaves and the iron to hold them. The crop birthed communities, requiring nails and braces for houses, the tools to build the houses, roads to connect them, and more iron to keep it all running. Let his father keep his disdain and his spirit, too. The two men were parts of the same system, serving a nation rising to its destiny.

Related Characters: Arnold Ridgeway (speaker), Ridgeway Sr.
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

Ridgeway is the son of a blacksmith with a gentle, spiritual personality who disapproves of his son’s decision to become a slave catcher. Ridgeway resents his father’s attitude and believes that his father’s views on slavery are hypocritical, because it is through making the metal chains and tools used on plantations that Ridgeway Sr. is able to make a living. This passage explores the moral problem of existing in an economy that is totally fuelled by slavery. While Ridgeway’s father rejects violence and prefers a peaceful, empathetic view of the world, he nonetheless directly profits from the exploitation of slaves.

By representing slavery as an economic system in which everyone is implicated, Whitehead highlights the fact that racist violence is the product of the overall structure of society, rather than individual acts (although, as Ridgeway himself proves, individuals can play a large role in carrying out particularly heinous acts of brutality). Ridgeway’s comment about America’s destiny suggests that all white settlers are to some extent complicit in slavery, even those who personally oppose it.

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Chapter 12: The North Quotes

On Randall, on Valentine, Cora never joined the dancing circles. She shrank from the spinning bodies, afraid of another person so close, so uncontrolled. Men had put a fear in her, those years ago. Tonight, she told herself. Tonight I will hold him close, as if in a slow dance. As if it were just the two of them in the lonesome world, bound to each other until the end of the song.

Related Characters: Cora (aka Bessie), Arnold Ridgeway
Related Symbols: Dance
Page Number: 302
Explanation and Analysis:

Ridgeway and a gang of white men have descended on Valentine, killing Lander, Royal, and many other residents. Ridgeway has captured Cora and forced her to lead him to the underground railroad station, which Homer overheard Royal mention in his dying words. As Cora shows Ridgeway the station, she draws nearer to him and loops her chains around his neck, holding him close as if they are dancing. This moment highlights Cora’s fearlessness by showing that she has turned her former fears—of dance and of proximity to white men—into a weapon.

In a symbolic sense, Cora’s decision to “dance” with Ridgeway shows that she understands fighting white supremacy requires exploiting white people’s fears and the intimacy with black people on which they (secretly) depend. Furthermore, this passage illustrates the way in which Cora and Ridgeway are a kind of mythic pair of arch enemies whose survival ultimately depends on the death of the other.

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Arnold Ridgeway Character Timeline in The Underground Railroad

The timeline below shows where the character Arnold Ridgeway appears in The Underground Railroad. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2: Georgia
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Endurance vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
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Following Mabel’s disappearance, Ridgeway, an “infamous slave catcher,” visited Randall, accompanied by an associate wearing a necklace of shriveled... (full context)
Chapter 3: Ridgeway
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Value, Ownership, and Commodification Theme Icon
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Ridgeway’s father was a blacksmith who had a “half-breed” friend called Tom Bird. When drunk, Tom... (full context)
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Ridgeway’s father is disapproving of his son’s chosen line of work, but Ridgeway—who is now 18—replies... (full context)
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...laws preventing freemen from being taken back into slavery; however, through quick action and bribery, Ridgeway is able to kidnap many freemen “before the abolitionists had even gotten out of bed.”... (full context)
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On his way back down south, Ridgeway and his gang, wearing the white hoods of the Ku Klux Klan, descend upon the... (full context)
Chapter 4: South Carolina
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...manages to see Sam, who informs her that he’s been trying to tell them that Ridgeway is after them. They decide that Cora should go down to the underground railroad platform.... (full context)
Chapter 6: North Carolina
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...didn’t know anything. The tall man who grabbed Cora from the attic introduces himself as Ridgeway, and says that under the Fugitive Slave Law he has a right to return Cora... (full context)
Chapter 8: Tennessee
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...runaway ad, a 16-year-old biracial girl called Peggy. The narrator then describes Cora’s journey with Ridgeway, during which another captured slave, Jasper, won’t stop singing. Jasper does not have a nice... (full context)
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Boseman has been riding with Ridgeway for three years; their crew used to be bigger, but the other men gradually left.... (full context)
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...the sun from Caesar, Cora notices that they are heading west, not south. She asks Ridgeway where they are going, and he explains that he has orders to find a runaway... (full context)
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...tells Boseman that God will see his sins and judge him accordingly. Without a word, Ridgeway shoots Jasper, and Jasper’s blood and bones splatter onto Cora’s dress. Ridgeway explains that the... (full context)
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...Cora has done nothing to deserve her many misfortunes. A man comes over and informs Ridgeway that the town has been cleared of yellow fever, and traffic resumes as normal. It... (full context)
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...past a freeman, who—rather than looking away when he sees her chains—stares back at her. Ridgeway leads her to a table at a saloon and tells her that the dress suits... (full context)
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Cora requests to use the outhouse, and the moment she shuts the door on Ridgeway is intensely pleasurable. However, he continues to talk through the doorway, telling her that he... (full context)
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...and Boseman is very drunk. If he unshackles her, she will run. However, moments later Ridgeway knocks Boseman to the ground, and Cora is too shocked to move. Before long, another... (full context)
Chapter 10: Indiana
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Back in Tennessee, after leaving Ridgeway and his crew behind, Royal had introduced himself to Cora; the other men were called... (full context)
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...Sam arrives at Valentine, and his reunion with Cora is emotional. Sam tells Cora that Ridgeway found Caesar at the factory before he had a chance to warn him. Despite being... (full context)
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...Valentines survive, eventually resettling in Oklahoma. Cora calls out for Molly, and at this moment Ridgeway grabs hold of her. He is with Homer, who Cora now realizes was in attendance... (full context)
Chapter 12: The North
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...“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... (full context)
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As Ridgeway lies in agonizing pain, he calls for Homer and asks him to write something down... (full context)