The Underground Railroad

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Elijah Lander Character Analysis

Lander is a well-educated and distinguished biracial man who travels the country giving political speeches. Just before Valentine farm is destroyed, he gives an impassioned speech advocating racial solidarity and the pursuit of freedom. Unlike Mingo, Lander rejects the idea that black people should promote racial uplift by disassociating with those whom white society deems to be the weak links of the black community, such as runaways, drunks, and “criminals.” Having finished his speech, he is fatally shot while still at the podium.

Elijah Lander Quotes in The Underground Railroad

The The Underground Railroad quotes below are all either spoken by Elijah Lander or refer to Elijah Lander. 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 10: Indiana Quotes

We can't save everyone. But that doesn't mean we can't try. Sometimes a useful delusion is better than a useless truth. Nothing's going to grow in this mean cold, but we can still have flowers. Here's one delusion: that we can escape slavery. We can't. Its scars will never fade. When you saw your mother sold off, your father beaten, your sister abused by some boss or master, did you ever think you would sit here today, without chains, without the yoke, among a new family? Everything you ever knew told you that freedom was a trick-yet here you are. Still we run, tracking by the good full moon to sanctuary.

Valentine farm is a delusion. Who told you the negro deserved a place of refuge? Who told you that you had that right? Every minute of your life's suffering has argued otherwise. By every fact of history, it can't exist. This place must be a delusion, too. Yet here we are.

And America, too, is a delusion, the grandest one of all. The white race believes––believes with all its heart––that it is their right to take the land. To kill Indians. Make war. Enslave their brothers. This nation shouldn't exist, if there is any justice in the world, for its foundations are murder, theft, and cruelty. Yet here we are.

Related Characters: Elijah Lander (speaker)
Page Number: 285
Explanation and Analysis:

At the final meeting of Valentine residents, Mingo has argued for expelling the runaways and “criminals” that live on the farm in order to ensure the farm’s survival and contribute to the project of racial uplift that he argues is only possible through cooperation with and deference to white people. However, in this passage Elijah Lander disputes Mingo’s claims, arguing that while it is true that white supremacy casts black freedom as impossible, it is vital that the residents of Valentine cling on to this “delusion.” Lander’s distinction between useful and harmful delusions is crucial.

The whole foundation of America, in Lander’s view, is a harmful delusion, which, in turn, creates harmful truths. Belief in the necessity and rightness of slavery has created the inescapable reality that no one in America can escape slavery and thus everyone must learn to deal with its consequences. However, this does not mean accepting that enslavement and oppression are the only possible conditions under which black people can live in America. By acknowledging the ugly reality of white supremacy, yet committing to the “impossible” project of black freedom, black people can build a picture of the future on their own terms, a future in which impossible fantasies eventually become reality.

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Elijah Lander Character Timeline in The Underground Railroad

The timeline below shows where the character Elijah Lander appears in The Underground Railroad. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 10: Indiana
Death and Freedom Theme Icon
Value, Ownership, and Commodification Theme Icon
Brutality and Violation Theme Icon
...an “exotic prince.” One night, Royal approaches Cora after they hear a speech by Elijah Lander, a highly-educated biracial man who travels the country giving speeches. Cora admits that she is... (full context)
Family, Heritage, and Home Theme Icon
Endurance vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Death and Freedom Theme Icon
...apparently because he has been feeling ill. Cora asks about the meeting at which Elijah Lander will speak. There is a strong culture of debate on Valentine, initiated by conversations between... (full context)
Family, Heritage, and Home Theme Icon
Death and Freedom Theme Icon
Brutality and Violation Theme Icon
History, Myth, and Fantasy Theme Icon
...Michigan among many grandchildren, insists Mingo is to blame. However, another survivor believes that Elijah Lander was the real target, and that the Valentine community was caught in the crossfire. Joan... (full context)
Family, Heritage, and Home Theme Icon
Endurance vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Death and Freedom Theme Icon
Brutality and Violation Theme Icon
History, Myth, and Fantasy Theme Icon
Sybil tells Cora that Lander has returned to the farm. Sybil admires Lander and is thrilled by his presence, even... (full context)
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
During Mingo’s speech, his daughter has been whispering flirtatiously with Lander. As Lander stands to speak, Royal is excited. He wants the community to move to... (full context)
Family, Heritage, and Home Theme Icon
Death and Freedom Theme Icon
Brutality and Violation Theme Icon
History, Myth, and Fantasy Theme Icon
Suddenly, the atmosphere turns “prickly,” and Lander is shot in the chest. Royal immediately jumps up and runs to Lander, and is... (full context)