The Underground Railroad

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John Valentine Character Analysis

John is the owner of Valentine farm and the husband of Gloria. He is light-skinned and passes for white, although he does not hide the fact that he is black among other black people. After escaping the south with his family, John dedicates his life to helping other black people, telling Cora: “White man ain’t going to do it. We have to do it ourselves.” After his farm is destroyed, John and his family resettle in Oklahoma.

John Valentine Quotes in The Underground Railroad

The The Underground Railroad quotes below are all either spoken by John Valentine or refer to John Valentine. 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

Cora had come to cherish the impossible treasures of the Valentine farm so completely that she'd forgotten how impossible they were. The farm and the adjacent ones operated by colored interests were too big, too prosperous. A pocket of blackness in the young state. Valentine's negro heritage became known years before. Some felt tricked that they'd treated a nigger as an equal and then to have that uppity nigger shame them with his success.

Related Characters: Cora (aka Bessie), John Valentine
Page Number: 276
Explanation and Analysis:

One day, while Cora is sitting in the library, John Valentine joins her and the two discuss the future of the farm. Some residents are arguing that the community should move west, while others advocate staying put but kicking out the runaways. Cora is anxious about this latter option, and has expressed her fears to John. While at first Cora had been resistant to feeling too at home at Valentine, she has now settled into life there and forgotten that the premise of the farm—black freedom, self-direction, and happiness—is “impossible” under white supremacy. These thoughts foreshadow Elijah Lander’s speech later in the chapter, in which he encourages Valentine residents to embrace the “delusion” of Valentine, as this is their only hope of achieving freedom and joy in the midst of those who will do everything to destroy the possibility of black success.

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John Valentine Character Timeline in The Underground Railroad

The timeline below shows where the character John Valentine appears in The Underground Railroad. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 10: Indiana
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
There is no consumption of alcohol on Valentine except for on Saturday nights. John Valentine himself has lost count of how many people live on the farm; there are... (full context)
Family, Heritage, and Home Theme Icon
Death and Freedom Theme Icon
Value, Ownership, and Commodification Theme Icon
History, Myth, and Fantasy Theme Icon
...was simply good fortune that his master would agree to such a thing. Sometimes people John Valentine calls “dignitaries”—wealthy people from the north—visit the farm, but there are none there tonight,... (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
John Valentine passes as white, but black people recognize his Ethiopian features. His father, a white... (full context)
Family, Heritage, and Home Theme Icon
Endurance vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Death and Freedom Theme Icon
One day, John joins Cora in the library. Cora is ashamed by her debt to him so she... (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
Cora realizes that she has forgotten how precarious life at Valentine is. She tells John that, the week before, a group of white men yelled vulgar abuse at her and... (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
...There are no white people there, although there are some visitors from neighboring black farms. John begins his speech by explaining that his white-passing privilege allowed him to grow up without... (full context)