The Underground Railroad

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Mabel Character Analysis

Mabel is Ajarry’s daughter and Cora’s mother. When she is 14, she has a brief romance with Grayson, through which she becomes pregnant with Cora. However, after Grayson dies of a fever before Cora is born, Mabel never mentions his name again. Mabel spends her entire life on Randall before one day running away, leaving Cora behind. Cora resents her mother for what she perceives as this act of selfishness, and is furious that Mabel didn’t say goodbye. At the end of the novel, it is revealed that Mabel did in fact say her own kind of goodbye to Cora, and also that not long after fleeing the plantation, she decided to come back for Cora. However, she only made it a few miles before dying from a snake bite.

Mabel Quotes in The Underground Railroad

The The Underground Railroad quotes below are all either spoken by Mabel or refer to Mabel. 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 4: South Carolina Quotes

Once Mabel ran, Cora thought of her as little as possible. After landing in South Carolina, she realized that she had banished her mother not from sadness but from rage. She hated her. Having tasted freedom's bounty, it was incomprehensible to Cora that Mabel had abandoned her to that hell. A child. Her company would have made the escape more difficult, but Cora hadn't been a baby. If she could pick cotton, she could run. She would have died in that place, after untold brutalities, if Caesar had not come along. In the train, in the deathless tunnel, she had finally asked him why he brought her with him. Caesar said, "Because I knew you could do it."

Related Characters: Cora (aka Bessie), Caesar, Mabel
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:

In South Carolina, Cora is careful to guard the secret of her true identity. However, she is eventually too tempted by the opportunity to ask Miss Lucy to check the records for any information about Mabel. Overall, Cora still feels furious and resentful toward Mabel, particularly now that she has experienced freedom for herself. How could Mabel have left her to suffer and die on Randall? This passage makes clear that Cora has invented her own mythology about Mabel, just as Caesar has his own fantasy about Cora. Cora is convinced that Mabel needlessly and carelessly abandoned her, and Caesar is convinced that Cora would be able to successfully escape. Although these stories both contain kernels of truth, their main purpose is arguably to provide a sense of assurance to Cora and Caesar as they journey through brutal conditions and the terrifying unknown.

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Mabel Character Timeline in The Underground Railroad

The timeline below shows where the character Mabel appears in The Underground Railroad. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Ajarry
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
...that the children are not sold off. The only child who survives is Cora’s mother, Mabel. Eventually, Ajarry dies from a brain hemorrhage while standing in the cotton fields. Ajarry feels... (full context)
Chapter 2: Georgia
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History, Myth, and Fantasy Theme Icon
...land, so do enslaved people fight for small patches of earth to call their own. Mabel tells Cora that Ajarry defended her garden fiercely, threatening to hammer in the head of... (full context)
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Death and Freedom Theme Icon
Value, Ownership, and Commodification Theme Icon
Brutality and Violation Theme Icon
History, Myth, and Fantasy Theme Icon
...Connelly told her to “take a husband,” two since she was raped, and six since Mabel ran away. Since the rape Cora hasn’t received any further attention from men because of... (full context)
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...of the plantation. That night, Cora sits outside, reflecting on the prospect of running away. Mabel never set foot outside Randall until the day she disappeared, never to return. One night,... (full context)
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Following Mabel’s disappearance, Ridgeway, an “infamous slave catcher,” visited Randall, accompanied by an associate wearing a necklace... (full context)
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...seizes the moment to do so. He is the first person to run away since Mabel, and he makes it 26 miles before being caught and returned in an iron cage.... (full context)
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Value, Ownership, and Commodification Theme Icon
...man. On her last night in Hob, Cora cannot sleep and thinks about her mother. Mabel is a mystery, and Cora feels sad and resentful that she left without even a... (full context)
Chapter 3: Ridgeway
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...slaves and slave owners alike. Ridgeway remains troubled for years over his inability to capture Mabel, and thus the chance to chase down Cora fills him with determination. He vows to... (full context)
Chapter 4: South Carolina
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...even with an old man in Cora’s class who “sputtered and choked” through the lesson. Mabel used to explain to Cora that the “half-language” spoken by enslaved people who blend African... (full context)
Chapter 6: North Carolina
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...pleasant house with her husband and two children, a boy and a girl. She imagines Mabel as an old beggar woman to whom she unthinkingly flings a few coins, and she... (full context)
Chapter 8: Tennessee
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...and that Fletcher was discovered too. He asks Cora if it was Fletcher who helped Mabel get to freedom, but Cora doesn’t reply. She attempts to ask Jasper about his life,... (full context)
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...intensely pleasurable. However, he continues to talk through the doorway, telling her that he knows Mabel must be up in Canada laughing at him and that he takes this as a... (full context)
Chapter 10: Indiana
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...asks Sybil if she’s ever met a woman from Georgia who might have called herself Mabel, and Sybil replies she hasn’t. Despite Cora’s lingering anger with her mother, she asks everyone... (full context)
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...Royal has given her. By this point, she has told Royal all about Randall, Ajarry, Mabel, Blake and the doghouse, and the night she was raped. Royal comforted her, saying that... (full context)
Chapter 11: Mabel
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When Mabel was pregnant with Cora, she would apologize to the unborn child for bringing her into... (full context)
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Mabel trips and falls into the water as she flees, taking this opportunity to eat a... (full context)