The Underground Railroad

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Hob Symbol Icon

When Mabel runs away, Cora becomes a “stray” and is placed in Hob, the cabin for exiled women on Randall. Although the other people living on Randall believe that all Hob women are insane, the only thing that truly unites the women there is their exclusion from the rest of the community. Some have indeed been driven to mental instability by the trauma and violence of slavery, whereas others—like Cora—have simply been labeled as strange and rejected on account of their perceived difference. Being sent to Hob is generally thought of as a curse; many of the residents stay away from Hob women, and there are bizarre rumors spread about them (such as the story that Cora has sex with animals). However, Cora comes to love the other women in Hob and the community they build together. Being labeled insane, in fact, offers a form of protection from violence and hostility. Furthermore, because the decision to run away requires an element of madness, Hob becomes a stepping stone on Cora’s route to freedom. Being cast out of the community allows Cora to dream of casting herself out of Randall and into the terrifying unknown of life on the run. Throughout her journey to freedom, Cora carries the spirit of Hob with her, which encourages her to be brave, rebellious, and fierce.

Hob Quotes in The Underground Railroad

The The Underground Railroad quotes below all refer to the symbol of Hob. 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 2: Georgia Quotes

They were exiles, but Hob provided a type of protection once they settled

in. By playing up their strangeness, the way a slave simpered and acted childlike to escape a beating, they evaded the entanglements of the quarter. The walls of Hob made a fortress some nights, rescuing them from the feuds and conspiracies. White men eat you up, but sometimes colored folk eat you up, too.

Related Characters: Cora (aka Bessie)
Related Symbols: Hob
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

When Mabel left, Cora was placed in Hob, a cabin for women considered strange and mentally unstable. There is a strong stigma attached to being placed in Hob, and most people on Randall believe it is a curse to become a “Hob woman.” However, this passage indicates that there is also a positive side to be being placed in Hob. Because they are labeled as strange and different, Hob women tend to be left alone and spared the “feuds” and dramas that can make life on Randall even more dangerous than it already is. In this sense, Cora’s experience in Hob highlights the fact that there are both positive and negative sides to belonging to a community, just as there are positive and negative sides to being excluded by a community.

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Chapter 8: Tennessee Quotes

At the auction block they tallied the souls purchased at each auction, and on the plantations the overseers preserved the names of workers in rows of tight cursive. Every name an asset, breathing capital, profit made flesh. The peculiar institution made Cora into a maker of lists as well. In her inventory of loss people were not reduced to sums but multiplied by their kindnesses. People she had loved, people who had helped her. The Hob women, Lovey, Martin and Ethel, Fletcher. The ones who disappeared: Caesar and Sam and Lumbly.

Related Characters: Cora (aka Bessie), Caesar, Lovey, Fletcher, Lumbly, Sam, Martin Wells, Ethel Wells (née Delany)
Related Symbols: Hob
Page Number: 215
Explanation and Analysis:

Cora has been captured by Ridgeway, and is now traveling alongside him and his associates, Homer and Boseman. The ride is long, giving Cora a lot of time to reflect. She thinks in lists, imagining an “inventory” of people she has met. This passage highlights the way in which slavery infects people’s minds, encouraging them to assign value to people as if they were objects. However, Cora distorts this way of thinking in a positive sense, turning it into a way of categorizing people’s kindness. During her time on the run, Cora has often been forced to say goodbye to people before she had a chance to develop a real friendship or fully express her gratitude for their assistance. However, she treasures their memories and honors the part they each played in attempting to transport her to freedom.

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Hob Symbol Timeline in The Underground Railroad

The timeline below shows where the symbol Hob appears in The Underground Railroad. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2: Georgia
Family, Heritage, and Home Theme Icon
Endurance vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Death and Freedom Theme Icon
Value, Ownership, and Commodification Theme Icon
History, Myth, and Fantasy Theme Icon
...named Ava grows resentful of Cora and strikes a deal to have Cora placed in Hob. (full context)
Family, Heritage, and Home Theme Icon
Endurance vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Value, Ownership, and Commodification Theme Icon
Brutality and Violation Theme Icon
Hob is where “the wretched” are exiled—enslaved people who have been “broken” either physically or mentally... (full context)
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
After this incident, Cora becomes the most “infamous” resident of Hob. While other Hob women are sold or commit suicide, Cora remains. Cora uses Blake’s doghouse... (full context)
Endurance vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Death and Freedom Theme Icon
Brutality and Violation Theme Icon
History, Myth, and Fantasy Theme Icon
...is the most that any man has spoken to her since she was moved to Hob. Wrestling matches take place, and Lovey comments that she would like to wrestle with a... (full context)
Endurance vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Death and Freedom Theme Icon
Brutality and Violation Theme Icon
There are 7 women in Hob that year. One of them is prone to fits, and another two have been traumatized... (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
Before being placed in Hob, Nag was Connelly’s favorite, “spending most nights in his bed.” Nag was proud of her... (full context)
Endurance vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Death and Freedom Theme Icon
Brutality and Violation Theme Icon
...cage. On the night that Big Anthony’s punishment begins, Caesar comes to visit Cora at Hob, and Cora takes him to talk in the abandoned, rotting schoolhouse. Although previously Cora thought... (full context)
Family, Heritage, and Home Theme Icon
Endurance vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Death and Freedom Theme Icon
Value, Ownership, and Commodification Theme Icon
...but he assures Cora that Fletcher is an honest man. On her last night in Hob, Cora cannot sleep and thinks about her mother. Mabel is a mystery, and Cora feels... (full context)
Chapter 4: South Carolina
Endurance vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Value, Ownership, and Commodification Theme Icon
History, Myth, and Fantasy Theme Icon
...dormitory reserved for “residents with nervous disorders.” Forgetting herself, Cora remarks that 40 is “your Hob.” Cora is sad to leave the Andersons, who were kind employers. At the museum, Cora... (full context)
Chapter 9: Caesar
Family, Heritage, and Home Theme Icon
Endurance vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Death and Freedom Theme Icon
Value, Ownership, and Commodification Theme Icon
History, Myth, and Fantasy Theme Icon
...with another enslaved man, he asked about Cora and was warned to stay away from Hob women. The man tells Caesar about Blake’s doghouse and adds that Cora has sex with... (full context)