The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad Chapter 9: Caesar Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrative cuts back to Jockey’s birthday celebration, when Caesar steals a quiet moment to himself in the schoolhouse. He hopes that this will be the last of Jockey’s birthdays he celebrates, the last time he will experience the sad event of enslaved people searching for “tiny pleasures.” While the enslaved people on Randall don’t know their birthdays (or even, in many cases, their parents), Caesar knows that he was born on August 14th to Lily Jane and Jerome. Caesar thinks about how Cora is able to survive on “the little she called her own,” such as her garden. Once, when Caesar was drinking whisky 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 animals. The man is clearly unintelligent, undone by the misery and trauma of life on Randall. Caesar admires Cora’s beauty through the schoolhouse window.
This passage serves as a reminder of the fact that Cora was initially suspicious of Caesar’s desire to have her accompany his escape, thinking that he thought she was merely a “lucky charm.” In reality, Caesar is deeply impressed by Cora. He admires her uniqueness and the way in which she is able to survive life on the plantation. Not only that, but he also finds her beautiful, and seems to feel romantically attracted to her. Caesar’s connection to Cora contrasts with the opinion of the other man in the scene, who is suspicious of all Hob women simply for the fact that they are different. Caesar is intelligent enough to realize that this difference can be an asset, rather than a liability.
Themes
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
Caesar feels furious at Mrs. Garner, the “old white bitch” who never fulfilled her promise of freeing him. Caesar’s father used to teach him that when he was older, he would be able to do whatever he wanted. However, the truth could not have been more different. Caesar imagines his mother and father being broken by labor on whatever plantation they were taken to. When Caesar approaches Cora, he knows she will say yes even before she does. The fact that Cora shielded Chester during the incident at the dance further proved that she would be essential to Caesar’s plan. After Cora was beaten, Caesar visited the schoolhouse for the first time, holding a book Fletcher had given him in his hands. Merely possessing the book could get Caesar killed, but it is a precious reminder of the future, of possibility, and of freedom. He savors the opportunities to read it, and these brief moments sustain him. He tells himself that as long as Cora comes with him when he escapes, he will be able to find his way home.
This passage further explores the notion that rebellion requires a degree of madness. There are several reasons for this, one of which is that the plantation itself is run on principles that—while they may be internally consistent and coherent—stray so far from the boundaries of decency and morality that it is impossible to make real sense of them. The likelihood of failure during an escape attempt is so high that making such an attempt requires a departure from logic, whether deliberate or not. At the same time, for Caesar, Cora, and many other runaways, being tortured and killed in an escape attempt actually becomes the more logical option, compared with a lifetime of enslavement in the hell of the plantation.
Themes
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