The Underground Railroad

Ethel Wells (née Delany) Character Analysis

Ethel Wells is Martin’s wife and the mother of their daughter. As a child, she was best friends with an enslaved girl, Jasmine, and dreamed of becoming a missionary. There are hints that she is a lesbian, and she finds her marriage to Martin miserable. At first she treats Cora in a rude and hostile way, however when Cora becomes sick she takes on a more caring attitude, delighted by the chance to live out her religious and romantic fantasies on the incapacitated Cora. She is stoned to death alongside her husband after Cora is discovered.

Ethel Wells (née Delany) Quotes in The Underground Railroad

The The Underground Railroad quotes below are all either spoken by Ethel Wells (née Delany) or refer to Ethel Wells (née Delany). 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:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Doubleday edition of The Underground Railroad published in 2016.
Chapter 7: Ethel Quotes

Ethel thought that a slave was someone who lived in your house like family but was not family. Her father explained the origin of the negro to disabuse her of this colorful idea. Some maintained that the negro was the remnant of a race of giants who had ruled the earth in an ancient time, but Edgar Delany knew they were descendants of cursed, black Ham, who had survived the Flood by clinging to the peaks of a mountain in Africa. Ethel thought that if they were cursed, they required Christian guidance all the more.

Page Number: 192
Explanation and Analysis:
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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 Symbols: Hob
Page Number: 215
Explanation and Analysis:
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Ethel Wells (née Delany) Character Timeline in The Underground Railroad

The timeline below shows where the character Ethel Wells (née Delany) appears in The Underground Railroad. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 6: North Carolina
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...The next time they stop, it is at Martin’s house. On seeing Cora, Martin’s wife, Ethel, tells Martin that he’s going to get them killed. After washing, Cora is ushered up... (full context)
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...any person’s home, and Martin’s house was searched twice before Cora arrived. Martin apologizes for Ethel’s behavior, telling Cora that it is not her fault—however, Cora responds by pointing out that... (full context)
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...all certainly be killed. During the days, Cora listens to Fiona cursing while Martin and Ethel are out. Cora is curious about the Irish community from which Fiona comes, wondering how... (full context)
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...Fiona doesn’t notice is because a friend of hers happens to be visiting. Martin and Ethel fight constantly, and Cora reasons that the only reason Ethel hasn’t turned her in is... (full context)
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...riders arrive at Martin’s house. She listens to the riders speak politely with Martin and Ethel before asking to go upstairs. Martin tells them they don’t go up themselves much as... (full context)
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That night Cora becomes very ill and violently throws up. Ethel cares for her, adopting a newly gentle attitude. Martin and Ethel tell Fiona not to... (full context)
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...happens to them. Jamison appears and tells Martin that Donald would be ashamed of him. Ethel calls out that it was all Martin’s doing and she didn’t know anything. The tall... (full context)
Chapter 7: Ethel
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Value, Ownership, and Commodification Theme Icon
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Ethel always dreamed of being a missionary in Africa, “bringing the savages to the light.” She... (full context)
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By the time Ethel marries Martin, she has lost hope in happiness. She has little interest in men and... (full context)