The Underground Railroad


Colson Whitehead

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Griffin Building Symbol Analysis

Griffin Building Symbol Icon

The Griffin Building is a 12-story building in the unnamed town in South Carolina where Cora lives in the dormitories. It is the tallest building Cora has ever seen, and one of the tallest in all of the South. Mr. Anderson, Cora’s employer, works in the building managing cotton contracts. Hospital administration takes place in the building and records are also kept there, with files for all of the black dormitory residents. When Cora takes the Anderson children to visit their father, she is stunned by her ride in the elevator, although the children are used to it and pay it no mind. Due to its size and high-tech features, Griffin symbolizes modernity, progress, and the future. The vision of the future that Griffin represents is one of bureaucracy, capitalist wealth, and scientific research. The residents of the town are proud of this vision, believing that Griffin symbolizes their achievements. However, as the novel shows, there is a very dark underside to these aspects of modernity. Bureaucratic laws and record keeping allow the state to maintain control over black people, and the profits made in the South are produced through the exploitation and brutality of slavery. Furthermore, the medical research conducted on black people at the hospital is done without proper consent. Griffin thus comes to symbolize the way in which American progress and modernity is constructed through violence against the black population.

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Griffin Building Symbol Timeline in The Underground Railroad

The timeline below shows where the symbol Griffin Building appears in The Underground Railroad. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4: South Carolina
Family, Heritage, and Home Theme Icon
Value, Ownership, and Commodification Theme Icon
History, Myth, and Fantasy Theme Icon
...Main Street and eyeing the colorful shop window displays. She particularly loves the 12-story Griffin Building, one of the tallest in the whole country. This is where Mr. Anderson works, 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
...her mother is a Randall. Lucy promises to check the statewide records in the Griffin Building. This moment was an anomaly, however; in general, Cora tries not to think about Mabel,... (full context)
Family, Heritage, and Home Theme Icon
Value, Ownership, and Commodification Theme Icon
History, Myth, and Fantasy Theme Icon
...Sam, she manages to get through an unlocked door to the roof of the Griffin Building. Cora looks out at the town, which is in various states of construction, and wonders... (full context)