Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Jeffrey Gonzalez

Committee Member

Melinda Knight

Committee Member

Adam Rzpeka


In this thesis I examine how Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad attempts to denounce a system of racial capitalism, but the various tactics used to achieve this are often clouded in an inadvertent participation in this system regardless. I contend that this participation is indicative of a particular reading’s predominance in our current American social context that nevertheless reinforces the racial capitalism the novel attempts to denounce. This inescapable reading is explored in the sections devoted to the various states the protagonist Cora travels to on her journey toward supposed freedom from bondage, as each state represents various iterations of racism she endures. Before that, I explore the debate surrounding the role race plays in American society, as the way in which a reader understands this role deeply impacts how specific moments in the novel are read. I then track the dominant treatment of the neo-slave narrative, where even Whitehead’s potential subversion of it goes easily unnoticed because of the aforementioned reading’s predominance. Lastly, I conclude by arguing that the novel is most richly read when the reader adopts both a sympathy for and awareness beyond racial categories.

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