"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead, Ajarry - Georgia

Colson Whitehead's novel follows Cora, an enslaved woman, as she travels north in search of freedom. Infused with a hint of magical realism, this harrowing and groundbreaking book won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

Here are links to our lists for the novel: Ajarry-Georgia, Ridgeway-South Carolina, Stevens-North Carolina, Ethel-Caesar, Indiana-The North
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definitions & notes only words
  1. shackle
    restrain with or as if with fetters
    The noxious air of the hold, the gloom of confinement, and the screams of those shackled to her contrived to drive Ajarry to madness.
  2. stymie
    hinder or prevent the progress or accomplishment of
    The sailors stymied her both times, versed in the schemes and inclinations of chattel.
  3. chattel
    personal as opposed to real property
    The sailors stymied her both times, versed in the schemes and inclinations of chattel.
  4. bondage
    the state of being under the control of another person
    In her stories, Isay and Sidoo and the rest somehow bought their way out of bondage and lived as free men and women in the City of Pennsylvania, a place she had overheard two white men discuss once.
  5. gawker
    a spectator who stares openly
    Cora’s grandmother saw a little boy among the gawkers eating rock candy and wondered what he was putting in his mouth.
  6. fetter
    restrain with shackles
    She was branded, not for the first or last time, and fettered to the rest of the day’s acquisitions.
  7. liquidate
    convert into cash
    The diagrams were convincing, but in the end Ajarry was another asset liquidated by order of the magistrate.
  8. plantation
    an estate where cash crops are grown on a large scale
    She learned to quickly adjust to the new plantations, sorting...the layabouts from the hardworking, the informers from the secret-keepers.
  9. pliable
    susceptible to being led or directed
    The trader called upon the tobacco plantation looking for slaves of breeding age, preferably with all their teeth and of pliable disposition.
  10. jibe
    be compatible, similar, or consistent
    The image of her grandmother assaulting another slave didn’t jibe with Cora’s recollections of the woman, but once she started tending to the plot she understood the truth of the portrait.
  11. abject
    most unfortunate or miserable
    Cora curled on the floor of the main room, too afraid to sleep up there with them, those abject creatures.
  12. comport
    behave in a certain manner
    Old Abraham, who was not old at all but who had comported himself in the manner of an elderly misanthrope since he first learned to sit up.
  13. misanthrope
    someone who dislikes people in general
    Old Abraham, who was not old at all but who had comported himself in the manner of an elderly misanthrope since he first learned to sit up.
  14. lascivious
    driven by lust
    Once Cora’s chest started to sprout, Edward, the most wicked of Blake’s gang, bragged of how Cora flapped her dress at him while she made lascivious suggestions and threatened to scalp him when he refused her.
  15. roil
    be agitated
    The soup roiled within the black pot, bits of cabbage chasing around the hog’s head that bobbed up and down, the eye roving in the gray foam.
  16. stewardship
    the position of someone who manages the affairs of others
    The Randall brothers had flipped a coin years ago to determine stewardship of each half of the plantation and in doing so made this day possible.
  17. skittish
    unpredictably excitable, especially of horses
    Cora always arranged the children at the starting line, aiming their feet, calming the skittish ones, and graduating some to the older kids’ race if need be.
  18. caprice
    a sudden desire
    He skipped some years or forgot or decided according to some personal accounting of grievance that the plantation was undeserving. No one minded his caprices.
  19. reverie
    absentminded dreaming while awake
    Sometimes a slave will be lost in a brief eddy of liberation. In the sway of a sudden reverie among the furrows or while untangling the mysteries of an early-morning dream.
  20. countenance
    the appearance conveyed by a person's face
    According to Old Abraham, James favored the mother, stout as a barrel and just as firm in countenance, and Terrance took after the father, tall and owl-faced, perpetually on the verge of swooping down on prey.
  21. reprobate
    a person without moral scruples
    ...if truth be told, the master only half understood, as his tutor had been a reprobate who had been chased from every decent position he had ever held and who decided to make his final posting the canvas for his secret revenge.
  22. addle
    mix up or confuse
    By the time Michael got to Randall, some torture or punishment had addled his senses.
  23. dissemble
    make believe with the intent to deceive
    Crooked Ava had not lost her power to dissemble since her days of harassing Cora—she hooted and stomped as if it were the height of the Christmas celebrations.
  24. caper
    jump about playfully
    Oh, how they capered and hollered, shouted and hopped!
  25. simper
    smile affectedly or derisively
    Chester simpered and bowed down before the white man.
  26. inopportune
    not suitable for a purpose
    Margaret produced awful sounds from her throat at inopportune moments, animal sounds, the most miserable keenings and vulgar oaths.
  27. preen
    pride or congratulate oneself for an achievement
    She became insufferable. Preening, gloating over the ill treatment that she alone escaped.
  28. reckoning
    a personal belief that is not founded on proof or certainty
    By any reckoning these fits were nothing like those she had suffered in her youth.
  29. desultory
    marked by lack of definite plan or regularity or purpose
    The northern and southern halves of the great Randall plantation exchanged slaves all the time, unloading...skulky workers, and rascals on each other in a desultory game.
  30. posse
    a temporary police force
    Patrollers and posses of low whites harassed and bullied.
  31. scavenge
    collect discarded or refused material
    A week passed before the slaves hunted and scavenged in the swamp again. That’s where the food was.
  32. fugitive
    someone who flees from an uncongenial situation
    The fugitives were always clawed back, betrayed by friends, they misinterpreted the stars and ran deeper into the labyrinth of bondage.
  33. mien
    a person's appearance, manner, or demeanor
    He rode up on his horses with his associates, five men of disreputable mien, led by a fearsome Indian scout who wore a necklace of shriveled ears.
  34. sympathizer
    someone who shares your feelings or opinions
    The sympathizers would be rooted out and tarred and feathered, Ridgeway assured his host.
  35. circumnavigate
    travel completely around something
    On horses they circumnavigated the fields, comparing the progress of the harvest on the two halves.
  36. protege
    a person who receives support from an influential patron
    By the time of James’s passing, the Randall sons had cut off social ties with their father’s peers and proteges.
  37. assignation
    a secret rendezvous (especially between lovers)
    Since Randall’s sons had finished their education it was used only for assignations and all those different lessons.
  38. august
    profoundly honored
    On the second day a band of visitors arrived in a carriage, august souls from Atlanta and Savannah.
  39. abolitionist
    a reformer who favors putting an end to slavery
    Abolitionists and sympathizers who came down to Georgia and Florida were run off, flogged and abused by mobs, tarred and feathered.
  40. veracity
    unwillingness to tell lies
    The veracity of their words was another matter, but at least they believed them.
  41. wend
    direct one's course or way
    The three of them wended west, tromping through the black water.
  42. quarry
    animal hunted or caught for food
    Bait laid on the trail, the hog hunters waited for their quarry, which turned nocturnal in the hot weather.
  43. remunerative
    producing a sizeable profit
    The runaways were a different sort of beast but more remunerative.
  44. figment
    a contrived or fantastic idea
    He reeled and she repeated her assault. His groans ceased.
    Time was a figment.
  45. orient
    determine one's position with reference to another point
    He oriented himself with the constellations and the runaways stumbled on, impelled into the night.
  46. maraud
    raid and rove in search of booty
    Patrol bands marauded through the slave villages and ransacked the homes of freemen, stealing and committing assaults.
  47. providence
    the guardianship and control exercised by a deity
    In Virginia, you could smuggle yourself into Delaware or up the Chesapeake on a barge, evading patrollers and bounty hunters by your wits and the invisible hand of Providence.
  48. manacle
    shackle that can be locked around the wrist
    Thousands of them dangled off the wall on nails in a morbid inventory of manacles and fetters, of shackles for ankles and wrists and necks in all varieties and combinations.
  49. abscond
    run away, often taking something or somebody along
    Shackles to prevent a person from absconding, from moving their hands, or to suspend a body in the air for a beating.
  50. lilt
    a jaunty rhythm in music or speech
    He had an odd manner of speech, a queer lilt that reminded Cora of the way those on the plantation sounded after they lost their wits.

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