Colson Whitehead's 2016 novel, The Underground Railroad, tells the story of an enslaved woman, Cora, attempting to escape a Georgia plantation and make her way to freedom by using the underground railroad. Rather than figuring the railroad as a network of people helping Cora move in secret, Whitehead's novel transforms the underground railroad into a real train. This essay considers the effects of the novel's speculative premise in conjunction with its use of satire, focusing on the depictions of the nineteenth-century locations through which Cora moves. While these US states may at first appear to be likewise reimagined spaces, this essay focuses on resonances between the novel's depiction of these places and the real histories of racialized violence that extend beyond emancipation and into the present. The Underground Railroad deploys the poetics of what this essay terms "speculative satire" to reconfigure readers' understanding of these histories. In so doing, the novel uses speculative aesthetics to explore the possibility of reparative justice; this aesthetic mission places the novel in the company of many contemporary writers exploring the poetics of peripheralization. The novel's use of generic fantasy clarifies, rather than obscures, the ways in which violent colonial histories are often overlooked. In this way, it also redirects the usage of the term "fantasy" in criticism, where the genre is often associated with psychic and ideological mystifications. Thus, this essay argues that critics working to account for and redress national and regional fantasies should examine and instrumentalize the poetics of contemporary speculative fiction.


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pp. 82-99
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