Analysis of Colson Whitehead's 'The Underground'

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"The desk man at the hotel gave him a press packet when he registered, checking his name off a list, but J. hasn't bothered to look at it so he doesn't know what time dinner is," (p. 693). J Sutter's experience in checking into the hotel as a journalist offers telling evidence of the theme of alienation. The imagery that Whitehead uses solidifies the core theme of social alienation. Here, the protagonist's name is disembodied. His name is on the list, legitimizing his status in the society. On the list, he belongs to a group a professional organization. He is accountable to his profession, and yet, the protagonist does not feel a genuine sense of belonging. This trend continues throughout John Henry Days, and is one of the things that characterize the novel as being postmodern. John Henry Days addresses a protagonist who seems completely emotionally detached from his surroundings; and yet his journalistic attitude makes it so that he has keen intellectual insight into what is going on regarding the symbolic meanings of the John Henry symbolism. Similar to John Henry Days, the protagonist of Hamlet experiences alienation too. The machine of commercialization that threatens to erase the complexity of John Henry's identity leaves Pamela to wonder if the "fair, the museum" could have ever occurred "if he was still alive. Or did he have to give up himself for this to happen? The price of progress" (378). Pamela's questions reflect more general anxieties about ideas of

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