The Meaning of Freedom

What We Can Learn From Underground Airlines

In Ben H. Winters’ Underground Airlines, influenced by a number of works including Octavia Butler’s Kindred, we live in a world where the Civil War never happened and slavery continues on in the “Hard Four” states. Our protagonist, Victor, is a slave-turned-free man living in the North. He acts as a bounty hunter, tracking down runaway slaves and handing them over to the US Marshals Service so they can return them to their masters. If you think turning in your own brethren is as messed up as it sounds, imagine how Victor feels.

Somewhere in this city, there was a lonesome runner, terrified and tired and overwhelmed by the sights and lights of the free world, and I was going to find him. Have him dragged home. Home.

But he has to do all he can to survive, which includes convincing himself that this is the non-negotiable price to pay for his freedom.

“I pursued my cases efficiently and effectively, and as long as I did that, my own past remained buried. I remained in the North and free. Give and take. Negotiation and conciliation. Compromise.”

It is clear that despite the legality of his free status, Victor is by no means free. He is still a slave, and his master, The State (sound familiar?). But working a mundane 9–5 job is nothing compared to what Victor must endure. Between chasing his target and running from his past, Victor has little time to feel safe. As hard as he tries, he is still trapped in this world’s spiral of ignorance, prejudice, and hate––a world not unlike ours, today.

Follow Victor as he navigates stifled memories and hidden secrets in the Underground Airlines, now available on Tapas!

Written by Gabrielle Luu, Content Manager