After his Last Policeman trilogy, Ben Winters started pondering the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and other deaths caused by racial divisions. Winters decided to take the abstract and metaphorical idea that slavery is still with us in America and make it into a real situation in a fictitious world.
The novel’s plot involves a bright young African-American named Victor who is a bounty hunter for the US Marshal Service. He has a lot of work since slavery is still used in 4 states -- “The Hard Four.” In this case, Victor is tracking down a runaway called Jackdaw. However, Victor feels that the case file, his work, and America all aren’t right.Victor spent his own childhood on a plantation, and on his quest, he works to suppress those memories.
As he gets closer to finding Jackdaw, Victor feels less and less confident with what he is doing.Even though Victor sees himself as a good man doing bad work, he nevertheless continues, only to preserve the freedom he had finally earned. This one wish to stay free reflects the innate greed in humans as well as the ability of the human mind to change ethical boundaries for certain situations.
In creating this hypothetical America, Winters crafted the narrator Victor so intricately and has Victor don so many guises that the reader is able to see how unclearly even Victor himself views his own character. In creating such a complicated character, Winters also emphasizes how prejudice applies to everyone, not just people with a different skin color. Winters recounts that his Jewish ancestors in Czechoslovakia always had to have their papers, and so does Victor in his novel. Authorities could stop people who didn’t seem like citizens in Arizona. This prejudice hurt people of color rather than whites simply because of the innate discrimination that humans harbor. Most recently, this book also draws from this 2016 election cycle. After conflicts and prejudices against all kinds of people, the responses from each of the candidates vividly tells of the history of America’s violence and subjugation.
While America is one of the most successful countries in the world, its history cannot be wiped out or hidden away. Generations of violence and subjugation reflect on present day happenings. Though the Civil War was fought over a century ago, the values and morals it crushed still found a way to take root again and grow in American society, and Winters’s Underground Airlines chooses to confront this issue rather than place it yet again on the back burner.