Summary: Caesar 

This brief chapter tells the story of Caesar leading up to the escape from the Randall plantation. As someone who expected freedom and lived more or less as a free man in Virginia, he cannot abide life on the plantation. After his beating Caesar escapes to the schoolhouse at night to read and think about the time when he had all the books he wanted. He reads from Travels into Several Remote Nations and thinks about how people misuse freedom by forgetting what they have.  Caesar sees something in Cora, her strength and instincts and also her ability to care for others like Lovey and Chester. Caesar also sees that she is both strong and adaptable, a survivor, and that she cares about the things she possesses like her garden plot. Caesar comes to understand that he can only escape with Cora and works to get her to join him.

Analysis: Caesar

In this chapter, Whitehead uses the schoolhouse at Randall as a symbol of the refuge reading and education offers Caesar, an example of the theme throughout the novel of the connection between literacy and freedom. Old Randall had the schoolhouse built for his family, but it has fallen into disuse, symbolizing the intellectual decay of the Randall family. Most enslaved people at Randall use it only as a place for romantic meetings, but Caesar still uses it as a place to take refuge in education. He finds peace there, reading the book he has hidden in the dirt and remembering a time in his life before the plantation. Only Caesar is equipped to use it this way, showing how denying enslaved people the right to literacy denies them mental freedom in addition to physical. Indeed, Caesar notes the absurd and superstitious beliefs men of Randall hold about Cora, an example of how a life of brutal physical labor has stunted their imaginations. The emptiness of the schoolhouse represents the bleakness of life without education.