Chains

by

Laurie Halse Anderson

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Chains: Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It seems like Becky shakes Isabel awake as soon as Isabel falls asleep. All day, Isabel hurries through her work. Madam is in a mood, too, so she tells Isabel to do things like air the sheets—and then yells at her for airing the sheets on a rainy day. Isabel is relieved that Madam doesn’t want Ruth. Ruth hums as she scrubs the steps, which reminds Isabel of the sound bees make. Isabel keeps an eye out for the rebels—soon, she and Ruth will be sleeping like ladies on a ship bound for Rhode Island. Becky, though, interrupts Isabel’s daydreaming: they have to prepare the drawing room.
There are consequences to running around the city at night: Isabel is exhausted, and that makes it harder to perform her tasks to Madam’s liking. But it seems impossible to please Madam, if she’s telling Isabel to do things and then scolding her for doing as she was asked to do. This speaks to how powerless Isabel is, since Isabel has no standing to suggest it’s perhaps not a great idea to air sheets on a rainy day.
Themes
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The second-floor drawing room is just a big parlor, not an art studio like Isabel thought at first. As she rips sheets off the furniture, Becky mutters that it’s ridiculous that Madam wants the drawing room prepped when there’s no real staff and the city is about to explode. Just then, there’s a beating at the door. Becky leaves Isabel to finish and goes downstairs—and when she opens the door, Isabel’s heart sings. It’s Master Bellingham and patriot soldiers.
Again, Isabel’s provincial upbringing shines through when she expects an art studio; she’s not accustomed to having so many parlors in this expansive city house. Becky is able to voice Isabel’s thoughts about Madam: that what Madam is asking them to do is ridiculous. Because Becky is white and paid, she can say these things. Isabel can’t, as she can’t put herself in danger by seeming upset.
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Madam races downstairs, enraged, as Bellingham’s men start to remove the windows with metal bars. As Master Lockton appears, Bellingham explains that everyone must make sacrifices: the patriots need the lead to make bullets, and it should be an honor for a patriot like Lockton to support the cause. Lockton insists this is an outrage as the soldiers head upstairs, without putting the first-floor windows back. From upstairs, a soldier shouts that they found “it.”
The way that Bellingham speaks to Lockton is mocking and sarcastic—he knows Lockton isn’t a Patriot, and he knows he’s taunting Lockton by suggesting Lockton should be proud to give up the lead in his windows. Then, Isabel realizes that stealing lead from the windows is just a cover story: the soldiers are here for the trunk—presumably, on her intelligence. Freedom seems close at this point.
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Isabel follows everyone upstairs to the Locktons’ bedchamber, where Madam is again sitting on the walnut chest and refusing to let the soldiers open it. Lockton tells his wife that there’s nothing to worry about—and she relaxes and gets up. Isabel watches Lockton smile as a soldier digs through dirty underclothes and nothing else. Isabel knows there’s a false bottom to the chest, but she can’t say anything. Is Bellingham going to blow Isabel’s cover now that it looks like she lied? Bellingham instead arrests Lockton for suspicion of aiding the enemy. He and the soldiers escort him out. Madam watches blankly, tells Isabel to get on with washing the linens, and faints.
Because Isabel is enslaved and therefore powerless, she doesn’t feel safe speaking up about the chest’s false bottom—after all, there’s no way to guarantee that she won’t be punished for betraying her owners. Ultimately, though, Isabel emerges from this experience physically unscathed, though she’s frightened and anxious. Seeing Lockton arrested like this makes the war feel more real—for Isabel and, apparently, for Madam too.
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
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