Chains

by

Laurie Halse Anderson

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Chains: Chapter 13 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As Isabel is coming down the stairs with Madam’s full chamber pot the next morning, Master Lockton comes in the front door. He clearly doesn’t suspect Isabel of spying and heads upstairs to Madam, who’s frantically packing. When Isabel gets back inside after washing out the pot, she can hear the Locktons shouting and joins Ruth and Becky at the foot of the stairs to listen. They can hear them throwing things, and then Madam cries in pain. Becky explains that Master Lockton wants to be obeyed, and he doesn’t want to go to Charleston. A bit later, the fighting stops, and Isabel takes ale and a cool compress upstairs to Madam. Madam puts the compress on her split lip and scolds Isabel for leaving candle wax on the floor for her to slip on. Isabel apologizes for the crime she didn’t commit.
Madam is the victim of domestic abuse—she’s not as free in her own home as one might expect, given that she’s a wealthy white woman. She still has to obey her husband, and under the standards of the time, it’s within his rights to violently make sure she does. This, of course, doesn’t excuse the abusive way Madam treats Isabel, and this doesn’t mean that Madam has compassion for others. Indeed, she perpetuates a cycle of violence when she scolds Isabel and makes Isabel apologize for a misdeed she didn’t commit, all to make it seem like Lockton didn’t hit her.
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
In the following weeks, Isabel regularly serves Lockton and his friends. Nobody says anything interesting, though Isabel discovers that Lockton suspects one of his friends of exposing him to the patriots. Every day, Becky returns from the marketplace with gossip. Isabel tries to take Momma’s advice to ignore it.
If Isabel is serving Lockton and his male friends, it shows that Lockton trusts her and doesn’t suspect her of spying. Again, this is simultaneously dehumanizing and a relief: Isabel isn’t treated like a person, but she’s not in danger, either.
Themes
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Isabel comes to love her trips to the Tea Water Pump. A week after Lockton returns home, Isabel stands in line with Curzon and gives her buckets to the old enslaved man who works the pump. He has marks on his cheeks from an African coming-of-age ritual, just like Poppa, so Isabel is always very nice to him. Curzon calls the man Grandfather, which shocks Isabel—she didn’t know Curzon had family here. But Grandfather explains that he’s just everyone’s grandfather. 
Isabel wants to connect to her family members, which is why she latches onto Grandfather like this. Grandfather implies that he doesn’t mind this at all: he’s here to support everyone, whether they’re related by blood or not. He will, in other words, be happy to be a chosen family member to other enslaved people, thereby helping ease the pain caused by slavery splitting up people’s families through sales and murder. 
Themes
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
Once Isabel and Curzon are a few blocks from the pump, Isabel asks why nobody has arrested Lockton. Curzon says the patriots need solid proof, like letters or maps. Isabel jokes about procuring the King from the pantry, and Curzon says she’d get a medal for that. Isabel would rather get a fast ship home, but Curzon insists she can’t sail now. She’d be captured by British ships and sold in the islands. Soon, Curzon says, they’ll be free, along with the rest of the country. He warns Isabel that the patriots have more to worry about than two little enslaved girls, but Isabel retorts that she has more to worry about than Curzon’s patriot army.
The differences between Isabel and Curzon start to shine through here. For Curzon, it’s important to support the Patriots because of what they espouse: that all men should be free. For Isabel, the words are nice, but not if the Patriots can’t (or won’t) actually help her. Her main focus is protecting herself and Ruth, and so while she can’t entirely escape politics and the war, she’s choosing to seriously limit her involvement unless it becomes clear that one side or the other can help her.
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
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As it starts to stay light longer, Isabel airs out her and Ruth’s pallet and blanket. She makes Ruth a new doll out of cornhusks. One night, when Isabel is restless, she sneaks out of bed after midnight and sneaks into Lockton’s study. She pulls Robinson Crusoe off a shelf and reads by the fire until she starts to fall asleep. The following night, Isabel plants Momma’s seeds. They’re a comfort, though Isabel doesn’t know what they’ll become.
It helps Isabel to feel competent and like she can protect Ruth when she makes Ruth this doll. Now, Ruth can have the comfort she craves. Planting Momma’s seeds is a way for Isabel to connect with her past—and planting them symbolizes the start of Isabel’s own coming-of-age journey. She doesn’t know what she’ll become—but she’s starting to grow and change, just like the seeds.
Themes
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon