Laurie Halse Anderson

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Chains: Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Isabel is so exhausted that she falls asleep in church the next morning. Things seem normal for the next two days; Master Lockton is busy visiting the mayor, and Madam stays upstairs. Madam insists that only Becky can serve her, since she’s afraid of Ruth. Becky and Isabel don’t keep Ruth away from the milk, they just hurry Ruth downstairs whenever they hear Madam coming. Ruth is oblivious to all of this, but she helps Isabel check the “mystery garden” every morning. The shoots are two hands high now.
For now, Isabel can only hope that Captain Regan is doing something useful with her information. And until she gets confirmation either way, she has to focus on keeping Ruth safe. Becky again shows that she’s an ally as she helps Isabel protect Ruth from Madam. The growing garden symbolizes Isabel’s development—she’s starting to feel more secure and sure of herself.
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
Isabel repeats “ad astra” over and over until it feels like a prayer. Becky’s gossip from the market gets wilder and wilder, and the weather gets even hotter. Two days after Isabel’s visit with Colonel Regan, there’s a pounding on the kitchen door. It’s Goldbuttons, dressed in a cloak. He runs right upstairs to the Locktons’ bedroom—and moments later, Lockton bellows in anger. The plot to kill General Washington has been uncovered. Isabel runs to fetch Madam home from a friend’s house.
Likening “ad astra” to a prayer—that is, to something religious—shows how much Isabel is starting to buy into the Patriot cause (or, at least, what the Patriots can do for her). And when Goldbuttons reveals that the Patriots uncovered the plot, it seems like Isabel’s bet paid off: the Patriots are getting what they want, so soon, she hopes, they’ll help her get to freedom.
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
When Isabel and Madam return, Lockton is pacing. He says he’s sent for a cart, and they must burn all his papers. Madam sends Isabel for firewood—and when Isabel gets back to the library, Madam accuses Lockton of abandoning her. He insists she’ll be fine; she has to stay here so the Patriots don’t steal everything. Madam throws things and refuses to be left behind, but Lockton hits her hard enough to send her tumbling to the ground. He’s going, and it’s her duty to stay. Later, a man arrives and nails Lockton into a crate labeled “cheese.” Once he’s gone, Madam spends the day burning her husband’s papers.
Again, in this passage, Isabel witnesses the uncomfortable fact that Madam isn’t as powerful as one might expect. She’s wealthy and white, but as a woman, she still suffers violence when she tries to stand up for herself and what she wants. Lockton’s selfishness also shines through here—he won’t take Madam with him because he’s afraid of someone stealing all his things in her absence. He’s prioritizing his own belongings over his wife’s wishes, in other words.
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The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Soldiers arrive at dawn and find nothing, so they stomp away. Becky heads for the market, and when she returns, Madam demands to hear the news or gossip. Madam’s face is bruised, and it’s clear she’s sore and hurt. Becky lists the people who were arrested and says that a man named Hickey, who served with Washington, revealed the plot. She insists that Lockton is safe.
So far, it doesn’t seem like Becky, Madam, or the gossip mill know that Isabel played a huge part in Hickey’s arrest and in Lockton needing to leave town. This is important for Isabel, as it means she’s not going to be in danger from Madam—who would no doubt be enraged if she discovered that a person she owns betrayed her husband.
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
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