Chains

by

Laurie Halse Anderson

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Chains: Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On Friday morning, Becky insists that Isabel take Ruth and go watch Thomas Hickey’s hanging. Madam will be fine without the girls’ help, since she’s stayed drunk since Lockton left. Isabel hopes she can get Colonel Regan to escort her to the wharf afterwards, so she agrees to go. She leads Ruth north with everyone else. Ruth clutches her doll as Isabel steers her to where other enslaved people are gathered near the Tea Water Pump. Isabel entertains Ruth with cat’s cradle until they hear people shouting. They stand and look forward. Isabel can pick out Washington and some other notable officers, but not Regan. They’re all in formation, and Isabel feels silly for thinking she could catch Regan privately.
Isabel reads as somewhat naïve as she hopes to be able to leave New York immediately following the hanging. The fact that the army has to follow certain protocols for events like this isn’t obvious to Isabel, in part because it’s not a comfortable thought. It’s far more comforting for her to believe that the Patriots care about her freedom just as much as she does. Ruth is much happier now that she has a doll. Her happy, engaged demeanor contrasts greatly with how agitated she was when Mr. Robert sold them in the tavern—this small comfort seems to have made all the difference.
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
Curzon surprises Isabel by whispering in her ear. He tells Isabel now isn’t the time to ask questions and then lifts Ruth onto his shoulder so she can see, tossing his hat to Isabel. Isabel notices the hat says “James,” but Curzon doesn’t acknowledge Isabel when she says the name. In a whisper, she asks when Colonel Regan will help her. Curzon says the world is changing every day.
The novel doesn’t return to the mystery of why the name James is on Curzon’s hat—but it suggests that Curzon isn’t Curzon’s real name, or perhaps that the hat belonged to a family member named James. Curzon’s identity is a mystery, but because Isabel is so concerned about her own freedom, the novel doesn’t delve into Curzon’s mysterious identity after this.
Themes
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
The drums beat faster and then stop. A guard marches Hickey from the prison to the gallows while the crowd throws rotten fruit and a dead cat at him. A captain cuts off Hickey’s epaulets and buttons, and Ruth stops giggling. A preacher then leads Hickey to the gallows. Curzon says it’s only appropriate that Hickey is crying. Ruth starts to fuss and cover her ears, so Isabel helps her down and holds her close. Isabel watches the hangman tie the rope around Hickey’s neck and read Hickey’s sentence. She closes her eyes when the hangman kicks the bucket away.
Witnessing Hickey’s hanging makes the war real for Isabel and Ruth. While it was possible, more or less, to ignore the bigger goings-on when it was just Lockton shuffling in and out of the house and hosting friends, Isabel now sees that people are dying for one side or the other. Ruth also seems to grasp the gravity of the situation, despite being a small child—she’s starting to grow up, too.
Themes
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon