Chains

by

Laurie Halse Anderson

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Chains: Chapter 19 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On Sunday morning, Isabel is afraid she’ll be stuck in church forever. Trinity is an Anglican church, and the reverend spends a long time talking about the royal family. These days, the church is mostly empty, since so many folks have fled to the country. Everyone left is a Loyalist, so the reverend doesn’t have to worry about insulting any rebels. As Ruth plays with her baby doll, Isabel prays to God to let Colonel Regan get them home. The sermon seems to last forever—but then a boy bursts through the doors and announces that the British have sailed into the harbor.
The war again becomes more real with the announcement that the British have entered the New York harbor. It seems, for the moment, that perhaps the British are gaining the upper hand, since so many rebels have fled and the British are invading. This doesn’t bode well for Isabel, since she’s placed her trust in the Patriots—Colonel Regan may have a harder time helping her now.
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Isabel and Ruth follow Madam and Lady Seymour to look at the docked British ships. Madam is thrilled, but the rebels in the crowd are furious. Several rebels set off cannons. Isabel wonders if she should run for Colonel Regan as a man barks for everyone to go home. But as Isabel turns to follow Madam and Lady Seymour, Ruth freezes—she’s having a small seizure and can’t walk. Isabel begs Ruth to walk and finally picks Ruth up when she goes limp. Madam asks if Ruth’s “ailment” is acting up, but Isabel lies that Ruth is just tired after strenuous chores this morning. Lady Seymour notes that the heat can affect children worse than adults; Ruth should drink water when they get home.
Isabel and Madam’s political differences shine through: for Madam, this is an amazing turn of events. For Isabel, the British invasion might spell the end of her involvement with the Patriots. But Isabel is reminded of what her real goal is when Ruth has another seizure. Lying about what’s going on is a way for Isabel to protect Ruth—Madam would probably be very upset if Ruth had a bigger seizure in public, given how much stigma epilepsy had at this point. Lady Seymour’s assessment, though wrong, is also very generous—she sees Ruth as a child in need of extra care, not as a mere possession and potential liability.
Themes
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
Related Quotes
British ships sail up the river all day and all the next night. Madam tells Isabel to polish the silver; she hopes they can entertain British commanders soon. When Isabel takes dirty tablecloths to a washerwoman in the morning, she discovers that the washerwoman fled the city. Many people have done the same. Isabel sets up to wash the tablecloths herself in the courtyard and gives Ruth a bucket and a pair of stockings to wash. Ruth seems unaffected by her seizure earlier. When she finishes with the stockings, she dumps rocks in the bucket—they’re dirty. Isabel lets her wash the rocks until Ruth puts the muddy rocks in the rinse bucket with a tablecloth. Only then does Isabel realize that Madam has been watching. They have to escape.
Again, it’s clear that the British arrival is amazing for Madam, as she may soon have the opportunity to entertain and regain some semblance of a social life. But things aren’t so great for Isabel, since Isabel now has extra work (due to service people like the washerwoman leaving the city) and feels like she has to keep an extra close eye on Ruth. Isabel is trying hard to let Ruth be a child—washing rocks makes sense to a kid who understands that dirty things should be cleaned, and it’s a way to keep Ruth busy. But with Madam lurking, letting Ruth be a kid like this could be a liability.
Themes
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon