Chains

by

Laurie Halse Anderson

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Chains: Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Mr. Robert takes Isabel and Ruth back to Miss Finch’s house so they can collect their shoes and blankets. Isabel can’t take anything else—not even Ruth’s baby doll made of bits of calico, or the bowl Poppa made her—since nothing else belongs to her. But she grabs a handful of seeds that Momma collected before she died. Who knows what they’ll grow into.
It drives home how powerless Isabel and Ruth are when Isabel notes that she doesn’t technically own anything. Ruth, who’s a small child, can’t even take her baby doll—which shows how dehumanizing slavery is, that a child is denied this small comfort. But Momma’s seeds emerge as a symbol of hope and the future—perhaps Isabel, like the seeds, can grow into something great.
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Several hours later, Mr. Robert reaches Newport. He leads Ruth and Isabel into Sullivan’s Tavern, which is filled with mostly country people and a few rich couples. Everyone is arguing about British soldiers, taxes, and war. Ruth covers her ears. She’s “simpleminded and prone to fits,” and loud places and excitement can bring on the fits. Mr. Robert tells the girls to stand in the corner and approaches the proprietor.
It's still a mystery as to what exactly plagues Ruth, but it’s clear that Isabel has a lot of anxiety surrounding keeping Ruth from experiencing a “fit.” Noting that everyone is talking about British soldiers and the war suggests that the Revolutionary War is a huge concern right now. But Isabel has other things to worry about (like Ruth, and being sold), so the war doesn’t seem as important to her.
Themes
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
The proprietor’s wife, whom a patron calls Jenny, looks familiar to Isabel. Jenny frowns as her husband refuses to let Mr. Robert auction the girls on the tavern’s steps—that’s not considered proper here. Jenny tells Mr. Robert to talk quietly to people, or to put an ad in the paper. Jenny argues with Mr. Robert until her husband tells her to take the girls into the kitchen to get them some food. Mr. Robert only agrees when Jenny says she won’t charge him.
What Jenny offers as supposedly better alternatives to a public auction suggests that she sees slavery as something shameful—it’s not considered appropriate for Mr. Robert to flaunt that he owns two children and is selling them. But note that she still seems okay with him selling Isabel and Ruth in general, so her negative views of slavery only go so far. She does show compassion to the girls, though, when she feeds them for free.
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Related Quotes
In the kitchen, Jenny serves Isabel and Ruth bowls of stew. She tells Isabel that it’s not worth it to run, and that she wishes she could help—it’s the least she could do for Dinah, their mother. Jenny explains that she was an indentured servant working on the same farm as Dinah; Dinah was very nice to her. Isabel quickly explains what’s happening and asks if Jenny could buy her. But Jenny refuses just as her husband enters and says Mr. Robert wants the girls.
Indentured servants were required to work for a set amount of time to pay off debts, after which they could go free. While she was indentured, it seems that Jenny formed close relationships with enslaved people on the farm—but now that she’s free, she’s unwilling or unable to help her former friends become free like her.
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
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Just outside the kitchen, Mr. Robert is standing next to a middle-aged woman in an expensive gown. She asks what’s wrong with Isabel and Ruth; there must be something wrong if they’re so cheap. Mr. Robert explains that he’s dealing with his aunt’s estate. Then, the woman’s husband walks up and asks if Mr. Robert supports the king or the rebellion. When Mr. Robert says he supports the king, the man introduces himself as Elihu Lockton and his wife as Anne. Mr. Robert offers to buy them a meal and discuss the sale, so Isabel and Ruth stand with their backs to the wall and watch them eat.
It's jarring when Anne speaks about Isabel and Ruth’s possible defects as though they’re inanimate objects and can’t hear her—she doesn’t see them as people. There’s no need for her to speak politely about them in front of them, since she doesn’t even see them as human. Making the girls stand and watch the white adults eat is a way for Mr. Robert and the Locktons to flex their power. It’s a reminder that the girls will never eat this well—they can only watch.
Themes
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Mr. Lockton is tall and overweight. He’s a merchant, and he gripes about how much the uprising in Boston is costing him. Missus Lockton clearly hates the food, but Isabel can’t tell what kind of a mistress she’ll be. Finally, the men light their pipes, and Missus Lockton calls Ruth and Isabel forward. She inspects their bodies and asks Isabel what they can do. Mr. Lockton asks why his wife can’t just “procure another indentured girl” in New York, but Missus Lockton snaps that indentured servants just complain and steal. She then asks if Ruth is “simple.” Isabel says Ruth is “a good simple” and does what she’s told. Then, Missus Lockton says she wants the girls—Ruth could be “an amusement in the parlor” and Isabel can help Becky. She tells Isabel to call her Madam.
Mr. Lockton seems pretty ambivalent to slavery. It’s unclear why he feels this way, but he suggests that he’d rather make use of indentured servants than people who are enslaved. Missus Lockton starts to reveal her true colors as she explains why she’d rather buy enslaved people: she can lord far more power over them. And saying that Ruth can be “an amusement in the parlor” suggests that Missus Lockton plans to treat her like a doll, not like a human being. This is dehumanizing for Isabel and Ruth, but they’re powerless to object to being spoken to and about in this way.
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Mr. Robert names his price. Then, Jenny says that she’ll buy Isabel and Ruth. This is unheard of, but she offers to pay cash. Isabel prays to God that Jenny will be able to buy them—but Madam says the girls are a deal at twice Mr. Robert’s asking price. Jenny can’t top it, so she hurries for the kitchen. Lockton deems her behavior disturbing; this is why they need the King’s soldiers to step in. He pays for Isabel and Ruth and asks Mr. Robert to bring them to the ship. As Mr. Robert drops the bag of coins in his pocket, it sounds to Isabel like the sound dirt makes as it falls on a coffin.
It's a huge show of kindness that Jenny offers to buy Isabel and Ruth. But it shows how powerless she is, even as a free white person, when the Locktons prevail anyway. Simply being white doesn’t make her powerful. In the same vein, Mr. Lockton insists that it’s essential for the Colonies to remain under British rule, as that’s the only way to maintain a social structure where someone like Jenny remains powerless. None of this matters much to Isabel, though, since she suspects that being sold to the Locktons is going to be dehumanizing and traumatizing.  
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon