Chains

by

Laurie Halse Anderson

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Chains: Chapter 30 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next day, the Locktons agree to house two British soldiers. Isabel is now the only staff in the house—Becky vanished. But it doesn’t matter to Isabel, since she feels empty. Isabel roasts the chicken too long since she polishes silver and irons tablecloths while it’s cooking. It doesn’t matter when Madam scolds her for the dry chicken. That night, Isabel puts her head down next to Ruth’s doll, though she no longer kisses the doll goodnight. The next night, Madam makes Isabel stay up all night making rolls. Isabel ruins two batches and then makes cornbread—but it burns when she falls asleep.
Isabel is shutting down. She no longer has the emotional bandwidth to react to Madam’s anger—and it doesn’t seem worth it to her to seek out small comforts, like kissing Ruth’s doll goodnight. The fact that Isabel has apparently been sleeping with the doll since Ruth was sold, though, shows that Isabel—like Ruth—is still a child who needs comfort. She might be a teenager, but she’s in no way an adult and isn’t yet able to handle her trauma and emotions.
Themes
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
Three mornings later, Isabel carries a note to the Locktons. It’s from Lady Seymour—she needs Isabel’s help, since her Dutch servants left and she has a dozen Hessians staying at her house. Madam says she can’t do the housework herself, but Lockton says they owe Lady Seymour. And hopefully, he says, Madam regrets selling Ruth—it’d be nice to have the extra help right now. Angrily, Madam tells Isabel to clean the kitchen and then leave. But Lockton tells Isabel to leave now.
It's interesting that Lockton scolds Madam for selling Ruth in this moment—it shows his humanity, and it suggests that he has the capacity to be empathetic and kind to the enslaved people he owns. He might be crass and rude, but it seems he is capable of seeing Isabel and Ruth as people—at least when it’s convenient. And now, it’s convenient, as it’s a way for him to also shame his wife and gain some power over her.
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Isabel gathers an apron and Ruth’s doll, and then dawdles on the way to Lady Seymour’s house. She’s heard that Hessians breathe fire and are always covered in blood, so she figures they’re as bad as Madam. She’s somewhat correct: they spit when they talk and eat their meat rare, and their language sounds like eating rocks. Lady Seymour speaks German and tells Isabel that when the men say “Danke,” they’re thanking her. She says they’re just men far away from home—and they like her cat, so they can’t be that bad.
Taking the doll highlights Isabel’s desire to keep Ruth’s memory alive, even if she’s otherwise shut down emotionally. Lady Seymour encourages Isabel to look at the Hessians (German soldiers hired by the British) with compassion. Just as Isabel is far away from home and upset about it, the Hessians are also normal people navigating a totally strange world.
Themes
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
The work at Lady Seymour’s is exhausting, simply because there are so many people to care for. But Lady Seymour makes sure Isabel eats a real meal three times per day, and Isabel sleeps in the attic bedchamber. Lots of people in town grumble, including Lady Seymour. Some Loyalists return to the city to find that soldiers have taken over their houses, but Lady Seymour is upset that the British let one unit’s horses practice in a church. With so many new people in town, Isabel sees few familiar faces at the Tea Water Pump. Grandfather disappears, and five more Hessians move into Lady Seymour’s house. Isabel is glad to finally lie down to sleep that night with Ruth’s doll. She can’t bring herself to pray. Hours later, Isabel wakes, and everything is on fire.
Even if the work at Lady Seymour’s house is difficult, it seems easier for Isabel because Lady Seymour is kind and makes sure she has the food necessary to keep going throughout the day and gets a good night’s sleep. As the conflict starts to get closer, the war becomes more real for Loyalists in town—it’s harder to support the cause when the British are doing things like letting horses into a church, something Lady Seymour no doubt sees as disrespectful. So even Lady Seymour is out for herself in this war: because of her wealth she wants the British to win, but she also takes issue with some of their methods.
Themes
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
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