Laurie Halse Anderson

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Chains: Chapter 31 Summary & Analysis

Isabel wakes up coughing. Outside her window, the fire is as bright as day. The house next door is on fire, and the flames blow right at Lady Seymour’s house. Isabel puts her shoes on, grabs Ruth’s doll, and heads down the stairs, screaming “Fire!” Lady Seymour is just coming out of her room when Isabel passes. She asks Isabel to help her carry a trunk containing her valuables out of the house, but it’s too heavy. Isabel says they must leave, so Lady Seymour opens the trunk. She shoves packets of letters, a portrait of a blond man, and two small boxes at Isabel. Isabel leads Lady Seymour down the stairs through the smoke—but the lady collapses. Isabel drops her doll and the boxes, hauls Lady Seymour up, and drags her to the street.
For Isabel, saving Ruth’s doll is essential. It’s the one thing she has of Ruth’s, and losing it in the fire would be like losing Ruth entirely. But hanging onto the doll becomes more difficult when Lady Seymour insists on saving her own precious belongings. To Isabel, Lady Seymour is being ridiculous—an entire trunk of valuables isn’t worth risking one’s life over. But she also realizes that Lady Seymour deserves to live, even if she’s being irrational, and so helping to rescue some of her valuables is the only way to get the woman out of the house. Losing the doll shows how slavery forces Isabel to prioritize the needs and desires of her white owners over what she wants.
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The sky is swirling with fire and soot. Isabel knows they need to move or die, so she drags Lady Seymour away from the fire. Finally, they collapse at the edge of a graveyard. Isabel comes to her senses some time later. Lady Seymour mumbles about the bells—Isabel realizes she’s asking why the church bells didn’t raise the alarm. The church bells, though, have been melted into cannons. Isabel lifts Lady Seymour, who’s now crying, and helps her down the street. They pass people in their nightclothes—and piles of charred bodies. When they get to the Locktons’ home, they enter through the front door.
Given the horrors that Isabel and Lady Seymour encounter on their walk to the Locktons’, it’s clear that they were extremely lucky to get out of the fire alive—and to have a place to go. They survived because of Isabel’s quick thinking and her commitment to getting Lady Seymour out, no matter the cost. And Isabel did choose to help Lady Seymour when she didn’t have to—she could’ve saved herself. Even though she’s been abused and traumatized by Lady Seymour’s family members, Isabel still believes that the lady deserves to live.
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