Chains

by

Laurie Halse Anderson

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Chains: Chapter 34 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Madam throws a celebratory supper complete with turtle soup. She hires the cook from a well-known tavern and chooses the prettiest of the soldiers’ wives to wait at the tables. Isabel’s job will be to ferry food upstairs and dirty dishes downstairs. Crates of food and turtles start arriving before dawn, and soon after, a hairdresser arrives to do Madam’s hair. Madam tells Isabel to fetch her hot chocolate and then stay in her chamber to tidy, so Isabel watches Madam apply her makeup. After putting white paste over her whole face, Madam carefully glues false eyebrows made of mouse fur over her eyebrows. She then sends Isabel to help seat Lady Seymour at the lavish dining table before the other guests arrive.
The recent British win is the opportunity Madam has been waiting for. Now she can show off her wealth and her power by hosting this lavish supper. The fact she can throw this party at all illustrates just how wealthy she is—food and labor shortages don’t really matter to her. Witnessing Madam applying her makeup (which is comical by today’s standards) gives Isabel the opportunity to offer commentary on Madam’s vanity. Isabel doesn’t see the mouse eyebrows as beautiful, for instance. They more aptly show the absurd lengths Madam is willing to go to in order to make herself look good.
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Midway through bringing up trays of turtle soup, Isabel peeks into the drawing room at the dinner party. Master Lockton is well-dressed, but it’s obvious he’s overworked. Madam’s tall hairdo looks ready to fall at any moment, and Lady Seymour looks like “an elegant spider.” Isabel watches the servers dish up tongue and pour wine and carries tray after tray up the stairs. By dessert, the room is warm, and the heat is melting the glue holding Madam’s mouse eyebrow on—but Madam doesn’t notice.
It’s cathartic and humorous to see Madam seemingly ready to fall apart just when Madam has gotten exactly what she wanted. However, notice that Isabel never offers her own thoughts or judgements on what’s happening to Madam. Emotionally, she’s not in a place to be able to take any pleasure in Madam’s humiliating misfortune.
Themes
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
The men discuss the 3,000 prisoners they took at the recent battle. There are so many prisoners that in addition to housing them at Bridewell, prisoners are also being held in storerooms around the city. One man hopes a plague will kill the prisoners; another suggests they shoot them all first. Lady Seymour suggests they take care of the prisoners, since the Patriots also hold British prisoners. One man jokes that the Patriots would have to capture prisoners first—but everyone goes silent when Lady Seymour notes that the Patriots did just that after their victory at Breed’s Hill.
This conversation makes it clear that Isabel isn’t the only person in colonial America who’s suffering dehumanizing treatment. Wishing a plague on the prisoners, or suggesting just killing them all, is horrifying, as it suggests the speakers here don’t see those prisoners as people, just like them. Lady Seymour’s compassion shines through, though. She’s willing to acknowledge the humanity of all people, even if she doesn’t agree with them.
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Madam changes the subject and raises a toast just as her eyebrow falls into her rice pudding. Isabel continues ferrying food and coffee up and down the stairs until her knees are weak. Finally, the women head to bed and the men split up to play billiards or study their maps. Isabel is tasked with taking the table scraps to the privy; the Locktons don’t care about spreading scraps on their sad garden. Isabel shivers in the cold, thinking of Curzon. Something inside her shifts, and Isabel stashes the bowl of scraps at the back of the yard.
Isabel’s descriptions of climbing the stairs until she can barely climb anymore makes it clear that this is just a fun night for the Locktons and their friends. Isabel is the unseen worker who makes the dinner happen—and being unseen and unappreciated contributes to her dehumanization. Isabel is presumably saving the scraps for Curzon, which suggests that Isabel might have found a reason to keep going—and to start resisting again.
Themes
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
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