Chains

by

Laurie Halse Anderson

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Chains: Chapter 36 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Lady Seymour comes down with a fever after the visit to Madam’s friend, so Madam calls the doctor. When the doctor is done seeing to the lady, Madam asks if it would be better for them to move Lady Seymour to their Charleston estate, where it’s warm. The doctor is aghast and insists she’d die early in the journey. Isabel figures that’s exactly what Madam wants. But soon after, the Locktons decide that Isabel will tend to Lady Seymour, and that the lady’s room will be kept hot. This is nice for Isabel, as it means she doesn’t need to wear her too-small shoes.
Especially when the Locktons assign Isabel to caring for Lady Seymour, it seems as though Isabel and Lady Seymour form an alliance of sorts against Madam. Madam doesn’t care for either of them and actively wants Lady Seymour to die—so they have a common enemy. This, however, does show that Lady Seymour’s power is waning. She can no longer bully Madam into being nice.
Themes
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Lady Seymour reads as many newspapers as possible, and Isabel reads what she can when Lady Seymour falls asleep. In this way, Isabel follows the war’s progress. The Patriots are doing poorly; they don’t have enough ammunition, and the Congress have fled Philadelphia. Isabel is stunned when she reads that Newport, Rhode Island, fell to the British. She hasn’t thought of Rhode Island in months.
The opportunity to read helps Isabel hold onto her humanity, as she’s able to read the papers and come to her own conclusions about what’s going on. Realizing she hasn’t thought about Rhode Island in a long time shows Isabel how far she’s come—she’s a different person now than when she left Rhode Island.
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
In the Bridewell, conditions have improved slightly. Civilians have donated some blankets, and the British now give prisoners hardtack biscuits and pork—but the pork is spoiled, and there’s no fire to cook it over. For one visit, Isabel saves her own slice of mince pie for the guard, so he leaves the potato skins and mutton fat for the prisoners. Inside, there are frozen bodies stacked up awaiting burial. Curzon is feverish and refuses to talk.
Even though conditions have improved somewhat for the prisoners, things are still dire: Curzon clearly isn’t doing well, and given the frozen bodies, it seems likely that he could die soon. The improved conditions are also still dehumanizing—not allowing the prisoners to cook their spoiled meat shows how unconcerned the British are for their prisoners’ wellbeing or safety.
Themes
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The next afternoon, Lady Seymour gives Isabel an errand list. Since the lady hasn’t eaten, Isabel suggests she eat a biscuit with honey—but Lady Seymour points out that if she eats less, the prisoners get more food. She warns Isabel that while many people think that feeding prisoners is a Christian thing to do, Madam doesn’t agree. Isabel must be careful.
Lady Seymour doesn’t say it outright, but she implies that she’s one of those who believes it’s good and Christian to feed the prisoners. This also solidifies her alliance with Isabel against Madam, as she’s reminding Isabel that feeding prisoners could be dangerous—and given Lady Seymour’s poor health, it’s unclear how long she’ll be around to protect her.
Themes
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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Isabel takes the list to the stationer’s shop Lady Seymour specified so she can purchase the lady’s books. The shopkeeper is busy studying a pamphlet with a customer, so Isabel browses the books. She stops when she encounters Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral by Phillis Wheatley. Momma told Isabel about Miss Wheatley, how she was kidnapped in Africa and was later freed. Isabel picks up the volume, wondering if she has the skill to read poetry—just as the door closes, startling her.
Phillis Wheatley was the first published Black person in America, and that made her extremely famous—famous enough that even Isabel and Momma have heard about her. For Isabel, Miss Wheatley is a role model. She represents what Isabel could achieve, if only she were allowed to be free and develop her talents rather than do housework as an enslaved person.
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
The young man behind the counter accepts Isabel’s list and says he’s happy Lady Seymour is feeling better. As he wraps the books, he asks if Isabel knew Curzon; Curzon brought Isabel here once and convinced the man to share his rolls. Isabel apologizes for taking the food, but the man says it’s fine—courting the baker’s daughter means more bread. Sadly, he says she now lives in Pennsylvania. Then, he asks if Isabel feeds the prisoners in the Bridewell. Isabel insists she doesn’t and blushes, but the man leans forward and asks her to tell the boys that people are trying to help. Then, he pushes a volume toward Isabel and says it’s for her. He scoffs when she says she can’t read and tells her to pass it on when she’s done.
For Isabel, it’s fraught and anxiety-inducing to speak to the young man about feeding prisoners and about the food he gave her. As far as she knows, most Patriot sympathizers left the city when Becky did, if not before—so she doesn’t expect to encounter any. And before she’s sure of what the man is getting at, she also fears that he might reveal to the Locktons that she’s literate and has been feeding the prisoners, which could jeopardize Isabel’s security. Giving Isabel this book, though, suggests the man realizes the pressure Isabel is under—and he wants to help.
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon