Chains

by

Laurie Halse Anderson

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Chains: Chapter 37 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As Lady Seymour’s health improves, Isabel no longer spends her days in the lady’s warm chamber. Christmas preparations begin, and Madam crafts a long list of sweets she requires. Isabel is constantly fetching wood and beating eggs. One day the woodpile freezes, and two of the soldiers’ wives, Hannah and Mary, argue about whose turn it is to fetch water from the Tea Water Pump. They’re about to start brawling as Sarah, now heavily pregnant, comes into the kitchen. Meekly, Isabel offers to go early in the morning. The women agree—and now Isabel has an excuse to check on Curzon, since the prison is near the pump.
As the days get colder and Christmas approaches, Isabel’s tasks change, but life proceeds mostly as usual. But even as things around the Lockton home seem normal, Isabel can no longer ignore the fact that Curzon is freezing, hungry, and unwell in the prison. She can’t ignore the impact of the war anymore. So even her mundane tasks like getting water take on a political overtone, as she decides to use the chore as an excuse to make sure Curzon is okay.
Themes
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
The next morning, Isabel heads up the island before the sun rises. But when she gets to the door, a man she’s never seen answers—and says that civilians can’t enter the prison anymore. They can only pass food through the cell windows. Isabel hurries to the back of the prison, where the burial pits and Curzon’s window are. She calls for him, but Dibdin comes to the window. Dibdin says that Curzon is asleep and the sergeant is dead—he’s in charge now. Isabel refuses to pass in the bucket until Dibdin wakes Curzon up. She’s afraid he’s dead.
Since Dibdin was so rude and racist the last time Isabel spoke to him, she has no reason to trust what he says about Curzon. Dibdin doesn’t care about Curzon as a person; indeed, he sees Curzon as an annoying obstacle between himself and more food. But in this situation, Isabel also has some power she didn’t have before—being outside the prison, instead of going through the sergeant, gives her the power to decide whether to hand over the bucket or not.
Themes
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
A moment later, Curzon appears in the window. He’s shivering, clearly ill, and missing his hat. Curzon can’t even hear Isabel, but Dibdin jokes that it’s terrible how disease is ravaging the prison. Isabel ascertains that Curzon’s cellmates are stealing his blanket and his rations, so she curses at Dibdin. Dibdin curses back and says that of course enslaved people will be treated worse than free men—but Isabel can remedy that by passing a message to Captain Morse, who can get a doctor into the prison. Isabel agrees, and men in the cell drape a blanket around Curzon and give him his hat back. Isabel passes scones to Dibdin and says she won’t come back if Curzon dies.
To Dibdin, Curzon’s poor health is a joke—he doesn’t see Curzon as a human being who needs care and compassion. On the outside of the prison, though, Isabel possibly enjoys more power than she ever has, as she can curse at Dibdin without consequence and barter with him so that Curzon is treated better. And significantly, Isabel is only willing to start carrying messages for the Patriots when she knows it’s the only way to help her friend. Once again, politics doesn’t matter to her until it becomes personal.
Themes
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
It’s not hard for Isabel to find Captain Morse. He’s a well-fed man, and he’s enraged to learn how the prisoners are being treated. He also promises that Curzon will receive help, just like the other soldiers. Captain Morse asks for Isabel’s name so he can thank her. Isabel tells him her name is Sal but insists she has no last name (Lockton “taste[s] foul” to her). Back at the Locktons’, she has porridge and tea going by the time the other servants wake up. She vomits later out of fear—the brand makes her recognizable, and she’ll be hanged along with the prisoners and Captain Morse as soon as Madam finds out. But she visits the prison daily from then on.
The British considered Patriot officers to be gentlemen, so they weren’t put in prison like soldiers of lower rank. But despite having this power and privilege, Captain Morse seems more than willing to make sure that Curzon isn’t treated worse than the other soldiers. Introducing herself is a difficult prospect for Isabel, as her legal name isn’t the name she identifies as. Sal Lockton marks Isabel as an enslaved person—and she’s not willing to accept her continued enslavement. 
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
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A few nights later, Lockton and Madam fight. Lockton plans to get the next ship to London, and Madam wants him to either stay or take her. Once they’re finally asleep, Isabel sits by the fire, too cold to sleep. After midnight, Isabel feeds the fire and pulls out the book the stationer gave her. It’s by Thomas Paine and is called Common Sense. According to Momma, common sense isn’t common—so it’s special when you find it. The first sentence, though, doesn’t make any sense to Isabel at all. It takes her four tries to understand what Paine is saying. Isabel desperately wants to sneak Robinson Crusoe out of the library, but she moves on to the second sentence. 
Common Sense was a political pamphlet that argued that the Americans had a moral imperative to oppose British rule, and it was wildly popular in colonial America. But simply having it puts Isabel in danger—the Locktons would surely object to her having this kind of reading material. Though Isabel would rather escape into an adventure story like Robinson Crusoe, the fact that she persists with Common Sense suggests that she’s coming of age. She’s starting to do her own research and figure out where she fits politically.
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon