Chains

by

Laurie Halse Anderson

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Chains: Chapter 39 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Two days after Christmas, Isabel accompanies Sarah to the fish market. Sarah is close to giving birth and is uncomfortable, so she needs Isabel to carry the fish home. It’s a struggle to find halibut and as they walk through the market, Isabel thinks about not visiting the prison this morning. She’s still confused about what to do. But Isabel gets lost in thought and loses track of Sarah—and Captain Morse appears. He says he has news just as Isabel spots Sarah heading back for her. Isabel agrees to visit him later and hisses for him to go away.
Captain Morse has treated Isabel and Curzon with kindness, but he seems not to understand that he’s putting Isabel in danger by speaking to her in public like this. Isabel can’t trust Sarah to keep it a secret from Madam if she does notice anything. And just because Isabel has decided physical pain won’t damage her soul doesn’t mean Isabel doesn’t still have a vested interest in keeping herself physically safe.
Themes
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
As Isabel and Sarah head back down the street, Isabel asks if Sarah has heard Madam say anything about her. Sarah says that Madam doesn’t want Isabel fetching water anymore, even though nobody else is awake in the morning to do it. Isabel insists she doesn’t mind, and Sarah says she’d be grateful if Isabel keeps fetching water. She promises not to tell Madam.
Sarah may be more of an ally to Isabel than Isabel thought, if only because she needs the extra help when she’s heavily pregnant. It also seems like Sarah, much like Becky, isn’t totally loyal to Madam and finds Madam demanding and ridiculous. Being white and not technically in Madam’s employ, Sarah has some power to do what she wants here.
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
That afternoon, Isabel overturns the water pitcher. Sarah is suspicious but allows Isabel to fetch more water. Isabel races to Captain Morse, who gives her a loaf of bread—there’s a note baked in, bearing the news that General Washington led a surprise attack on Christmas and beat the Hessians. The war isn’t over. Isabel doesn’t want to carry the note (it could get her in trouble) but ultimately agrees to take it. At the prison, she whispers to Dibdin that there’s a note in the loaf and runs away. Minutes later, cheers erupt from the prison.
Isabel is taking a major risk by carrying the message into the prison. But the cheers that come out of the prison once the men learn what the note says suggests that Isabel isn’t just participating in politics and intrigue—she’s giving the prisoners a reason to stay alive and believe in their cause. The bread, of course, doesn’t hurt either, since the prisoners are still presumably still very hungry.
Themes
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon