Laurie Halse Anderson

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Chains: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

The journey on the Hartshorn from Newport to New York takes two days. Isabel and Ruth stay below deck with livestock, three Scottish families, and crates stamped “Lockton and Foote.” Isabel vomits most of the way, but on the second night, she climbs the ladder to look out over the sea. Rhode Island is gone now, and perhaps the ship will sink—or somehow land in a country where people don’t buy and sell children.
That Isabel and Ruth travel with livestock and cargo shows how powerless they are in the colonial system. The Scottish families below deck, presumably poor, show again that just being white doesn’t mean people have the same power that the Locktons have. Isabel thinking about the ship sinking suggests that to her, it may be preferable to die than to be bought and sold—which speaks to how dehumanizing slavery is. 
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According to Momma, ghosts can’t move over water. This is why kidnapped Africans got stuck in the Americas. When Poppa was stolen from Guinea, his ancestors tried to turn the ship around with thunderstorms. They failed and couldn’t follow, so Poppa came alone. Momma’s people were stolen and taken to Jamaica; she was eventually sold to Rhode Island. Her ancestors in Jamaica couldn’t follow her to Rhode Island. Isabel knows Momma is crying now at the water’s edge as her daughters are carried away.
One of the things that’s traumatizing for Isabel as she travels to New York is that she’s been forced to give up her spiritual connection to Momma, since, according to her beliefs, Momma’s ghost won’t be able to follow Isabel and Ruth to New York. This passage also shows more broadly how slavery fractured Black families: it didn’t allow generations to connect, since families were so often separated.
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