Laurie Halse Anderson

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Chains: Chapter 41 Summary & Analysis

The next morning, Madam demands hot scones and a seamstress. Queen Charlotte’s birthday ball is in 10 days, and Madam needs a new gown for the occasion. Hannah, who is now the boss in the kitchen, is talking about the ball when Isabel returns from the market. She explains that the Queen herself won’t come; it’s just in her honor. All the rich people in New York will be there. Then, Mary and Hannah argue about whether they’ve seen the Queen.
For Madam, the ball is as exciting for her personally as it is politically. She’ll get to show off her new gown, which feeds into her vain nature and her desire to look wealthier than everyone else. But the ball for the queen is also a show of British power—it suggests they’re secure enough in their position that throwing an expensive party like this isn’t a problem. 
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
After dinner, Lady Seymour suffers a fit. In the morning, the doctor comes and says there’s nothing to do but make her comfortable. Isabel again takes over caring for the lady and hears Madam asking the doctor when Lady Seymour will die. She figures that Madam wants Lady Seymour to die soon, but not before the ball—if that happens, Madam can’t dance since the house will be in mourning. A week before the ball, Madam moves Lady Seymour downstairs so she can have her bedroom back. She tells Isabel to scrub the room and then, when she’s ready to go to bed, asks Isabel to warm the sheets for her four times.
As Lady Seymour’s health worsens, her power to keep Madam in line declines. Moving Lady Seymour downstairs, and then calling Isabel four times to warm the sheets, are ways for Madam to flaunt the power she now has—she can condemn Lady Seymour to life in a living room, and she can demand that Isabel do whatever she wants. The day Madam warned Isabel about—when neither Lockton nor Lady Seymour are around to protect her—seems to be drawing near. 
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
It’s icy the next morning; the linens on the line are frozen. Isabel knows Ruth would love the sparkly ice—and it startles her that she has the thought at all. But Ruth will never see the ice. Isabel tells herself it doesn’t do any good to think of Ruth, Momma, and Poppa, or the life Isabel and Ruth were supposed to live. These thoughts just make Isabel restless and cause her mind to fill with angry bees. She blames Lady Seymour’s confession for the way she’s feeling. Did the lady never think to free Isabel? Isabel would like to ask, but Lady Seymour’s mouth no longer works.
Isabel is starting to heal; thinking of Ruth like this doesn’t seem as traumatizing as it has in the past. But Isabel is uncomfortable with letting herself truly grieve. For now, it’s easier to just try to forget her family and resign herself to being enslaved. Lady Seymour’s confession weighs so heavily on Isabel because Lady Seymour probably did have the power to make a fuss and free Isabel—but she chose not to.
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
As Isabel brings the frozen sheets inside to dry, she thinks of Phillis Wheatley. Momma said that Miss Wheatley’s master freed her when she got famous—he “looked the fool for keeping a poetical genius enslaved.” Isabel has heard of other enslaved people who bought their freedom by working on Sunday afternoons. Madam will never allow Isabel to work.
Isabel can’t even comfort herself by thinking of other ways to secure her freedom. Madam will never willingly free Isabel, and she’ll never let Isabel purchase her freedom. For now, she feels trapped and like it’s useless to even hope for a better life.
Freedom Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
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