Chains

by

Laurie Halse Anderson

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Chains: Chapter 42 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The doctor visits Lady Seymour twice daily. The lady’s mind is still sharp, though she can barely move her body. Madam’s seamstress also visits often to work on the red, navy, and gold ballgown. Hannah and Mary talk incessantly about the ball. Isabel hears that at noon, guns will fire a royal salute, the warships in the harbor will respond, and the ball will start at six. At midnight, fireworks will signal the start of the banquet.
Isabel’s tone, and the way she frames the information in this passage, suggests that she’s sick and tired of hearing about the ball. It isn’t something that concerns her—it’s not like she can go, after all. At most, it will get Madam out of the house for a night and give Isabel some peace and quiet.
Themes
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Isabel finishes Common Sense the night before the ball. The words are dangerous, and Isabel knows she should burn the book, but she can’t do it. She commits one line to memory: “For all men being originally equals, no one by birth could have a right to set up his own family in perpetual preference to all others for ever.” She hides the book and lies down, but she can’t sleep. Why can’t she seek freedom if an entire nation can seek freedom? She could steal a pass and act free, but she’d have to sneak past guards and walk for miles. She could row across the river, but they’d shoot her and she’d sink. Isabel curses whoever decided New York should be on an island. 
Isabel might be disillusioned with the Patriots themselves, but their words are still powerful. The line she memorizes essentially says that all men (and she takes “men” to mean people of all sexes) are created equal, and that means that it’s no one person’s right to decide they’re better and can subjugate others. In her mind, essentially, this shows that slavery is immoral, too. This causes her to start thinking about freedom and escape again—but for now, becoming free doesn’t seem likely or possible. 
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Visiting Curzon at the prison and then passing by the tavern where Captain Morse works is, these days, an ordinary errand. Curzon is thin, but healing; and Captain Morse never needs Isabel. So it’s odd when, on the morning of the ball, Morse signals to Isabel and says he needs her to do him a favor: he made a bet with a Captain Farrar that the British wouldn’t hold this “ridiculous” birthday celebration. But the event is on, and officers are confined to their lodgings today—the British fear the Americans would stage an insurrection otherwise—so he needs Isabel to carry a penny to Farrar. Isabel is confused since the task seems so silly, but she figures that Madam will be too busy preparing for the ball to notice Isabel’s absence.
It seems that things are starting to look up if Curzon is healing—and Isabel is clearly still getting away with visiting the prison, no matter what Madam says about it. What Captain Morse says about the ball highlights that the ball is political, not just a fun night out for people. It’s a show of British strength—though the British clearly see it as a potential liability, if they’re keeping Patriot officers on house arrest all day. It seems like there’s more to this bet and the penny than Isabel realizes, which could speak to her youth and naivete.
Themes
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
At midday, Isabel is peeling a turnip when cannons roar outside. She jumps in fear, but Hannah laughs that that was the royal salute. Later, Madam invites a friend for tea. When the friend accepts, Hannah sends Isabel to fetch more water. Isabel does, and she takes a detour to deliver Captain Morse’s penny. Captain Farrar laughs and accepts the penny, and Isabel leaves. But Farrar calls her back and asks her to take a note to Morse. He says it’s not a wager—it’s news. Isabel is annoyed and doesn’t have time to carry the message across town, so she fetches water and heads back to the Locktons’.
There does seem to be something more going on with the penny, though Isabel and readers are kept in the dark as to what it is. Isabel also behaves in this passage like she’s starting to feel as though she has some power over the captains—she’ll carry the note on her terms. She can’t act like this with Madam, for instance; in this situation, Isabel has some leeway to make choices for herself.
Themes
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
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Isabel is still annoyed when she enters the kitchen and puts the water down. Just as she starts to boil water, Madam storms into the kitchen with a riding crop and hits Isabel in the face with it.
It’s a mystery why Madam is suddenly so abusive with Isabel. But her message is clear: she’s not afraid to be violent, and she doesn’t see Isabel as a person who doesn’t deserve to be hit.
Themes
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon