Chains

by

Laurie Halse Anderson

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Chains: Chapter 43 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Hannah enters the kitchen as Madam hits Isabel across the shoulder. Madam tells Hannah to stay and then mimics her friend, who saw Isabel talking to Captain Farrar. She says she’s humiliated; Isabel can’t breathe. Madam says her friend saw Isabel accept a note from the officer. She asks for the note and hits Isabel’s forehead so hard it bleeds when Isabel says she doesn’t have a note. Finally, Isabel pulls out the note. Momma always said that everyone contains a bit of evil. Madam has a lot—and now, Isabel feels like her own evil is waking up. She’d like to beat Madam with a poker, but she remembers Momma saying they must fight their evil. Isabel throws the note in the fire.
Everything starts to come crashing down for Isabel here. Madam now knows that she’s spying and carrying notes for the Patriots. But notice that Madam is far more concerned about her reputation than she is for the state of British intelligence. In other words, Madam is upset that Isabel is embarrassing her, not that Isabel seems loyal to Madam’s political enemy. As Isabel flashes on Momma’s advice to fight her evil, she finds the power within herself to resist Madam. Isabel realizes she can fight back with quiet defiance, and that will be more successful than hitting Madam back (which could get Isabel hanged).
Themes
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Enraged, Madam shrieks that she’ll sell Isabel on Monday—and will sell Ruth too. Hannah leaves to answer a knock at the door, and Madam mocks Isabel for her shocked look. Madam spits that nobody would buy Ruth, so she shipped her to Charleston. Now she’ll have the estate manager there toss Ruth in the swamp. Hannah returns; it’s the hairdresser at the door. Madam tells Hannah to lock Isabel in the potato bin and then help her upstairs.
It's a huge revelation that Madam didn’t sell Ruth—it totally changes Isabel’s outlook. But the fact that Madam kept it a secret that she never sold Ruth shows just how cruel and manipulative she is. She seems to know that Isabel lost her will to fight once she thought Ruth was gone forever—and that worked in Madam’s favor, as Madam wants only to crush Isabel’s spirit.
Themes
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
In the potato bin, Isabel bites back screams. She can hear preparations happening all around her and when things go quiet, she hears Hannah coming. Hannah opens the bin and passes Isabel a chamber pot, a blanket, and some water, but she refuses to let Isabel out. Isabel feels like the bees are taking over her body. She must be about to die; then the bees can haunt someone else. But then Isabel hears a roar and realizes it’s coming from inside her. Ruth is alive in South Carolina. Isabel can walk there. Isabel starts to kick at the inside of the potato bin, looking for any wood that might be soft after rain. She kicks a hole in the box and crawls out.
Like so many others in the novel, Hannah is willing to show Isabel some kindness—but in a way that’s not going to get her in trouble. So it ends up still being dehumanizing, since Hannah’s actions suggest she’s still okay with Isabel being locked in a potato bin like this. But in this state, Isabel comes to a realization. She has a purpose now, since she now knows exactly where Ruth is, and it’s theoretically possible to get there. The drive to protect Ruth is strong enough to spur Isabel to keep fighting.
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
Isabel creeps through the silent house to the upstairs drawing room. She digs through the maps on the table until she finds one of the colonies. Charleston is very far away. The crackling fire startles Isabel, and she thinks she sees a ghost, but it’s just her own reflection in the mirror. She doesn’t recognize herself and creeps closer to inspect herself. Her face is thin now, but she has some features that look just like Momma and some that came from Poppa. For the first time, Isabel studies her brand. It’s like a pink ribbon, and it reminds Isabel of the scars on Poppa’s cheek. Those scars made Poppa a man, and Isabel decides her brand is like his. It makes her who she is—and the I stands for Isabel.
As Isabel studies her reflection in the mirror, she realizes that she can’t just ignore or forget her parents’ memories. Momma and Poppa are a part of her—their love, their features, and their blood make Isabel who she is. With this realization, Isabel is also able to reframe the brand on her cheek. She chooses to see it not as a sign of her dehumanization, but as Grandfather encouraged her to do earlier in the novel, as a sign that she survived. And deciding it stands for Isabel is a way for Isabel to assert her identity and her right to live and thrive.
Themes
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Get the entire Chains LitChart as a printable PDF.
Chains PDF
Isabel knows the best way off the island is in a boat. She finds a tide chart and is thrilled to discover that the tide won’t turn for several hours. Then, she digs around for a pass and finally finds one. Isabel writes the date, January 18, first. She hasn’t written in a long time, so her letters are wobbly. But she then has to write her name. She writes Isabel and stops. She’s not a Lockton or a Finch. Should she give herself a last name honoring Momma or Poppa? Isabel thinks of home and of Ruth and decides her last name is Gardener. She writes that she’s a “Free Negro” and has permission to go where she wants. Isabel wishes one of the fancy signatures at the bottom was Queen Charlotte’s. Isabel Gardener now shares a birthday with the queen.
Being literate gives Isabel this opportunity to again assert her identity—and start to take the freedom she knows she deserves. As she chooses her new last name, Isabel honors both her parents and her burgeoning adult identity. Isabel is interested in helping herself and other enslaved people grow, so the name Gardener is a nod to her nurturing side. Noting that today is now her birthday suggests that Isabel sees herself as reborn in this new identity. And despite identifying with the Patriot rhetoric, Isabel is still willing to appreciate the queen.
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
Related Quotes