Chains

by

Laurie Halse Anderson

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Chains: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Just after the Hartshorn docks in the morning, a sailor brings down some wormy biscuits for Isabel and Ruth, and Madam Lockton shouts for someone to bring the girls to her. A sailor beckons to Ruth and Isabel to follow him onto the deck. There, the girls stare at all the men bustling around—and at the tall buildings built near so many docked ships. There are soldiers, maids, and more Black people than Isabel has ever seen in one place. Beyond the end of the dock, a wagon and then a carriage drawn by gold stallions stop. Isabel leads Ruth along the dock and then stumbles as soon as she reaches solid ground.
New York is like nothing Isabel has ever seen before—it has taller buildings, more people, and specifically more Black people than Isabel has seen in her life. This speaks to how provincial her life was in Rhode Island and makes it clear that Isabel is navigating totally new territory. The carriage drawn by gold stallions is a sign of how wealthy the Locktons are, since they can afford such fancy, matching horses.
Themes
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
Near the carriage, Madam tells two men to take a handsome walnut chest to the carriage, not to the warehouse. But a soldier stops the men and informs Madam that they must inspect all cargo—even personal belongings. Master Lockton assures his wife everything will be okay as a round man he calls Charles bustles out of a wagon. Charles hisses that Lockton shouldn’t have come back at all, and then curses when he sees another man, Bellingham, coming. Following Bellingham is a tall, thin man and an enslaved boy in a red hat. Charles murmurs that Bellingham is desperate to arrest Lockton.
Readers follow Isabel’s experience as she narrates, so much of what’s going on here doesn’t make total sense—it’s unclear who Charles and Bellingham are, for instance, since nobody bothers to explain anything to Isabel. But this also highlights how little Isabel’s white owners think of her: it’s not worth it to explain anything, or to introduce these people to her. Bellingham, at least, reads as somewhat wealthy since he owns an enslaved boy, though he seems to be on the side of the Patriots rather than the Loyalists if he wants to arrest Lockton.
Themes
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
Bellingham greets Lockton as Lockton hisses to his companions to act like “happy rebels.” The enslaved boy sets up a portable writing desk and stool for the thin man to write at as the Locktons exchange pleasantries with Bellingham. Lockton insists to Bellingham that he wasn’t in London; he can’t stand the taxes. But Bellingham responds that according to rumors, the Locktons “still lick the King’s boots.” Madam is offended, but Lockton insists he’s just a merchant—Bellingham won’t find British soldiers stashed in his cargo. In a low voice, Bellingham says the Committee of Safety is certain Lockton is a Tory and therefore an enemy.
Lockton begins this exchange pretending he supports the Patriots’ cause—this seems to be how he’ll get into the city safely, if Charles is right that the Patriots want to arrest him. Bellingham corroborates Charles’s earlier assessment when he accuses Lockton of being a Tory and an enemy. Meanwhile, the enslaved boy setting up this writing desk and stool highlights that at this time, it’s enslaved labor that makes life function—and those enslaved people go unseen. The boy isn’t even named, which speaks to his low status in society.
Themes
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Bellingham tells the soldiers to search the cargo and agrees that Lockton and Madam Lockton can go home. But rather than follow her husband, Madam Lockton asks Bellingham if he has the authority to look through a lady’s private linens. She sits on her walnut chest and insists on taking it with her. Isabel keeps herself from laughing—this is hilarious. Ruth, though, lets out a giggle. Madam Lockton flies at the girls, and when Isabel says she’s the one who laughed, Madam Lockton slaps her so hard that Isabel almost falls. With a sigh, Bellingham tells his soldiers to carry the chest to the Locktons’ carriage. Nobody acknowledges Isabel. She imagines pushing Madam Lockton into the water.
While Isabel understands that it’s essential to never laugh at her white owners, Ruth doesn’t seem to have grasped that yet. And Madam Lockton’s violent slap suggests that she’s not afraid to severely punish the people she enslaves—laughing at her will not be permitted. But though Isabel was just the victim of some shocking violence, notice that nobody else acknowledges what happened or seems to care. As a Black enslaved person, it’s not surprising that she’d be hit. This shows how normalized slavery and its dehumanizing violence is for these characters.
Themes
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
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Instead, Isabel takes Ruth’s hand and follows Master Lockton and Madam Lockton to the carriage. Madam tells the men to put Ruth up with the driver; Isabel can go fetch clean water. Lockton points out that Isabel has no idea where to get water or where home is, but Madam says that Charles will help Isabel. Curzon, the enslaved boy, steps up and offers to help Isabel, since he’s running an errand for Bellingham in the same area. The Locktons agree and warn Isabel to not dawdle. When Isabel doesn’t answer “yes, sir” immediately, Lockton laughs that she might be “simple” too. They drive off, and Isabel kneels to a puddle. With the water, she scrubs the spot where Madam hit her.
While Madam is still in sight, Isabel has no time to acknowledge that she was hit and to nurse her painful slap. It’s not until her owners have left that Isabel is able to scrub off the sting of Madam’s hand. Separating Isabel and Ruth at this point suggests that Isabel might not be able to keep as close an eye on Ruth as she’d like while the Locktons own them—the girls now have very different jobs, and that will keep them in different parts of the house (or town) from now on.
Themes
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon