Chains

by

Laurie Halse Anderson

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Chains: Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Isabel is on the back steps, sharpening dull knives—an extremely boring task. She imagines using a sharp knife to cut right through the ocean so that she and Ruth can walk home on the exposed sand. Ruth is upstairs with Madam; Master Lockton is in his library. Becky is watching General Washington and his soldiers parade down the street. When Becky gets back an hour later, Isabel is still lost in thought—so she doesn’t hear the first time Becky says that Madam wants Isabel in the parlor. Lady Seymour wants to see Isabel. Isabel quickly washes, puts on a clean apron, and follows Becky to the parlor.
Isabel’s tasks during the day are mind-numbingly boring, so she has nothing to distract her from worrying about Ruth. The fact that Becky is watching General Washington parade in town suggests that she might have been lying about being a Tory—though Isabel never specifies if watching parades like this is something everyone does, or if it’s something someone does only when they support whoever’s marching. 
Themes
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
Becky waves Isabel inside. Isabel instantly notices Ruth, who looks like “Madam’s pretty pet.” Ruth also looks like she’s been crying, but she stays silent. Isabel curtseys to Madam and to Lady Seymour, and she gives her name when Lady Seymour asks. Madam deems Isabel a “ridiculous” name; Isabel will go by Sal Lockton from now on. Madam says that Isabel must also wear shoes in the house. At this, Ruth steps forward and says Isabel’s name, but Madam roughly reminds Ruth to be quiet. Madam sends Isabel and Becky away, and she instructs that Isabel should serve the men in the library.
Isabel has been at the Locktons’ for a while now—and so it’s shocking that Madam is only now getting around to asking Isabel’s name. This speaks to how little Madam cares about Isabel. Then, renaming Isabel on the spot heightens the sense that Madam doesn’t care about Isabel as a person and just wants to control her. Madam’s controlling nature shines through when she then reprimands Ruth. 
Themes
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Related Quotes
In the kitchen, Becky pulls down a big silver tray and loads it with food. She fills a second with wine and goblets. Isabel, though, can’t stop thinking about the tears in Ruth’s eyes. Becky insists that Master Lockton won’t care about Isabel being barefoot as she leads Isabel to the library. Inside, two walls are lined with bookshelves, and there’s a painting of horses jumping over a hedge on the third wall. Lockton is entertaining three men. When Madam calls for Becky from the parlor, Lockton tells Becky to go serve his wife. He asks if Isabel knows where the wine is—and Isabel answers that she does. Everyone stares at her; she spoke out of turn. But Lockton just tells Isabel to keep everyone’s plate full.
For Isabel, figuring out why Ruth is crying is the most important thing on her mind right now. But nobody else seems to care that five-year-old Ruth is suffering, which speaks to how dehumanized Ruth and Isabel are by their owners. In the library, Isabel is so distracted that she does the wrong thing by speaking for herself and saying she knows where the wine is. But while Madam might have punished Isabel for this, Lockton seems far less concerned. He seems to see Isabel not as an automaton, but as a person (albeit one he can still boss around without consequences).
Themes
Freedom Theme Icon
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Becky leaves, and Isabel fills the men’s goblets. She then stands in the corner while the men return to their conversation. They’re arguing about whether the King’s soldiers are actually going to invade New York, and Isabel listens carefully. As they argue, one man finishes the meat on his plate, holds up his plate, and grunts at Isabel. Isabel reminds herself that the rules are different here as she reloads the man’s plate and returns to her corner. She’s hungry, so to distract herself, she reads book titles. She wants to read, or to tell the men to take her home. But Lockton sends Isabel to fetch more bread and apricot jam.
This is an odd experience for Isabel, as she starts to see that Curzon is right: her white owners are willing to talk openly in front of her, without any acknowledgement that she may be interested in what they have to say. It’s also shocking to see the man request a refill so rudely—to Isabel, behaving in this way is unheard of. The fact that the man can grunt at her like this shows how privileged he is: he’s so privileged he doesn’t have to be polite to anyone.
Themes
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
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Isabel listens at the parlor door for a moment and, hearing no mention of Ruth, moves on to the kitchen. It takes her too long to slice bread and locate a crock of jam. But just as she returns to the library, she hears Lockton say that “There’s enough money here to bribe half of the rebel army.” Through a crack in the door, Isabel can see Madam’s linen chest open inside—and in it is money. The men are talking about bribing rebels with money and land. Isabel enters, sets the tray down, and goes back to her corner. The men continue to talk; Isabel feels invisible. She knows what she has to do.
Again, it’s shocking for Isabel to get proof of her own invisibility. It’s dehumanizing, but it also gives her an opportunity—provided Curzon was telling the truth about the Patriots being willing to free her and Ruth in exchange for information. This also reveals why Madam was so insistent on not letting Bellingham inspect her chest on the docks; judging from the contents, she’s fully committed to helping her husband and winning the war for the British.
Themes
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon