Chains

by

Laurie Halse Anderson

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Momma/Dinah Character Analysis

Isabel and Ruth’s mother, Momma, died of smallpox about a year before the novel begins. Momma was kind, loving, and extremely protective of her children—according to Isabel, Momma would never let anyone beat Isabel or Ruth. She also made Isabel promise to continue protecting Ruth right before she died. Because of this, Isabel often feels like she’s letting Momma down, since she’s unable to stop Madam from abusing and eventually selling Ruth. But as Isabel matures, she starts to focus less on how she’s letting Momma down and more on taking Momma’s advice to strive to be good and kind. This is why Isabel bakes a bread pudding for a family in Canvastown, and it’s what spurs her to not respond in kind when Madam is “evil” to her.

Momma/Dinah Quotes in Chains

The Chains quotes below are all either spoken by Momma/Dinah or refer to Momma/Dinah. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Freedom Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Atheneum Books for Young Readers edition of Chains published in 2010.
Chapter 3 Quotes

On the hearth stood the jar of flower seeds that Momma had collected, seeds she never had a chance to put into the ground. I didn’t know what they’d grow into. I didn’t know if they’d grow at all. It was fanciful notion, but I uncorked the jar, snatched a handful, and buried it deep in my pocket just as the privy door creaked open.

Related Characters: Isabel (speaker), Momma/Dinah, Mr. Robert Finch, Ruth
Related Symbols: Seeds, Plants, and Gardens
Page Number: 13-14
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

Momma said that ghosts couldn’t move over water. That’s why kidnapped Africans got trapped in the Americas. When Poppa was stolen from Guinea, he said the ancestors howled and raged and sent a thunderstorm to turn the ship back around, but it was too late. The ghosts couldn’t cross the water to help him so he had to make his own way in a strange place, sometimes with an iron collar around his neck. All of Momma’s people had been stolen too and taken to Jamaica where she was born. Then she got sold to Rhode Island, and the ghosts of her parents couldn’t follow and protect her neither.

They kept moving us over the water, stealing us away from our ghosts and our ancestors, who cried salty rivers into the sand. That’s where Momma was now, wailing at the water’s edge, while her girls were pulled out of sight under white sails that cracked in the wind.

Related Characters: Isabel (speaker), Momma/Dinah, Poppa, Ruth
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 23 Quotes

The fire in my face burned on and on, deep through my flesh, searing my soul. Stars exploded out the top of my head and all of my words and all of my rememberies followed them up to the sun, burning to ash that floated back and settled in the mud.

A few people at the edge of the crowd had fallen silent. They walked away with their heads down.

My momma and poppa appeared from the shadows. They flew to me and wrapped their arms around me and cooled my face with their ghost tears.

Night crept into my soul.

Related Characters: Isabel (speaker), Madam Lockton, Momma/Dinah, Poppa
Page Number: 148
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 43 Quotes

Everybody carried a little evil in them, Momma once told me. Madam Lockton had more than her share. The poison had eaten holes through her soul and made room for vermin to nest inside her.

[…]

The evil inside of me woke and crackled like lightning. I could wrap my hands around her throat. I could brain her with a poker, thrust her face into the flames. I could beat her senseless with my fists.

I shook from the effort of holding myself still, clutching the crumpled paper. Momma said we had to fight the evil inside us by overcoming it with goodness. She said it was a hard thing to do, but it made us worthy.

I breathed deep to steady myself.

I threw the Captain’s note into the fire.

Related Characters: Isabel (speaker), Madam Lockton, Momma/Dinah
Page Number: 280-81
Explanation and Analysis:

I was not a Lockton. Nor a Finch. Isabel Rhode Island? That would not do. Isabel Cuffe, after Poppa, or Isabel Dinah, after Momma?

I closed my eyes and thought of home; the smell of fresh-cut hay and the taste of raspberries. Robins chasing bugs in the bean patch. Setting worms to work at the base of the corn plants. Showing Ruth what was weed and what was flower…

I opened my eyes, dipped the quill, and wrote out my true name: Isabel Gardener, being a Free Negro […]

Related Characters: Isabel (speaker), Ruth, Madam Lockton, Momma/Dinah, Poppa
Related Symbols: Seeds, Plants, and Gardens
Page Number: 287
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Chains LitChart as a printable PDF.
Chains PDF

Momma/Dinah Character Timeline in Chains

The timeline below shows where the character Momma/Dinah appears in Chains. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
Since Momma always said that the best time to talk to ghosts is just before sunrise, Isabel... (full context)
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
...hurries past the white graveyard to the Black graveyard, where she picks a few violets. Momma’s grave is marked by a big stone and a wooden cross; she died a year... (full context)
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
Nothing happens. Maybe Momma is angry because Isabel couldn’t bury her properly, but Isabel didn’t know what to do—she... (full context)
Chapter 2
Freedom Theme Icon
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
...run; she’s been sold once before. Ruth was just a baby, and “they” had separated Momma, Ruth, and Isabel from Poppa. The white men beat Poppa when he resisted. (full context)
Chapter 3
Freedom Theme Icon
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
...made her—since nothing else belongs to her. But she grabs a handful of seeds that Momma collected before she died. Who knows what they’ll grow into. (full context)
Freedom Theme Icon
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
...to run, and that she wishes she could help—it’s the least she could do for Dinah, their mother. Jenny explains that she was an indentured servant working on the same farm... (full context)
Chapter 4
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
According to Momma, ghosts can’t move over water. This is why kidnapped Africans got stuck in the Americas.... (full context)
Chapter 10
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
...won’t tell Isabel why she was crying earlier, but Isabel is certain Madam beat her. Momma wouldn’t let anyone beat her children. As Isabel settles Ruth in bed, Ruth asks for... (full context)
Freedom Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
...the gate. She can’t open it—she’ll get in so much trouble. But Isabel silently asks Momma to protect her, opens the gate, and runs. She figures getting to Bellingham’s house and... (full context)
Chapter 12
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
...house and walks around to the back, where there’s a garden with beautiful roses that Momma would love. A maid with the palest skin Isabel has ever seen opens the door.... (full context)
Chapter 13
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
...the patriots. Every day, Becky returns from the marketplace with gossip. Isabel tries to take Momma’s advice to ignore it. (full context)
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
...reads by the fire until she starts to fall asleep. The following night, Isabel plants Momma’s seeds. They’re a comfort, though Isabel doesn’t know what they’ll become. (full context)
Chapter 23
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
...presses the branding iron to her cheek. It seems to burn right into Isabel’s soul—and Momma and Poppa’s ghosts appear and cool Isabel’s cheek with their tears. It feels like night... (full context)
Chapter 24
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
...is on fire. She sees Poppa, but then he turns into another “son of Africa.” Momma visits but then transforms into another older woman from Jamaica. The woman sings and tells... (full context)
Chapter 33
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
One day, Isabel notices that the plants from Momma’s seeds died in the frost. Isabel forgot to care for them. She collects some seeds... (full context)
Chapter 36
Freedom Theme Icon
...She stops when she encounters Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral by Phillis Wheatley. Momma told Isabel about Miss Wheatley, how she was kidnapped in Africa and was later freed.... (full context)
Chapter 37
Freedom Theme Icon
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
...the stationer gave her. It’s by Thomas Paine and is called Common Sense. According to Momma, common sense isn’t common—so it’s special when you find it. The first sentence, though, doesn’t... (full context)
Chapter 38
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
...struggles to decide what to do with her day off on Christmas—Christmas used to mean Momma’s bread pudding and reading the Bible with Momma and Ruth. The memory makes Isabel cry.... (full context)
Freedom Theme Icon
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Everyone is asleep when Isabel gets home. She stokes the fire and remembering Momma’s reminder to “keep Christmas,” slices a loaf of bread. Without thinking, Isabel bakes a maple... (full context)
Chapter 41
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Freedom 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... (full context)
Chapter 43
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Freedom Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 45
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
...the fireworks go off over the river. Isabel drags Curzon to the wharf and thanks Momma as she helps him into a rowboat. (full context)