Chains

by

Laurie Halse Anderson

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Chains can help.
Ruth’s Dolls Symbol Icon

Ruth’s baby dolls symbolize the fact that both she and Isabel are innocent children, and the dolls highlight the cruel, dehumanizing treatment the girls endure because they’re enslaved. Ruth is unable to take her original baby doll with her when they’re sold to a couple in New York, as it doesn’t technically belong to her—because they’re enslaved, Ruth and Isabel don’t legally own anything. Ruth cries for weeks about losing her baby doll, something that highlights just how young and innocent she is. She’s just a five-year-old girl who wants her favorite toy, like so many other young children—but because she’s enslaved, Ruth is denied this small comfort. And though Isabel makes Ruth a cornhusk doll to replace the original baby doll, when Madam sells Ruth, Ruth isn’t able to take her new doll with her, either. Again, Ruth is dehumanized and isn’t treated like a real child, deserving of love and a doll to cuddle.

With Ruth gone, Isabel adopts Ruth’s doll as her own. Even though Isabel is much older than Ruth, at 13 years old, she’s still a young girl whose childhood has been stolen from her due to slavery. Just like Ruth, Isabel snuggles the doll, kisses it, and sleeps with it for comfort. When the cornhusk doll is then lost in the massive fire, it symbolizes the end of Isabel’s childhood—and shows again how dehumanizing slavery is, as Isabel loses track of the cornhusk doll because she’s also trying to save Lady Seymour’s prized possessions at the same time. Isabel is essentially forced to prioritize serving the people who own her over her own desires and comfort, and this effectively denies Isabel a childhood.

Ruth’s Dolls Quotes in Chains

The Chains quotes below all refer to the symbol of Ruth’s Dolls. 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 32 Quotes

All I had lost in the confusion was Ruth’s doll. All I had lost was everything.

My bees a’swarmed back into my brainpan. They hummed loud so I need not ponder on the baby doll. The burned-over district looked like the inside of me. It was hard to tell where one stopped and the other started.

Related Characters: Isabel (speaker), Ruth, Lady Seymour
Related Symbols: Ruth’s Dolls
Page Number: 197-98
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Chains LitChart as a printable PDF.
Chains PDF

Ruth’s Dolls Symbol Timeline in Chains

The timeline below shows where the symbol Ruth’s Dolls appears in Chains. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
Freedom Theme Icon
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
...they can collect their shoes and blankets. Isabel can’t take anything else—not even Ruth’s baby doll made of bits of calico, or the bowl Poppa made her—since nothing else belongs to... (full context)
Chapter 10
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
...anyone beat her children. As Isabel settles Ruth in bed, Ruth asks for her baby doll. Isabel reminds her that Mr. Robert stole the doll and promises to make her another... (full context)
Chapter 13
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
...longer, Isabel airs out her and Ruth’s pallet and blanket. She makes Ruth a new doll out of cornhusks. One night, when Isabel is restless, she sneaks out of bed after... (full context)
Chapter 18
Freedom Theme Icon
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
...so she agrees to go. She leads Ruth north with everyone else. Ruth clutches her doll as Isabel steers her to where other enslaved people are gathered near the Tea Water... (full context)
Chapter 19
Freedom Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
...reverend doesn’t have to worry about insulting any rebels. As Ruth plays with her baby doll, Isabel prays to God to let Colonel Regan get them home. The sermon seems to... (full context)
Chapter 28
Freedom Theme Icon
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
...finally slips into the abandoned chandler’s shop and sets her basket on the floor. Ruth’s doll is in the basket. Isabel watches people passing outside and urges the British to land... (full context)
Chapter 30
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
...her for the dry chicken. That night, Isabel puts her head down next to Ruth’s doll, though she no longer kisses the doll goodnight. The next night, Madam makes Isabel stay... (full context)
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
Isabel gathers an apron and Ruth’s doll, and then dawdles on the way to Lady Seymour’s house. She’s heard that Hessians breathe... (full context)
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
...Seymour’s house. Isabel is glad to finally lie down to sleep that night with Ruth’s doll. She can’t bring herself to pray. Hours later, Isabel wakes, and everything is on fire. (full context)
Chapter 31
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
...the flames blow right at Lady Seymour’s house. Isabel puts her shoes on, grabs Ruth’s doll, and heads down the stairs, screaming “Fire!” Lady Seymour is just coming out of her... (full context)
Chapter 32
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
...soot for days and her eyes hurt, but her body is fine. She lost Ruth’s doll—and it feels like she lost everything. Bees swarm back into her brain, humming loudly so... (full context)
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
...one night, Sarah lets Isabel sleep upstairs by the kitchen hearth. It’s lonely without Ruth’s doll. (full context)