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
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.