Chains

by

Laurie Halse Anderson

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Seeds, Plants, and Gardens Symbol Analysis

Seeds, Plants, and Gardens Symbol Icon

The various seeds, plants, and gardens that Isabel encounters symbolize her burgeoning identity, as well as her (and others’) humanity. When Isabel and Ruth are first told that they’re going to be sold after Miss Finch’s death, Isabel looks around for something she can take that will connect her to Momma (most of the things she thinks of don’t technically belong to her, as an enslaved person). She settles on some seeds Momma collected before her death, which Isabel later decides to plant in the Locktons’ bare garden. Isabel doesn’t know what kind of seeds they are, but she figures it’s the only way she can remember Momma and honor her in some small way. When the seedlings perish in the frigid winter before Isabel figures out what they are, at a time when Isabel feels totally lost and dehumanized, it suggests that Isabel will have to find other ways to connect to her family and hold onto her humanity.

While Isabel doesn’t find these attempts very fulfilling for most of the novel, she eventually decides to use her love of seeds and plants to create a name that’s totally hers. When Isabel is preparing to run from the Locktons’ home for the final time in the novel, she must fill out a pass, which will allow her to move freely through the city and escape punishment (enslaved people can’t travel certain places without a pass). In an act of defiance, Isabel refuses to write the name the Locktons’ gave her—Sal Lockton—on the pass. Instead, she takes the opportunity to give herself a last name that will honor her parents: Isabel Gardener. This symbolizes Isabel’s final step of coming of age and deciding who she wants to be: someone who will continue to grow and define her own identity over the course of the next two novels in the trilogy.

Other people’s gardens that Isabel encounters also serve as markers of those characters’ humanity and compassion, or the lack thereof. The Locktons are cruel to Isabel and Ruth, and their bare garden reflects their moral bankruptcy—they don’t feel the need to nurture anything, whether that be other people or plants, since they can buy whatever they need. Lady Seymour, on the other hand, keeps beautiful roses in her garden that Isabel notes Momma would love. The lady’s thriving garden is a sign that she’s caring and kind, and she shows Isabel kindness and compassion throughout the novel. 

Seeds, Plants, and Gardens Quotes in Chains

The Chains quotes below all refer to the symbol of Seeds, Plants, and Gardens. 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 43 Quotes

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:
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Seeds, Plants, and Gardens Symbol Timeline in Chains

The timeline below shows where the symbol Seeds, Plants, and Gardens 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
...bowl Poppa 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)
Chapter 6
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
...with packages and two steaming, buttered rolls. He leads her to a courtyard where a garden is just starting to come up and then offers Isabel the rolls. (full context)
Chapter 7
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
...side of the house. In the back, Isabel finds a cistern, a privy, a sad garden, and a small stable. An angry shout from a small woman startles Isabel’s reverie, but... (full context)
Chapter 12
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
...Trinity Church. Isabel locates the 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... (full context)
Chapter 13
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
...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 17
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
...coming. Ruth is oblivious to all of this, but she helps Isabel check the “mystery garden” every morning. The shoots are two hands high now. (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 from... (full context)
Chapter 34
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
...table scraps to the privy; the Locktons don’t care about spreading scraps on their sad garden. Isabel shivers in the cold, thinking of Curzon. Something inside her shifts, and Isabel stashes... (full context)
Chapter 43
Freedom Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
...or Poppa? Isabel thinks of home and of Ruth and decides her last name is Gardener. She writes that she’s a “Free Negro” and has permission to go where she wants.... (full context)
Chapter 44
Freedom Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
...the clothes she owns and gathers some food, and then she adds Common Sense, her seeds, and her piece of lead from King George’s statue to her pocket. Just as Isabel... (full context)