Laurie Halse Anderson

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Themes and Colors
Freedom Theme Icon
Slavery and Dehumanization Theme Icon
The Personal and the Political Theme Icon
Identity, Memory, and Family Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Chains, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.


Beginning in the spring of 1775, against the backdrop of the Revolutionary War, Chains tells the story of 13-year-old Isabel, an enslaved Black girl. When Isabel’s owner dies, Isabel expects to be freed along with her five-year-old sister, Ruth—her owner’s will dictates that the girls should be freed upon her death. But since the will is missing, Isabel and Ruth are instead sold to wealthy New Yorkers, Master and Madam Lockton, who…

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Slavery and Dehumanization

As a novel about slavery, Chains necessarily dives into the dehumanizing treatment that enslaved people suffered in Colonial America. Isabel, the 13-year-old protagonist, believes at the beginning of the novel that she’ll soon be free from slavery—but since her recently deceased owner’s will (which guarantees Isabel’s freedom) is missing, Isabel is powerless to advocate for herself. Instead, Isabel and her five-year-old sister, Ruth, are sold to the Locktons, a wealthy and cruel New…

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The Personal and the Political

When Isabel, a 13-year-old enslaved girl, first arrives in New York, she cares little about the Revolutionary War brewing around her. All she cares about is protecting her five-year-old sister, Ruth, and securing their freedom as soon as possible. But very soon, Isabel is swept up in the rebel cause, as Isabel’s new friend Curzon promises her that his master will help free Isabel and Ruth if she spies for the Patriots. Isabel…

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Identity, Memory, and Family

When readers first meet 13-year-old Isabel, she feels unmoored and alone without family members to guide her. Though she has her five-year-old sister, Ruth, to care for, the girls lost Momma a year ago to smallpox, and Poppa four years before that when he was murdered at a slave auction. And Isabel’s sense of her own identity is shaken again when, after her owner dies, Isabel isn’t freed as her owner stipulated in…

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