Chains Summary

Laurie Halse Anderson


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Chains Summary

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Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson is a historical fiction novel based around the time of the American Revolution. It is the first novel in the Seeds of America series. Chains is unique in its portrayal of the revolution, as it is told from the point of view of a slave. The novel takes a different look into the arguably hypocritical nature of the revolution. Patriots fought for freedom—but only for a select few. Chains examines what happens to those people who did not receive freedom during the revolution. Although the novel is fictional, the story delves into events that historically took place.

The novel follows the life of Isabel, a thirteen-year-old slave, who is the property of Miss Mary Finch. Miss Finch has just passed away. Isabel and her sister, Ruth, were promised by Miss Finch they would be set free upon her death. Miss Finch said she would put it in her will. Miss Finch was kind to the girls and taught them how to read and write. Unfortunately, Miss Finch’s brother does not believe Isabel. Also, Miss Finch’s lawyer is stuck in Boston, where a certain uprising has begun over the colonies’ desire for independence. Therefore, Miss Finch’s brother decides to sell the girls to Loyalists in New York, the Locktons.

The Locktons are cruel, especially Mrs. Lockton. As Loyalists, the Locktons are loyal to the British crown as the revolution begins. On Isabel’s first day in New York, she meets Curzon. Curzon is the slave of a patriot officer. He informs Isabel that the Locktons often receive Loyalist information. If Isabel would spy for the patriot cause, it could possibly mean her freedom. Isabel is reluctant at first—she feels her sole purpose is to protect her sister. As the Lockton’s cruelty progresses, the idea of selling secrets for her and Ruth’s freedom becomes more desirable. After finding Ruth crying in Mrs. Lockton’s room, Isabel decides to see what information she can obtain. It is surprisingly easy, as the Locktons do not view their slaves as human beings. They openly discuss Loyalist matters in front of Isabel. Isabel hears about Loyalist funds the Locktons have in their possession. Isabel thinks this is a great opportunity to report to Curzon’s owner.

Isabel is nervous she will be beaten, sold, or killed if she is caught, but she makes the journey anyway. She figures it is worth it for her and her sister’s freedom. The next day, patriot soldiers arrive and search the house. To Isabel’s dismay, Lockton suspected he would be searched, so he hid the money. Lockton is still arrested for possible treason, but due to the influence of his aunt, Lady Seymour, he is released.

The Locktons begin to treat the girls more harshly. Ruth is beaten. Isabel then becomes serious about spying. She finds out the Locktons are taking part in a plan to assassinate General Washington. Isabel decides to hand over this information to the patriot army. With a list of names, Isabel meets Colonel Regan from the army. He promises to look into her case in return for this information. Lockton flees to England as he realizes he has been found out. Ruth begins to have seizures, which causes Mrs. Lockton to believe Ruth is possessed by demons. She decides to sell Ruth and drugs Isabel’s milk so she will not intervene. Incensed, Isabel confronts Mrs. Lockton, who brands Isabel’s cheek with an “I” for insolence. Isabel is miserable. Curzon apologizes that nothing was done in exchange for Isabel’s spying, and notifies her his owner is sending him off to fight for the patriots. Isabel discovers the British will free any slave that helps their cause, so she attempts to offer her help to a British ship. They deny her.

Isabel gets a small reprieve when she is sent to work for the sick Lady Seymour. Lady Seymour and Isabel become close after Isabel saves her from a fire. Most of New York City has been burnt down, so Isabel and Lady Seymour return to the Lockton’s. Soon, the war takes a turn and the British capture Fort Washington. Isabel learns that Curzon is a captive there. She decides to bring him what leftover food she can muster. To Isabel’s dismay, she discovers the other prisoners abuse Curzon for being a slave. She begins spying again, to alleviate Curzon’s experience in prison.

Mrs. Lockton soon finds out about Isabel’s spying and verbally berates her for it. During her tirade, she stuns Isabel by telling her Ruth is still in the Lockton’s possession, just at a different estate of theirs in Charleston. Isabel is infuriated and stands up to her, causing Mrs. Lockton to lock her in a potato bin, threatening to have her drowned. Isabel decides she must make a break for freedom. On the night of the queen’s birthday celebration, Isabel decides to steal the papers that would declare her free. She does so, also stealing a map. She renames herself Isabel Gardener, after fond memories of gardening with Ruth.

Isabel plans to steal a boat to cross to New Jersey and then walk to Charleston. She begins to think of Curzon in prison and realizes he has been her only friend all this time. She decides to help him escape. Pretending to be a prison cleaner, Isabel finds Curzon sick with fever. She tells a guard she believes he is dead, and asks if she can take him outside in a wheelbarrow, to join the mass grave there. He agrees and she makes a run for it, telling Curzon to keep quiet.

Fireworks distract the British soldier, and she makes it to a rowboat. She painfully rows across the Hudson, her body aching. She collapses on the New Jersey shore. Curzon, alive and well, asks where they are. Isabel tells him and asks if he is strong enough to walk. The novel ends there and continues in the second book of the series, Forge.