Study Guide

Curzon in Chains

By Laurie Halse Anderson


Are you familiar with Gavroche, the young, plucky French Revolution sympathizer from Les Misérables? We think he and Curzon would get along pretty well. They're both proud supporters of rebel causes and neither seems to let their circumstances—be them slavery or poverty—get them down. It's this sense of hope and commitment to independence that causes Curzon to become not just a good friend to Isabel, but a source of encouragement to not lose heart in the midst of her trials.

A Slave That Serves His Country

Curzon is in a highly unique position for a slave. To begin with, he's extremely aware of the political situation between the Loyalists and Patriots in New York. Hold on a sec… Wouldn't everyone know the details of a major war going down in their backyard? You would think so, but recall that later in the book, Lockton mocks Isabel's interest in politics, calling it "quaint" that the slaves have opinions (29.7). Curzon not only has opinions about the conflict, but actually spies for Bellingham by keeping his eyes open for subversive Loyalist activities.

The fact that Curzon actually enlists in the Patriot army also speaks volumes about his involvement with the revolution. While many slaves joined the army in place of their masters in exchange for freedom, gaining independence for himself isn't Curzon's sole objective. When he approaches the other slaves at the water pump with this news, he declares that he is "an American […] An American soldier" (26.26). Curzon sees his status as a slave as incidental, then, and feels ownership of the cause he fights for. He self-identifies as an American soldier.

Faithful in Friendship

Curzon's relationship with Isabel goes beyond enlisting her service as a spy, though. He also seeks out her attention because he genuinely cares for her. During their first meeting, as he walks her to the Locktons' and shows her the Tea Water Pump, he stops at the bookshop and returns with two hot rolls. He then allows Isabel to eat both of them, saying he isn't hungry.

It isn't until much later, when Curzon is taken prisoner with the Fort Washington army, that Isabel revisits the bookstore for Lady Seymour and learns the truth. The bookseller tells her that Curzon "pointed to you out the window […] Told me you were likely to die from hunger if I didn't help" (36.50). From the get-go, then, Curzon has paid attention to—and tended to—Isabel.

And he doesn't quit doing so. For instance, when Isabel awakens at Lady Seymour's six days after her branding, Lady Seymour informs her that she was "near-dead in the stocks" (24.25) when Curzon came to her for help. In a tumultuous time, Curzon doesn't just stick his neck out for the Patriots, but for Isabel, time and again. And since he is enslaved, the risks are just that much greater for him when he does so.

His acts of kindness don't go unnoticed by Isabel. When the time finally comes for her to escape, she chooses to risk capture by breaking Curzon out of the prison in spite of the severe consequences. "Twas he who had been my steadfast friend since the day they brought me here," she says. "I couldn't. No—not couldn't. I shouldn't. But I had to. I had a debt to pay" (44.32, 34). Largely left to navigate this terrifying terrain by herself, Isabel knows her life would have only been harder without Curzon in it, so she extends the freedom she's found for herself to him.

As the book ends, Curzon and Isabel are together again, and though we are certain more trouble awaits them, we're optimistic about their ability to ultimately triumph. After all, Curzon's about a good a guy to have on your side as anyone can hope for.