Study Guide

Chains Friendship

By Laurie Halse Anderson


Half my roll disappeared in one bite. It was the first decent food I'd had since Jenny's kitchen. Curzon watched me without saying a word. When I licked the butter off my fingers, he gave me his roll.

"I et a large breakfast," he said. (6.21-22)

Curzon, we'd like to believe you… but it's pretty obvious what you're doing here. Regardless of whether the bookseller gets rolls in bulk from his girlfriend's dad, fresh, hot bread was still probably a huge delicacy for enslaved people. Curzon gives up his chance of experiencing gooey, buttery goodness so Isabel can have something substantial to eat. Now that's a friend.

Before I could protest, Curzon tossed his ridiculous hat at me and lifted Ruth up to a perch on his left shoulder. She squealed with delight and a little fear and hung on to his neck so tightly he looked to choke. (18.26)

There's something about the kindness Curzon shows to Ruth in this scene that makes him super cute, if you ask us. By establishing a bond with her sister, Curzon shows Isabel that his friendship with her is more than just a passing fancy. Ruth is the most important thing in her life, and he's demonstrating that he accepts both of them, not just her.

"Your friend with the red hat came to the door with the news that you were near-dead in the stocks." (24.26)

If Curzon hadn't seen Isabel in the stocks after her branding and had the courage to go to Lady Seymour and tell her, Isabel would probably have died and Chains would end right there, and on a pretty depressing note at that. Fortunately, Curzon is a loyal friend who's willing to do what it takes to save Isabel.

[Curzon] released me and I released him. "I'm sorry for your sister and your face and your broken head." He wiggled his thumb. "A thousand times as sorry as the hills." (25.54)

It's possible that when Curzon told Isabel that spying for the Patriots could buy her freedom, he didn't really know that the officials would take the information and run. Maybe it's wrong for Isabel to put all the blame for what's happened to her on him, but Curzon obviously recognizes that there's a chance he led his friend down the wrong path and is sorry for it.

[Curzon] would not look at me. Didn't say a word, neither. He simply carried the buckets to the Locktons' gates for me, then walked away. (26.56)

At the end of their encounter after she returns to the Locktons from Lady Seymour's house, Isabel tells Curzon she never wants to see him again… but that doesn't stop him from being kind to her. Seriously—have you thought about how heavy those water buckets would be, especially after carrying them for a mile? Curzon really is a super nice guy and a great friend.

After that it fell to me to walk with Lady Seymour along Wall Street on days when the sun was strong. She hired three seamstresses to sew her a new wardrobe and included a heavy skirt and thick woolen cloak for me in the order. I protested that I could not pay for the clothes, but Lady Seymour simply pointed to the portrait of the yellow haired man. (33.13)

Isabel's daring rescue of Lady Seymour during the fire is a true test of her feelings toward the old woman—she not only carries her out of the house, but leaves Ruth's doll behind so she can bring the portrait of Lady Seymour's husband along instead. In return, Lady Seymour shows her gratitude in an act of friendship: providing Isabel with the luxury of new clothes.

He freed me from the stocks. He is my friend. My only friend. (35.15)

Taking food to Curzon in the prison may be fraught with danger, but that doesn't concern Isabel. Curzon is not only her best friend, but proved himself by saving her life. Curzon could have just let her die, but he didn't; Isabel recognizes that she owes him the same act of loyalty.

[Lady Seymour] sipped again and looked at me over the rim of her teacup. "It is honorable to help a friend in need." (36.25)

Isn't Lady Seymour awesome? She's such a breath of fresh air after Madam Lockton's selfishness and general unreasonableness. Still, we can't help but wonder if she's thinking of her friendship with Isabel when she says this. In a way, she's telling Isabel that she is "honorable" for the sacrifice she made in rescuing Lady Seymour from the fire.

I could not eat or drink a thing for my belly was tied up with fear. My thoughts chased round and round my brainpan. I could not visit the prison daily. I was sure to be caught and punished. But I had to visit the prison daily. Curzon's life depended on it. (37.80)

Enslaved people in Isabel's time basically lived in fear of beatings, separation from loved ones, and even death. None of this, however, matters to Isabel in comparison to keeping her friend alive. Her willingness to sacrifice her life for Curzon demonstrates the strength of their relationship.

My remembery called up the feel of being locked in the stocks, of my face being burnt, of him watching me from across the courtyard; him watching out for me. 'Twas Curzon who made sure I survived. 'Twas he who had been my steadfast friend since the day they brought me here. (44.32)

Isabel's decision to bust Curzon out of prison is the ultimate proof of the lessons she's learned about loyalty and friendship. The ways she and Curzon have helped each other and even saved each other prove that her escape from New York has to be a joint effort between them. She can't just abandon him, even if it means putting her own freedom at risk.