Study Guide

Chains Hypocrisy

By Laurie Halse Anderson


"Isabel, remember your place." Pastor Weeks fumbled with the latch on his Bible. "You and your sister belong to Mr. Robert now. He'll be a good master to you." (2.28)

Hmm… a pastor who believes in slavery. Now that's interesting, especially given that slavery shows up a lot as a theme in the Bible. Remember the Israelites being enslaved by Egypt? How about Jesus setting people free from the slavery of sin? The gesture of "fumbling" with his Bible seems to imply that Pastor Weeks recognizes the hypocritical nature of serving God and believing in the institution of slavery.

"We thought you were in London, Elihu."

"London? Never!" exclaimed Lockton. "England offers us nothing but taxes, stamps, and bloodshed."

"How odd. Word from Boston is that you still lick the King's boots." (5.39-41)

Elihu Lockton is the crown prince of hypocrisy. He tries to be a political chameleon and shift to the beliefs of whatever the majority view is in his present company, but he's kind of bad at it. Lockton may say he's against the British, but Bellingham is wise enough to know he doesn't mean it.

"Plenty of folks haven't decided which side they favor. One day they cheer General Washington, the next day they toast the King." (6.48)

Curzon's analysis of New York's critical position in the war shows the hypocritical nature of its people. The bottom line is that even today, people want to be associated with winners. It seems that undecided New Yorkers support whoever the winning side currently is—and if it changes, their views will, too.

"Master Lockton claimed he was a Patriot on the docks." […]

"He was faking to protect his skin. Some folks switch back and forth. One day they're for the King, the next, it's all 'liberty and freedom, huzzah!' A tribe of Mr. Facing Both Ways, that's what you'll find in New York." (7.47-48)

New York might be the equivalent of a modern day swing state, but back in Revolutionary times, there was a little more at stake than what side of a political squabble to support. For Lockton, supporting the Loyalists could mean arrest for treachery; the same goes for other New Yorkers. While wanting to support the most successful side of the conflict is one aspect of their hypocrisy, simply not wanting to get arrested or hanged seems like rational enough motivation to keep switching sides.

The gentleman who accompanied Madam stepped forward. "The law is quite clear on this matter, sir. None of us want to live in a world where servants rule their masters. Both the Parliament and the Congress give Madam Lockton rule over her slave." (21.103)

It's interesting that even though the Patriots and Loyalists basically hate each other's guts, the one thing they have in common is that they both want slavery to exist. This is a pretty complicated idea for the colonies, which feel enslaved to Britain and are fighting for their own freedom. It seems hard to believe that the same Congress that signed the Declaration of Independence could also say that cruel Madam Lockton has authority over Isabel.

"Listen," [Curzon] started. "Our freedom—"

I did not let him continue. "You are blind. They don't want us free. They just want liberty for themselves." (25.48-49).

Oh, burn. Curzon, you just got served. Isabel lays it all down in a pretty blatant way, and from her perspective, the Patriots don't see liberty as something that should belong to all citizens. Clearly, "we the people" doesn't actually mean "all the people."

The woman in the yellow head cloth worked the pump for Grandfather. "The British promise freedom to slaves but won't give it to the white rebels," she said as she pushed the handle up and down. "The rebels want to take freedom, but they won't share it with us." (26.34)

Say what? Some of the viewpoints on slavery during the way are super confusing. Basically, the British want to help the slaves as a means of weakening the Patriots who own them. On the other hand, the rebels are really good at rationalizing their views on slavery. Everything seems totally backward, revealing the sticky nature of a slave-owning country seeking freedom.

I was chained between two nations. (29.50)

Isabel wants to take sides in the war—not because she feels invested in freedom for a nation, but because she wants freedom for herself. The only question is whether the Patriots or the Loyalists will do the most to help her. In the end, the answer turns out to be neither; as she discovers, both sides view enslaved people as pawns to play when they're useful, but cast aside when they aren't.

"You named him after the King?" Hannah asked.

"Perhaps," Sarah said cheerfully […] "A name like George is a good one on either side of the ocean." (40.28-29)

Sarah names her baby after King George. Or is it George Washington? We have no doubt that after the war, when people ask her whom she named her baby after, Sarah will make her decision based on whichever party is victorious party.

'Twas Lady Seymour who did it. Her with her begging forgiveness for not buying me and telling me I'd have been a good slave for her. Her with her wet eyes and skeleton hands. Did she never think about setting me free? That would be a fine question to ask. (41.40)

We've got to give Lady Seymour some credit—although she failed, she at least thought about doing the right thing. She also ultimately shares this with Isabel because she thinks it will offer some comfort to her. Still, the larger question is what Lady Seymour would have done with Isabel after buying her. If she truly believes what's being done to Isabel is wrong, wouldn't the correct response be to free her? Even though Lady Seymour expresses some anti-slavery views throughout the book, she still seems to fall victim to its influence.