Today, family is usually a major source of support, both emotionally and practically speaking. For slave families in Isabel's time, however, white people often have little regard for the bonds between children and their parents, and at any time, without warning, you could be separated from your parents and sold to different families. In Chains, Isabel experiences the sale of both her sister and father, so she knows firsthand the pain of losing loved ones to an economic system.
She also knows, though, that her family's influence doesn't just disappear with their physical bodies. Instead her family continues to encourage her to survive even though they're no longer present. People may physically rip her family apart, but nobody gets to tear them from her heart.
Momma and Poppa's examples of strength enable Isabel to persevere in the face of trials.
The Locktons' and Robert Finch's greed and self-interest serve as a contrast to Isabel's positive family environment that slavery destroyed.
A feisty slave with Patriot leanings and a mild-mannered elderly Loyalist aren't the most likely candidates for Isabel's best friends in her new life in New York—but they're exactly who she gets in Chains.
In the absence of her parents, and later, Ruth, Curzon and Lady Seymour teach Isabel valuable lessons about loyalty, sacrifice, and kindness, and how to use these qualities once reserved for her family to help others in need. Where Isabel previously might have been intimidated or frightened, she becomes bold and brave on behalf of her friends and learns to return the kindness they show her.
Without Madam Lockton's decision to sell Ruth, Isabel may not have developed the empathy she feels for Curzon and Lady Seymour.
Curzon and Lady Seymour each represent a way that Isabel overcomes obstacles of colonial society.
Thirteen-year-old girls have enough to worry about when it comes to identity issues, but when you're a slave in 18th-century New York fighting for your very existence, well, we'd say things get a bit more complicated. Throughout Chains, Isabel wrestles with some pretty serious questions. Who is she? Which side is she on? Who does she belong to and who has shaped her as a person? Isabel's story is largely about how she comes to an understanding of her own individuality and independence, even in the face of slavery's obstacles.
Just as Poppa's mark from the African ritual symbolizes his manhood and maturity, Isabel's scar from the branding ultimately symbolizes her inner strength and survival.
Although Madam seeks to dehumanize her through slavery, Isabel must go through this period of suffering in order to repair her damaged self-image.
The core of Chains might be Isabel's battle against the evils of slavery (and Madam Lockton), but we can't get the whole picture of her story without looking at the larger battle taking place in the background: the American Revolution.
Whether it's the brutal honesty of All Quiet on the Western Front or Kurt Vonnegut's time-shifting Slaughterhouse Five, literature has a long tradition of novels about the horrors and sacrifices of battle. What makes Chains' rendering of war different, though, is that it reveals these details through the eyes of children. Isabel and Curzon's interpretations of the battle for independence give readers a unique, haunting perspective on this period of history.
Despite her low social status as a slave, Isabel is one of the most knowledgeable characters in the story in regard to her understanding of the war.
In spite of their ages, Isabel and Curzon's experiences present an all-inclusive picture of the rationale, sacrifice, and suffering of the Revolution.
Let's face it: Isabel's position as a slave presents a lot of tough questions about a pretty bleak chapter of American history. Chains reminds us that there was once a time when it was considered totally okay for one human being to own another, and as a result, a key part of this book's work is its unflinching portrait of slavery's abuses to individuals and families.
But the book isn't just about racial slavery. We don't usually think of the colonies as enslaved to Britain, but in many ways, they were. In spite of growing apart from their mother country, they were still subject to the unjust abuses of power from Great Britain. As a result, Chains presents two parallels stories of slavery—a nation fighting for freedom, as well as a young girl's journey toward the same thing.
Isabel's ability to read is directly tied to her ability to escape from slavery.
Madam Lockton's inhumane treatment enables Isabel to pursue freedom.
There's nothing like facing danger, impossible odds, and life-threatening opposition to bring out the bravery you didn't know you had. Isabel may be small, young, and powerless in the eyes of her oppressors, but as Katy Perry might put it, she's got the eye of the tiger and you're gonna hear her roar.
Watching Isabel grow from a little girl unable to change her circumstances to a force to be reckoned with in Chains is one of the greatest character development goodies of her story. In spite of her fears of the consequences, Isabel's desire to do the right thing for herself and others gives her the guts to face them. You go, girl.
Isabel uses her compassion for others to overcome her fears of being punished for her activities.
While Madam Lockton intends for her fear and intimidation to make Isabel submit, she actually fuels Isabel's growing defiance and courage.
Wafflers. Posers. Flip-floppers. They go by many names, but at their core, they're all good old-fashioned hypocrites, people who claim to hold certain beliefs or ideals, but don't practice what they preach. As Chains (and most Presidential elections) shows, there's nothing like a serious political conflict to bring out the hypocrisy in pretty much everyone, and this was as much true in 1776 as it is today.
The main issue of hypocrisy here is this: How can the United States claim to seek independence and liberty for all when most of the all they're referring to are people who own slaves? Throughout her journey, Isabel confronts multiple versions of this question, and witnesses numerous responses from those who play a role in it.
Characters like Bellingham and Colonel Regan, who accept Isabel's help and then cast her aside, aren't trying to be cruel to her. They're genuinely doing what they believe is right in light of the role slavery plays in their society.
The hypocrisy of both the Patriots and Loyalists ultimately moves Isabel to seek her own freedom.
Memory means two critical things to Isabel in Chains. It's a natural skill she's carefully honed since childhood, one that she cannot make her way to freedom without, and it's also a source of comfort and guidance, as she often draws on memories of her parents and Ruth to guide her through challenging and painful situations. The importance of memories to Isabel is a powerful portrayal of how the past can literally be our salvation. For more on this theme, read up on family elsewhere in this section.
Without her perfect memory, Isabel never would have escaped from slavery.
Memories of the past save Isabel, but also hurt her as well.
If there was one thing the American colonies had issues with, it was following orders. Think about it: Parliament places taxes on paper products and a violent mob in Boston loots the Lieutenant Governor's house; they tax tea and Boston Harbor becomes one gigantic, very strong teapot; rebels start a snowball fight with the British and people get shot. Our nation really does come from a heritage of bad boys.
But it wasn't just this way for the colonists. Through Isabel's eyes in Chains, we get to see how the endless rules placed on slaves affected their lives, as well as how the same rebelliousness kindled in the early Americans takes root in her. While Isabel fights against these rules and seems to lose a lot of battles, in the end, she's able to use them to secure her freedom.
While Isabel doesn't get much help from their leaders in securing her freedom, she and the Patriots still share the same ultimate goal and rationale for it.
Just as the British sought to use the American colonies to their advantage, early Americans used economic and social reasoning to excuse their control over slaves.
If there's one thing Chains has plenty of, it's pain. Our heroine, Isabel, experiences more suffering in her thirteen years than anyone should in a lifetime—she's enslaved, branded, beaten, separated from her father, and watches disease claim her mother. Even though it's a pretty gripping, suspenseful read, Isabel's experiences with suffering are heart wrenching and often make the story difficult to look at.
But it's not all bad. Isabel ultimately learns a pretty powerful lesson about suffering: that neither it nor her abusers can define who she is. In the end, she's able to draw strength from her survival rather than submit to hopelessness.
Much of Isabel's suffering happens because she allows Madam Lockton to hurt her.
Madam Lockton's own experiences with suffering allow us to have some sympathy for her as a character.