Describe the life of slaves in the American colonies in the 1700s. Discuss the difference between a servant and a slave. How did Miss Mary Finch's view of slavery differ from that of most slave owners? Why does Mr. Robert accuse Isabel of lying when she tells him that she read Miss Mary's will? Explain why Pastor Weeks thinks that teaching a slave to read only "leads to trouble."
Mr. Robert collects Isabel and Ruth on the day of Miss Mary's funeral. Why aren't the girls allowed to take personal items with them? Explain the symbolism of the seeds that Isabel hides in her pocket. She plants the seeds, and one day finds that the plants have died. What do the dead plants represent? There is another plant metaphor in the novel. Explain what the mayor of New York means when he compares the rebels to vines.
Role models may be found in real life and in stories. How are Isabel's momma and Queen Esther, from the Bible, her role models for bravery? Discuss the connection between bravery, courage, and fear. What is Isabel's first act of bravery? Discuss her most fearful moments. How is her bravery and courage fueled by her fears? How does she become bolder and braver as the novel develops?
The American Revolution was about freedom and liberty. Mr. Lockton, a Loyalist, thinks that freedom and liberty has many meanings. Define freedom from his point of view. How might the Patriots define freedom and liberty? Isabel has lived her entire life in bondage, but dreams of freedom. What does freedom look like in Isabel's mind?
Discuss why Curzon thinks that Isabel will be a good spy. At what point does she accept his offer? Isabel feels betrayed by Curzon. How is Curzon betrayed by Colonel Regan? At what point does Isabel understand that Curzon's dream of freedom is the same as hers? How does this realization help her forgive him? At the beginning of the novel, Isabel needs Curzon. How does he need her at the end of the novel?
Isabel encounters a woman in the street singing "Yankee Doodle," and realizes that the woman is a messenger. What is the message? Colonel Regan gives Isabel the code word ad astra to use when entering the rebel camp. The word means "to the stars" in Latin. Why is this an appropriate code word for the rebels? How does this word foreshadow Isabel and Curzon's ultimate escape to freedom at the end of the novel?
The mayor of New York, a Loyalist, says, "The beast has grown too large. If it breaks free of its chains, we are all in danger. We need to cut off its head." Who is the beast? Who is the head? Why is Lockton so adamantly opposed to the mayor's proposal?
Isabel says, "Madam looked down without seeing me; she looked at me face, my kerchief, my shirt neatly tucked into my skirt, looked at my shoes pinching my feet, looked at my hands that were stronger than hers. She did not look into my eyes, did not see the lion inside. She did not see the me of me, the Isabel." What is the lion inside of Isabel? What does Lady Seymour see in Isabel that Madam Lockton doesn't see? How does the "lamb" in Lady Seymour help the "lion" inside of Isabel escape?
Explain the following metaphor: "Melancholy held me hostage, and the bees built a hive of sadness in my soul." What precipitates such sadness in Isabel? How does the hive grow bigger before Isabel learns to destroy it?
The old man that Isabel calls Grandfather says, "Everything that stands between you and freedom is the river Jordan." He assures her that she will find it if she looks hard enough. What is the figurative river Jordan in the novel? Discuss all of the tributaries that feed into Isabel's river Jordan.
The bookseller gives Isabel a copy of Common Sense by Thomas Paine. He advises her that the words are dangerous, and that she should commit them to memory. At what point does she understand Paine's words? How does the book give her courage?
What does Isabel mean when she says, "I was chained between two nations"? There are several references to chains throughout the novel. How is the word "chain" used as an antonym to the word "freedom"?
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson starts just as the the Revolutionary war begins. Isabel, a thirteen year old girl, and her younger sister, fight for freedom. After the death of their owner, they are sold to a New York City couple, the Locktons, who have no sympathy for the two sisters. When Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the patriots... he encourages her to spy on her new owners, who know details of british invasion plans. Although she is reluctant at first, she then realizes that this could be the key to freedom, for her, and her sister. This book, honestly, brought me to tears. The author brings you into a whole new world. It was so powerful, and I, throughout the entire book, felt as though I was Isabel, and I was going through the troubles that she and her sister went through. I think, the overall theme would be “ Struggling to get free is the price of freedom.” Throughout the entire book Isabel fights for her freedom, and struggles. Isabel said in the book, “The burned - over district looked like the inside of me. It was hard to tell where one stopped and the other started. I feared my wits had been melted by the flames, twisted and charred” This quote said a bit about the setting, and the theme. The theme, honestly, is clued through the entire book. I love this theme. It almost tells a story, right in that one sentence. I recommend this book to everyone that loves true stories, and love getting a little teary eyed.
Review By: Quinnell
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durhamm, June 29, 2012 (view all comments by durhamm)
The “genre-fication” of writers like Laurie Halse Anderson frustrates me so much because it blocks a large chunk of passionate readers from great literature. Chains is exemplary of Anderson’s rather incredible power of humanization. I mean, Anderson is a white woman, the daughter of a pastor, who writes in the perspective of a slave girl during the Revolutionary War and I felt as if I were friends with her protagonist, Isabel. Isabel was such a strong, believable character and I felt what I imagined her feeling and was drawn into her small, complex life completely. This is a great book dubbed “YA” or “Young Adult” but it is not only for young people but for anyone interested in creative rethinking and humanization of history. The plot of Chains is pretty simple, it’s about the status of slavery and the theory of slavery in the backdrop of the Revolutionary War. The history Anderson uses is sound. She gave heart to the archaic and quaint and anyone reading this book is bound to learn more about the strange hypocrisies and ironies in the wonderful and often horrible story of the young years of the United States. Isabel’s story is riveting and painful, her voice in Anderson’s translation is a voice all Americans, young and old, should know and treasure.
I did lend this book to three young sisters (11, 12, and 14) at my workplace. I haven’t heard back from them about how they enjoyed it. I’m a little worried how the youngest will relate to Isabel’s story, there’s some seriously difficult subject matter in the book, but I’m confident that with guidance from those older they will be able to step into Isabel’s world and grow empathy and understanding from the book and gain tools for their own world. Further than that, despite the pain in the story, I think they’ll have a fun time reading the book on this rainy weekend.
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"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"Pursuing similar themes as M.T. Anderson's Octavian Nothing, this gripping novel offers readers a startlingly provocative view of the Revolutionary War. Isabel Finch, the narrator, and her five-year-old sister, Ruth, are to be freed from slavery upon the death of their mistress in Rhode Island, but the mistress's unscrupulous heir easily persuades the local pastor to dispense with reading the will. Before long Isabel and Ruth are in New York City, the property of a Loyalist couple, whose abusiveness inspires Isabel to a dangerous course: she steals into the Patriot army camp to trade a crucial Loyalist secret in exchange for passage to Rhode Island for herself and Ruth. But not only does the Patriot colonel fail to honor his promise, he personally hands her over to her Loyalist mistress when she runs away, to face disastrous consequences. Anderson (Speak; Fever 1793) packs so much detail into her evocation of wartime New York City that readers will see the turmoil and confusion of the times, and her solidly researched exploration of British and Patriot treatment of slaves during a war for freedom is nuanced and evenhanded, presented in service of a fast-moving, emotionally involving plot. Ages 10 — up." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
by Washington Post,
"As she did so well with Fever 1793, Laurie Halse Anderson vividly captures a chaotic historical time.... Chains is a nuanced portrayal of a nation and a girl bound for freedom."
A National Book Award finalist. At the start of the Revolutionary War, Isabel is sold to a cruel loyalist family, even though she has been promised freedom by her former owner. Soon faced with the choice of working for or against the British, Isabel chooses to work with anyone who can help her.
The American Revolution comes to vivid life in Chains, Laurie Halse Anderson's story of one young girl's quest for freedom, now in paperback.
This story of Thomas Jefferson's children by one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, tells a darker piece of America's history from an often unseen perspective-that of three of Jefferson's slaves-including two of his own children. As each child grows up and tells his story, the contradiction between slavery and freedom becomes starker, calliing into question the real meaning of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." This poignant story sheds light on what life was like as one of Jefferson's invisible offspring.
If an entire nation could seek its freedom, why not a girl?
As the Revolutionary War begins, thirteen-year-old Isabel wages her own fight...for freedom. Promised freedom upon the death of their owner, she and her sister, Ruth, in a cruel twist of fate become the property of a malicious New York City couple, the Locktons, who have no sympathy for the American Revolution and even less for Ruth and Isabel. When Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the Patriots, he encourages her to spy on her owners, who know details of British plans for invasion. She is reluctant at first, but when the unthinkable happens to Ruth, Isabel realizes her loyalty is available to the bidder who can provide her with freedom.
From acclaimed author Laurie Halse Anderson comes this compelling, impeccably researched novel that shows the lengths we can go to cast off our chains, both physical and spiritual.
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