Chains is a historical fiction novel set in New York City in 1776. It is the first book in the “Seeds of America” trilogy. The story is told from the perspective of thirteen-year-old Isabel, an African-American girl who is enslaved. While Isabel fights for freedom for her and her younger sister Ruth, the Patriots are fighting against Great Britain during the Revolutionary War.
There are many themes present throughout the novel Chains: Family, Friendship, Identity, Hypocrisy, Courage and many more such as Slavery and War. Students can explore theme in a novel by identifying a theme and creating an image and caption depicting an example of it from the text.
Although she's small, Isabel defiantly faces up to her oppressors, always choosing what is right for herself and others over her own safety. Examples: when she passes notes for the Patriots, sneaks food to Curzon in jail, stands up to Madam Lockton, escapes, breaks Curzon out of jail, and rows across the Hudson to freedom!
Isabel remembers the love of her parents despite experiencing the death of her Momma and sale of her Poppa. She feels their connection throughout, drawing on their love and family history to give her strength and courage to face her oppression. After the Locktons cruelly sell Ruth, Isabel finds the courage to escape in order to find her.
Isabel develops a friendship with Curzon, who is loyal to her and helps her after her brutal punishment. She also is given advice and kind words from Grandfather by the Water Pump. Lady Seymour's kindness is an unexpected sympathy that surprises Isabel. All of these friendships help Isabel gain the strength she needs to carry on.
Themes in Chains
The Patriots seek independence when there are half a million people enslaved. It’s not clear who the "good guys" are. Curzon tells Isabel that helping the Patriots could secure her liberty but she’s disillusioned when she goes to Colonel Regan for help and is turned away. Lady Seymour seems to sympathize but does not intervene much.
Isabel quests to reclaim her identity and humanity. The Lockton's try to erase her identity by forcing the name Sal and ignoring her humanity. Madam brands her with "I" for "insolence" but Isabel discovers her scar can symbolize her real name, inner strength, and ability to survive, just as her father's African mark symbolized positive virtues in his culture.