In Chains, explain how and why the Anderson might use the episode of Ruth’s seizure in this chapter to contrast Lady Seymour’s character with Madam Lockton’s character?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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When Ruth has a seizure, Madam Lockton savagely abuses her.  When she suffers her seizure, Madam Lockton assumes Ruth is possessed by the devil. She then proceeds to beat her with a chair and with a broom.  Lockton declares and almost seems to justify her actions with the belief in the devil:  “It’s the Devil!...She has the Devil in her!”  Madam Lockton believes that such violence is needed to beat the supposedly evil spirit out of the child.  Madam Lockton displays an intolerant and cruel attitude towards a girl who is suffering from a disease.  Her superstition and sense of brutality towards Ruth is reflective of her characterization throughout the novel.

In contrast to this cruelty is Lady Seymour.  Prior to Ruth's seizure, she is perceptive enough to sense that Ruth  "could use some building up" when she offers her milk and cookies.  She continues to display a moral outrage at the condition of slavery when she later suggests to Isabel that "I find the buying and selling of children most repugnant."  Lady Seymour's character is far more understanding.  She sees children like Ruth as human beings and not property. Thus, Anderson's use of the seizure episode in which Madam Lockton's character is on display is a form of contrast with the compassion and understanding that Lady Seymour displays.  In showing Lockton's cruelty and barbarism, Anderson is able to clearly demonstrate the brutality that was intrinsic to the institution of slavery.  It is in this regard where I think that Anderson's use of Ruth's seizure illuminates essential character traits within individuals who supported slavery, like Lockton, and those who opposed it, as Lady Seymour did.

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