In Chains, why weren't Ruth and Isabel allowed to take their personal belongings from Ms. Finch's?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Anderson constructs the dehumanization of slavery in some distinct ways throughout the narrative.  One particular example of this is when Ruth and Isabel are brought home and not allowed to take anything.  Isabel recognizes that she wishes to take something, anything, that would remind her of her parents and her own identity.  Yet, she is not permitted to do so.  In allowing her to take something of her past, she would be regarded as a human being.  Yet, to continue the view of her as a slave, an object, she is denied to take anything of personal value.  The difference between White slaveowners and Black slaves is evident in this one example.  Black slaves understood their own identity as ones of human beings, complete with real and validated experiences through the horror of slavery.  White slaveowners needed to see slaves as objects so that the institution of slavery could continue without any emotional frames of references being understood.  It was part of the condition that enabled slavery to continue for so long.  Treatment of slaves as objects, denying them personal experiences and humanity such as being able to take objects of personal meaning was a part of this institution.  It is for this reason that Ruth and Isabel are not allowed to take anything of personal value with them.  There was no personal for them because they were not seen as human.  It is this context where Anderson establishes the struggle for voice and authentication of experience as a part of Isabel's narrative.