In literature, symbolism is a literary device that gives meanings to things which are different from their original meaning or purpose. It then ties these symbols to significant themes within the story. There are a number of things/objects in Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson, which have symbolic significance. For example, there are scars, Ruth’s corn husk doll, seeds, Curzon’s red hat, a water pump, and bees.
The bees symbolize what is going on inside Isabel’s head: not only her feelings of depression and confusion, but also her desire for escape and revolt against her oppressors. Sometimes the bees start to buzz and make a commotion as Isabel thinks about her family and struggles to deal with her situation. The quote below shows how dead bees are used to symbolize Isabel’s feeling of positivity when she thinks about joining the British:
The thought washed over me like a river, sweeping away the dead bees that filled my brain with confusion.
Also, when Isabel is feeling melancholic after finding out she cannot be with Curzon in Bridewell Prison, she says,
The ashes of sadness and the buzzing bees of my melancholy all spun a storm inside.
The bees are used to symbolize any shifts in Isabel’s thoughts and feelings.