In Chains, what challenges did Isabel face and how do they change her?

Expert Answers
thetall eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Isabel encounters numerous challenges in her life, especially after the demise of the kindhearted Miss Finch. However, her most notable challenge is her quest for freedom. Their troubles start immediately she and her sister are sold off to the Lockton’s after failing to prove that Miss Finch had freed her family in a will. Ruth is forced to take on backbreaking labor at the Lockton’s estate, which she perseveres through while remaining determined to find a way out to freedom. She detests the inhumane conditions under which she and her sibling live, and she would go to any extent to gain freedom.

After her encounter with Curzon, she becomes a spy and exchanges information with different groups with the hope of gaining freedom in return. Her hopes do not materialize as the groups only use her to gain crucial information to advance their agenda. Finally, Isabel realizes that nobody but herself will help her secure freedom, which she does at the end of the book when she manages to sneak Curzon from prison and row the boat across the river to Jersey.

Among other challenging encounters for Isabel is the loss of Ruth. She wakes up one day and discovers that Madam Lockton has sold Ruth off to another owner. Isabel becomes momentarily defiant, an act that forces her to run away from Lockton’s estate only to end up beaten and in jail. The judge rules that she be branded upon Madam Lockton’s suggestion. The branding is a painful experience for Isabel; it is a permanent mark and reminder of her slave status. Isabel sinks into depression soon after due to the loss of Ruth and her dwindling hope of ever being free. However, her attitude towards her branding changes, and instead of shame, she takes it as a proud survival symbol, just like the one her father had.

sciftw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Isabel faces a lot of challenges in this book. Listing them all would take a considerable amount of time, but I can provide one overarching challenge that Isabel faces throughout the novel. Isabel's main challenge is attempting to secure Ruth's and her freedom. When readers are introduced to Isabel and Ruth in chapter one, she has already succeeded in meeting this goal. Isabel's previous owner granted Isabel and Ruth their freedom in her will. Unfortunately, that will could not be found, and the two girls are sold into slavery again. Isabel tries to gain her freedom back through any means possible. She attempts to spy for the Patriots in return for freedom; however, Isabel also makes an appeal to British soldiers for her freedom.

Other challenges exist for Isabel as she tries to gain her freedom. One big challenge is dealing with the abusive Madam Lockton. She's horrible to Ruth and Isabel. Madam Lockton even goes so far as to have Isabel branded on the face.

Ruth has a mental disability, and it is Isabel's responsibility to look out for her. That's a huge challenge for Isabel, too.

All of these challenges change Isabel. Isabel eventually realizes that noone is going to give her freedom; she must take it for herself, which is what she does. She escapes from the Lockton household, fakes a freedom pass, and escapes off of Manhattan with Curzon.