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An early indication of 13-year-old Isabel’s personality and temperament is evident following the funeral service for the young slave’s former owner, Miss Mary Finch, who had granted Isabel and her younger sister Ruth their freedom upon her demise. Isabel inquires of the presiding minister, Pastor Weeks, regarding potential destinations for these children. Mr. Robert, the late Miss Finch’s sole surviving relative, has, unbeknownst to Isabel, arranged for the girls’ continued captivity. Protesting Mr. Robert’s claim that the girls remained slaves despite Miss Finch’s wishes, Isabel, the story’s narrator and main protagonist, describes her reaction as follows:
“I planted my feet firmly in the dirt and fought to keep my voice polite and proper. ‘I saw the will, sir. After the lawyer wrote it, Miss Finch had me read it out loud on account of her eyes being bad.’”
With this defiance, Isabel demonstrates both the strength of her will and her ability to read, a serious transgression on the part of a slave and whomsoever would teach a slave to read. Isabel, of course, loses her appeal to Pastor Weeks, and remains a slave, this time to a vicious couple that abuses the girls. The news that the girls will be sold again into slavery is a terrible shock to Isabel, whose concern for her mentally handicapped little sister tears at her soul. “What if we were split up? Who would take care of her?” she wonders.
Isabel has been forced to grow up fast, the physical and mental burdens of being a slave compounded by her commitment to Ruth’s welfare. She loves her sister deeply, and is repeatedly described throughout the story as dedicated to keeping the two together (“I took Ruth by the hand . . .”; “I put m arm around Ruth”), convinced that physical contact with her baby sister will help ensure they remained together. She is also intelligent enough, however, to know that her love and devotion for Ruth is insufficient to ensure they stay together. Consequently, she is compelled to try and convince new owner Ann Lockton of Ruth’s functionality:
“She’s a good simple, ma’am. Does what she’s told. In truth, she’s a harder worker than me. Give her a broom and tell her to sweep, and you’ll be able to eat off your floor.”
Isabel’s main traits, then, are her devotion to her family and her willingness to work hard to achieve her objectives, noting that, in the hopes that the owners of a tavern (Jenny) will outbid the Lockton’s for her and Ruth, such an arrangement will allow her the opportunity to search for Miss Finch’s missing will and the lawyer who handled Miss Finch’s estate:
“When we found Miss Mary’s will, I’d work extra to pay Jenny back the money we cost her, fair and square. Ruth and me would stay together, and we’d stay here, close to momma.”
Anderson’s main character is an extraordinary individual thrust into horrific circumstances. She is strong-willed, loyal and caring.
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