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In the beginning of Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel Chains, Isabel, the 13-year-old protagonist, and her mentally disabled younger sister are slaves with the advantage of a relatively benign master. Miss Mary Finch, their owner, has promised the girls their freedom when she dies. Unfortunately for Isabel and Ruth, though, Miss Finch’s nephew cares little for his now-deceased aunt’s gesture towards these young girls and chooses instead to sell them into captivity. The couple that buys the girls, the Locktons, are evil personified in their treatment of Isabel, and her and Ruth’s lives are worse than ever. Isabel’s introduction to the Locktons, however, is accompanies by her first encounter with a young, refined slave named Curzon. A slave to Mr. Bellingham, Curzon is no fool; he knows how to ingratiate himself with the Locktons, and displays a mastery of emotional manipulation in his attempts at meeting Isabel. Having offered to show Isabel how to find the water pump and then escort her to the Lockton’s home, the young boy replies to Mr. Lockton query as to whether Curzon knows the location of the former’s estate: “’One of the proudest in our city, sir,’ the boy answered as he put his hat back on his head.”
Curzon’s desire to escort Isabel represents an attempt at furthering his agenda. If Mr. Lockton is evil, Curzon is a polite, resourceful gentleman who immediately sees to Isabel’s needs, offering her food and a place to sit while she eats. When Isabel has finished her food, Curzon’s true character is revealed. Inquiring as to how long she has been the property of the Locktons, he informs her that “Lockton is a dirty Loyalist.”
Curzon may be a slave, but he has decidedly chosen his position in the revolutionary conflict that is brewing between the colonialists and the British Crown. As their conversation proceeds, Curzon remains intent on figuring out as precisely as possible the exact nature of Isabel’s relationship to the Locktons. In effect, he wants to know if Isabel is loyal to the Locktons, thereby making her loyal to the Crown. Isabel answers Curzon’s question about whether she feels loyal to the Locktons by noting that her and her sister’s welfare, at least for the time being, are tied to the girls’ new masters:
“Someday I’ll find that lawyer and Miss Mary’s will and that’ll free us. Until then, we need to eat, work and stay together. So, yes, I guess I’m loyal to Lockton.”
It is at this stage in the conversation that Curzon plants the seeds of deception in Isabel’s mind, albeit unsuccessfully at first:
“We paused at a corner while a soldier drove a cart filled with barrels down the street. After we crossed, Curzon spoke so quiet I had to lean in to catch his words. ‘You might be better served if you placed your loyalty with us’.”
Explaining that “us” refers to his “master, and those he serves, the rebels, the Congress,” Curzon explains to Isabel that her freedom can be better assured by supporting the rebel cause
The conversation continues, with Curzon explaining in great detail the threat Mr. Lockton poses to the revolutionaries and how information regarding Isabel’s new master could benefit the cause. “You just have to listen and alert me if you hear anything important,” he tells the reluctant Isabel.
This is the manner in which Curzon tries to recruit Isabel to the side of the rebels. Spying on Lockton could provide important information on what the Loyalists are thinking and provide advance notice of actions the Loyalists and the British soldiers are contemplating.
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