Chains Questions and Answers
by Laurie Halse Anderson

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

In Chains, Isabel faces a myriad of challenges, including being a slave, needing to look after her sister, and having freedom snatched away from her after the death of her initial owner, Miss Mary Finch. These challenges change her into a stronger, braver, and more independent woman.

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Felicita Burton eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The main challenges that Isabel faces are related to her legal status and family situation, and she comes to understand how these matters are connected with larger political issues for which she fights. She and her sister, Ruth, are orphaned when their mother dies, and they are enslaved. Soon she and Ruth are separated, and Isabel must struggle to reunite her family. Once she decides to support the revolutionary cause, she faces the challenge of keeping her activities secret. As she pursues her goal of achieving recognition of freedom and personhood for her sister and herself, Isabel increasingly values the concept of liberty as it pertains to all the British colonial subjects.

The idea of independence becomes central to Isabel’s personal development as well as her understanding of freedom. As an enslaved child, she had innocently trusted Miss Finch, which led to a cruel disappointment. Once Ruth is sent away, Isabel must cultivate self-reliance in order to achieve her goals. She also comes to understand the meaning of community with others of African descent, not just with the revolutionaries. Her interactions with Curzon aids her in developing an appropriate trusting relationship, but even more crucial are her growing self-confidence and ability to take necessary risks.

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Steph Müller eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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There seems to be no end to the struggles that Isabel must endure during the course of this story. For starters, she's a slave, and she had an opportunity of freedom snatched away from her when a promise made by her former owner, Miss Mary Finch, was not met. Miss Finch had promised Isabel and her sister freedom when she died but unfortunately did not put this in writing, so her nephew sold them.

Their problems seem to go from bad to worse when the sisters are sold to Anne and Elihu Lockton. Anne is a vile character, who insists on being called "Madam" and treats the sisters appallingly. Even in the face of extreme hardship and abuse, Isabel remains steadfast in her goal to protect her sister, Ruth, no matter what.

Later, she is persuaded by the Rebels to provide them with any information that she can glean about Lockton's political activities. In exchange for information, Isabel is promised assistance in escaping when the time is right.

The various challenges that Isabel faces make her courageous and more determined than ever to gain her freedom. She once again takes on the role of spy later in the novel when her friend Curzon has been imprisoned, and her bravery grows. The once-subdued slave winds up stealing a boat and, together with Curzon, rowing to relative safety in New Jersey.

In a nutshell, the various challenges that Isabel faces make her stronger, braver, and more determined.

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Tim Mbiti eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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.

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Jonathan Beutlich, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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.

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