Chains, the 2008 novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, is the first novel in the Seeds of America trilogy and tells the story of Isabel, a thirteen-year-old American slave fighting for her freedom during the backdrop of the American Revolutionary War. The novel exists within the historical fiction genre, and Isabel and her younger sister, Ruth, live in New York. Even though they are in a northern state, at this time slavery was still legal and prominent in the local society.
The narrative is rife with biblical allusions. First, Isabel’s younger sister is named Ruth. Ruth is a prominent biblical figure and one of the five women associated with the genealogy of Jesus. Ruth is from Moab, and she is noted for her kindness and innocence, which are not qualities typically associated with those from Moab. Likewise, Isabel’s younger sister is noted for her innocence.
In the Bible, the Israelites cross the river Jordan at arrive at their new home of Canaan. A similar sentiment of traveling to freedom occurs in the novel as Isabel hopes to bring her and her sister back to Rhode Island where they have been promised freedom by their old master. The old man at the tea water pump encourages Isabel to continue looking for her river Jordan, or her freedom.