What biblical allusions are used in Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson?

Biblical allusions used in Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson include references to being enslaved, which the New Testament refers to as the plight of sinners. The fact that Isabel's young, innocent sister is named Ruth is an allusion to Ruth of the Old Testament, who had a lifelong friendship with her former mother-in-law Naomi.

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I would argue that the main biblical allusion in this harrowing book lies in the idea of slavery. Ruth and Isabel have known nothing but slavery, first at the hands of Miss Mary Finch, then at the hands of the cruel Mrs. Lockton. Throughout the New Testament, the message of slavery prevails in that every person is born a slave to their sinful nature. It is only through Christ's sacrifice at Calvary that Christians can have the "chains" of their slavery unlocked.

The other biblical allusion that comes to mind is Isabel's sister, Ruth. Ruth is an Old Testament character, and at face value, her story seems to have nothing to do with Chains. The Ruth in the Bible lost her husband, father-in-law, and brother-in-law. While her sister-in-law returns to her family, Ruth refuses to leave Naomi, her newly widowed mother-in-law. Ruth and Naomi became known as one of the tightest knit friendships mentioned in the Old Testament. The older woman looked after Ruth, who seems to have a certain naivete around her, and Ruth showed her unshakable loyalty in exchange. This is mirrored in Chains by the relationship between Ruth and her older sister, Isabel.

Isabel makes it clear throughout this story that protecting Ruth is her priority, just as the biblical Ruth was protected by Naomi.

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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.

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An additional biblical allusion in Chains comes in the form of the Book of Nehemiah. At the start of the book, we're introduced to a man called Nehemiah; he's a gravedigger responsible for burying Miss Mary Finch, the slave-girl Isabel's previous owner.

In the Old Testament, Nehemiah oversaw the rebuilding of Jerusalem during the reign of the Persian king Artaxerxes I. There are certain parallels between his actions and those of his grave-digging namesake in Chains. Digging the ground with a shovel is often associated with breaking new ground for the purposes of building new structures. That's precisely what happened when Nehemiah set out to rebuild the city of Jerusalem.

In the case of Nehemiah the grave-digger, he's breaking the ground in order to bury someone's body; yet at the same time, in metaphorical terms, he's also laying the foundations of a new life for Isabel. Now that Miss Mary is no more, Isabel's life and that of her sister Ruth are about to be thrown into turmoil. Although Miss Mary promised Isabel and Ruth their freedom upon her death, the lack of written evidence means that the young sisters will remain enslaved for a long time to come. The foundations of a new life may have been laid, but it's up to Isabel and Ruth to emulate the feats of Nehemiah in the Bible and build upon them.

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The first Biblical allusion from Chains is an allusion to Queen Esther from the book of "Esther."  The allusion can be found in Chapter Ten.  Isabel previously overheard Master Lockton explaining his plan to bribe soldiers in the Patriot army to fight for the British.  Later that night Isabel sneaks out of the house in order to inform Curzon about the information that she heard.  Isabel must sneak through the city streets and remain unseen because slaves are not supposed to be out at night.  Isabel tells readers that she is terrified, but she is trying to be brave like Queen Esther.  

Another major Biblical allusion is about the Jordan River.  The Jordan River is in Israel, so Isabel is obviously not in proximity to the real Jordan River.  In the book of "Joshua," the Israelites cross over the Jordan in order to enter the promised land of Canaan.  By crossing the river, the Israelites finally arrive "home" and can be free.  Isabel must cross her own "Jordan" in order to be free of slavery and the Locktons.  The Jordan River allusion occurs several times throughout the story, but a noticeable occurrence is when the old man at the tea water pump tells Isabel to look for her Jordan.  

"Look hard for your river Jordan, my child. You'll find it."   

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