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Laurie Halse Anderson's young adult novel Chains is set in pre-Revolutionary War America, and the protagonist is a thirteen-year-old slave girl named Isabel. Through the course of the novel she has opportunities to escape but does not; she is forced to move to several places; she endures awful treatment at the hands of others; and she becomes involved in some of the intrigues surrounding the war. She finds the war rather confusing because the two sides seem the same to her in terms of the issue which matters most to her--slavery.
At the end of chapter forty-four, Isabel has managed a grand escape; she has rescued a very sick but still alive Curzon from a certain death in prison. Chapter forty-five begins with the image of this young girl struggling to push a loaded wheelbarrow down the street; of course the sick Curzon is the heavy load she is trying so valiantly to push.
Isabel is afraid to get too near to the wharf, but Curzon is just too weak to walk on his own until she insists that he buck up and walk on his own two legs. She finally manages to find a small rowboat and get both of them deposited inside. Fortunately for them, there are fireworks going off all around them, so no one notices their quiet departure from the harbor.
While Curzon sleeps, Isabel rows until the blisters she develops pop and bleed--and then she rows some more. It is agonizing for her, but she has no real choice. She is soon exhausted. Between that exhaustion and the pain from her hands, Isabel is in some trouble, and she begins to hallucinate as she propels the boat through the fog. At one point, mentally and physically exhausted, she is certain she sees her family, looking rather like ghosts, and reaches out to touch them.
Of course there is nothing there, but in her reaching she drops an oar. After she retrieves it, her hands are so frozen from the frigid water that they no longer hurt because she has lost all feeling in them. Finally her body gives out on her and Isabel falls asleep. She wakes up in what she assumes is heaven because it is so peaceful and serene; however, she is pretty sure there should not be the smell of a fire burning in heaven.
It takes her several moments, but finally she perceives that the boat has run up against the shore. She is covered with ice, and when she moves she actually cracks the ice that has settled on her clothing. It takes her some time, but after examining the position of the sun and watching the current of the water she realizes that she and Curzon have reached their destination.
Curzon has been sleeping under some blankets, but now Isabel nudges him awake and jokingly announces:
“I think we just crossed the River Jordan.”
The last image of the chapter--and of course the book--is Isabel offering her hand to Curzon, offering to help him as they begin to walk.
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