In Chains, how does Anderson use the River Jordan to make a comment on slavery?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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From the very title of this text to the choice of the protagonist as being a slave who endures significant hardship, it is clear that Anderson is using her story to expose the injustice and cruelty of slavery and to expose her 20th century readers to something of the reality of what it would have been like to have lived as a slave. The phrase the "River Jordan" only occurs once in the text, but its occurrence is of course immensely significant, as it represents an allusion to the Biblical journey of the Hebrews as they ventured out from Egypt (captured in Exodus), roamed around the desert (mainly featured in Numbers), and finally make it to the Promised Land that God prepared for them. The very last stage of their journey was to cross the River of Jordan, and thus this represents the last stage in their journey from servitude and slavery to freedom and independence. It is therefore highly symbolic that in the final chapter, when Curzon asks Isabel where they are after she has just rowed them across the river to New Jersey, that she responds with the following words:

I think we just crossed the River Jordan.

New Jersey at the time was a state in which slavery was not recognised, and so the allusion that Isabel uses is particularly relevant, because it compares them and their adventures to the experience of the Israelites in their own struggle and journey towards freedom. Also, the Biblical allusion clearly identifies a similarity between the slavery endured by the Hebrews under the Egyptians and the slavery endured by so many African-Americans under the white Americans. Both, Anderson argues, were wrong and injust, and are rightly to be deplored.

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