Why does Madam instruct Isabel to serve Master Lockton and his companions in Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson is set in the Revolutionary War period in the North. Isabel and her younger sister Ruth are young black girls who should have been freed when their beloved owner died; however, the older woman's nephew, Mr. Robert, is a swindler and a cheat. He is unwilling to consider the possibility that his aunt freed the girls, mostly because he is greedy and wants to make money by selling them. 

Ruth and Isabel are soon sold to Master and Madam Lockton, and both girls are miserable because the Locktons are not admirable people. Master Lockton is still loyal to the King of England and is involved in devious schemes to bribe others into becoming Loyalists. At the same time, he claims to be a a Patriot, so he is double-dealing. Isabel learns that she can be helpful if she reports what she learns about any plans Master Lockton might be making, but until chapter 14 she does not seriously consider taking any action.

In this chapter, Madam still does not think much of Isabel. The woman is generally cruel and unkind, demanding and petty. But now she wants something and uses Isabel to try to get it. Master Lockton is up in the library meeting with some like-minded men. Madam Lockton loads a tray with food for the men and makes Isabel carry it up to the library. Madam Lockton follows her and shouts to her husband through the door that she has brought them refreshments and he should therefore open the door.

Master Lockton does not want to let his wife in the room, but he finally unlocks the door and lets Isabel inside with the tray of food. Of course Madam does not want to be left out and tries to barge her way into the room behind Isabel. Her ploy does not work and she is refused admittance.

Isabel is able to learn some valuable information as Master Lockton reveals a plot to assassinate General George Washington. He is devious and motivated both by his political beliefs and his selfish desire to save his own skin. He blackmails the men by creating a list of names which incriminates all of the others. He says:

“It [the list] will motivate you and our friends to do everything possible to secure my release.” 

Isabel soon finds a way to use what she knows for a good cause. 

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