Why does Laurie Halse Anderson have Isabel read Robinson Crusoe? How does it relate to Isabel?
Laurie Halse Anderson's young adult novel Chains follows the story of Isabel--an African-American slave living in New York in 1776--who is seeking her freedom while the Revolutionary War rages. After her previous owner, Miss Mary Finch, dies without leaving written documentation of her plans to free Isabel and her younger sister Ruth, Isabel and Ruth and sold to the Lockton family. Under the Locktons' control, Isabel must deal with immense abuse and oppression.
In Chapter Twenty of the novel, Isabel is given a night off by Madam Lockton. Isabel takes this personal time to eat gingerbread and milk and begin reading a copy of Robinson Crusoe that she has found in the library. Anderson likely wrote this part into the narrative because the plot of Robinson Crusoe relates to Isabel's life. Much like Isabel, Crusoe finds himself far from home and ends up as a slave. Much later in the book, Isabel manages to declare herself a free slave and escapes in a boat, rowing until she reaches the shores of New Jersey. This mirrors Crusoe's adventures at sea and the way he manages to free himself. Having Isabel read the book is foreshadowing of what lies ahead for her.