The main characters in Chains are Isabel Finch, Ruth Finch, and Curzon Bellingham.
- Isabel Finch, the novel’s protagonist and narrator, is a teenage girl struggling to free herself and her sister from slavery during the Revolutionary War. Brave, intelligent, and possessed of a powerful memory, she does all she can to protect her younger sibling.
- Ruth Finch is Isabel’s five-year-old sister, who suffers from seizures and is described as “simple.” She is sent to South Carolina without Isabel’s knowledge.
- Curzon Bellingham is a boy enslaved by Bellingham, a Patriot. Isabel passes Curzon information about Loyalist plots and helps him escape from prison.
Isabel Finch / “Sal Lockton” / Isabel Gardener
Isabel Finch is the protagonist of Chains. Enslaved by the Finch family at the beginning of the novel, she and her younger sister, Ruth, are soon sold to the Locktons. Madam Lockton renames her “Sal Lockton,” and Isabel is called by both names throughout the duration of the narrative.
Isabel is clever and resourceful and, above all, deeply protective of her little sister. She weighs most of her choices throughout the novel in relation to their impact on Ruth and shows a willingness to put herself in harm’s way to spare Ruth consequences. Isabel endures many traumatic experiences throughout the narrative, but Madam selling Ruth is the one that breaks her.
When Isabel is forging a pass for herself before she decides to flee, she’s unsure which name to write—neither “Isabel Finch” nor “Sal Lockton” feel right. Instead, she gives herself a new name that honors her love of plants and growth, and her first home at the farm: Isabel Gardener.
In contrast to her outer reserve, Isabel is also revealed to place great value on memory, both personal and ancestral. In times of hardship, she often calls on “ghosts” for advice, comfort, and strength—the ghosts of her mother and father, but also the ghosts of her more distant ancestors. “I rowed and the tide pulled and the ghosts . . . tugged my boat with all their strength,” she says in chapter 45, explaining how she and Curzon made it safely across the river.
Ruth is Isabel’s younger sister. She is just five years old during the novel’s events, and her safety provides the main motivation for Isabel’s actions. When they’re taken to the Lockton home, Madam vastly prefers Ruth to Isabel and trains her to be a lady’s maid.
Madam mentions early in the novel that she thinks Ruth looks “simple.” Isabel explains that she’s “good simple,” assuring Madam that Ruth is a harder worker than Isabel herself. The reality is more complicated—Ruth does work hard, but she’s also prone to seizures and is what we might today term neuroatypical. When she has a seizure in front of Madam one day, Madam thinks Ruth is possessed by the devil and insists that they sell her at once. Lockton refuses and decides that Ruth will be moved to the kitchen to work with Becky instead.
Isabel wakes one day to find that Ruth is missing, and Madam tells her she’s been sold to a physician’s family headed for Nevis. Eventually, Isabel learns this isn’t true—Ruth has been sent to Charleston, South Carolina, and Madam still owns her.
Curzon is an enslaved boy owned by Bellingham, and he meets Isabel in port when the Locktons first arrive in New York City. He’s aligned with the rebellion, and he convinces Isabel to listen for any useful information in the Loyalist Lockton home.
When the war begins in earnest, Curzon joins the rebel forces to fight for American independence. He survives but is eventually captured by British soldiers and taken to prison, where the conditions are dire. Isabel begins visiting him, doing favors for other rebels in exchange for his protection.
When Isabel escapes, she smuggles Curzon out of prison and takes him with her.
Madam Anne Lockton
The Locktons purchase Isabel and Ruth from Mr. Robert Finch in chapter 1.
(The entire section is 986 words.)