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An analysis of the personality and traits of Isabel from Laurie Halse Anderson's Chains

Summary:

Isabel in Laurie Halse Anderson's Chains is a resilient and determined character. Despite facing immense hardships and enslavement, she remains brave and resourceful. Her loyalty to her sister Ruth and her longing for freedom drive her actions. Isabel's intelligence and inner strength enable her to navigate and resist the oppressive circumstances she encounters.

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Describe the personality and traits of Isabel from Laurie Halse Anderson's Chains.

An early indication of 13-year-old Isabel’s personality and temperament is evident following the funeral service for the young slave’s former owner, Miss Mary Finch, who had granted Isabel and her younger sister Ruth their freedom upon her demise.  Isabel inquires of the presiding minister, Pastor Weeks, regarding potential destinations for these children.  Mr. Robert, the late Miss Finch’s sole surviving relative, has, unbeknownst to Isabel, arranged for the girls’ continued captivity.  Protesting Mr. Robert’s claim that the girls remained slaves despite Miss Finch’s wishes, Isabel, the story’s narrator and main protagonist, describes her reaction as follows:

“I planted my feet firmly in the dirt and fought to keep my voice polite and proper.  ‘I saw the will, sir.  After the lawyer wrote it, Miss Finch had me read it out loud on account of her eyes being bad.’”

With this defiance, Isabel demonstrates both the strength of her will and her ability to read, a serious transgression on the part of a slave and whomsoever would teach a slave to read.  Isabel, of course, loses her appeal to Pastor Weeks, and remains a slave, this time to a vicious couple that abuses the girls.  The news that the girls will be sold again into slavery is a terrible shock to Isabel, whose concern for her mentally handicapped little sister tears at her soul.  “What if we were split up?  Who would take care of her?” she wonders. 

Isabel has been forced to grow up fast, the physical and mental burdens of being a slave compounded by her commitment to Ruth’s welfare.  She loves her sister deeply, and is repeatedly described throughout the story as dedicated to keeping the two together (“I took Ruth by the hand . . .”; “I put m arm around Ruth”), convinced that physical contact with her baby sister will help ensure they remained together.  She is also intelligent enough, however, to know that her love and devotion for Ruth is insufficient to ensure they stay together.  Consequently, she is compelled to try and convince new owner Ann Lockton of Ruth’s functionality:

“She’s a good simple, ma’am.  Does what she’s told.  In truth, she’s a harder worker than me.  Give her a broom and tell her to sweep, and you’ll be able to eat off your floor.”

Isabel’s main traits, then, are her devotion to her family and her willingness to work hard to achieve her objectives, noting that, in the hopes that the owners of a tavern (Jenny) will outbid the Lockton’s for her and Ruth, such an arrangement will allow her the opportunity to search for Miss Finch’s missing will and the lawyer who handled Miss Finch’s estate:

“When we found Miss Mary’s will, I’d work extra to pay Jenny back the money we cost her, fair and square.  Ruth and me would stay together, and we’d stay here, close to momma.”

Anderson’s main character is an extraordinary individual thrust into horrific circumstances.  She is strong-willed, loyal and caring. 

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Describe the personality and traits of Isabel from Laurie Halse Anderson's Chains.

Not a lot of information is given to readers about Isabel's parents.  Isabel is no longer living with her parents, and she is the remaining provider for young Ruth.  

The few times that Isabel is compared to one of her parents, she is most often compared to her father.  The image that Isabel most often associates with her father is the image of a lion.  She sees her father as a man that is both brave and strong.  Isabel tells readers that her father "fought like a lion" when he was forcibly taken away from his wife and children.  Isabel includes the detail that it took five men to pull her father away.  

Isabel is brave, courageous, and strong like her father.  As the story progresses, Isabel comes to recognize that about herself too.  When Madam Lockton tells Isabel that she got rid of Ruth, Isabel tells her audience that Madam Lockton "could not see the lion inside" of her.  Near the novel's conclusion, Isabel proves that she is every bit the lion that her father was.  Madam Lockton has Isabel locked in the potato bin, and Isabel uses her strength and determination to kick her way out.  Then she forges papers that state she is free, rescues Curzon, and escapes from New York.  

Isabel's mother must have been equally brave too.  We know this because when Isabel sneaks out to meet Curzon the first time, she tells us that she was very scared; however, she also says that she tried to be brave "like Momma or Queen Esther."  I don't know Isabel's mother, but I do know that Queen Esther was brave enough to risk her own life and station in order to save an entire population of people.  If Isabel's mother is being grouped into that same category, Isabel's mother was quite brave.  The bravery to stand up to punishment in order to protect someone is a trait that Isabel has as well.  For example, Isabel flings herself down on Ruth in order to take the savage beating from Madam Lockton instead of letting Ruth be hit.  

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What are some characteristics of the character Isabel in Chains?

Young Isabel experiences a great deal of trauma in her life, but with each difficulty, she comes through even stronger than before. This demonstrates a trait called resilience. The influence of even one or two kind and helpful adults along the way as each challenge unfolds helps Isabel to gather her own inner forces and not lose faith in her ability to prevail.

Think about what Isabel goes through in her life and how she ultimately decides to handle each new challenge. This will make it very clear to you which characteristics define her. Though Isabel's life is fraught with the cruelties, dangers, and injustices of enslavement, her deceased mother's love helps her develop a strong inner core early on.

You may want to make a simple chart for yourself in order to better answer this question in your own words and with your own valuable insights. Take a piece of lined paper and draw a line down the middle. At the top of the left side, write, "Challenge." At the top of the right side, write, "How She Handles It."

For example, a situation that comes up early in the novel is the broken promise that Isabel and her sister will be freed. When this does not happen, does Isabel give up and just accept things the way they are? No, she does not. This challenge brings out her traits of determination and persistence.

Her little sister's illness poses a number of special challenges for Isabel. Does she look out only for herself and ignore her sister's vulnerability, or does Isabel show deep loyalty and devotion by doing all she can to protect her?

What would you call the kinds of traits Isabel demonstrates when she takes on the very risky challenge of bringing food to her friend in jail? Is she the kind of person whom you would personally want to have as a friend?

What is probably most difficult to think about is the brutal challenge of Isabel having her face branded. How does Isabel ultimately deal with this terrible event? Does she let it bring her down forever or does she rise above it? Again, it is important to remember that the individuals who happen to be there for her during the most difficult times, although often minor characters, help Isabel to get in touch with her inner strength and to keep going.

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What are some characteristics of the character Isabel in Chains?

One of the first things we learn about Isabel is that she has been deeply struck by grief in the aftermath of her mother's death. She feels things deeply and is still in a state of mourning.

In chapter two, we learn that Isabel is a courageous girl who has the gumption to politely inform Pastor Weeks that according to Miss Finch's will, she and Ruth are free.

Isabel is very spiritual and has some strange beliefs: she is upset by the idea that when they travel over water to leave Rhode Island, her mother's ghost will not be able to follow them.

She is intensely loyal, which is shown by her willingness to take responsibility for Ruth's untimely laughter when officials wished to search Madam Lockton's luggage. For her loyalty, she receives a painful slap from Madam Lockton, but she is not deterred by this.

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What are some characteristics of the character Isabel in Chains?

Two main traits define Isabel's character: her loyalty and her courage.

She is fiercely loyal to her sister, Ruth. An example of this is when Ruth, in her innocence, laughs at "the Madam," and Isabel takes a slap for her, thinking, "Better me than Ruth." As another Educator has mentioned, she also saves Lady Seymour when a fire starts in her house (out of gratitude for Lady Seymour's earlier kindness toward her).

Isabel is also courageous. Going back and forth between the Patriots and the Loyalists is a dangerous task, but she does so. Not only that, she later cements her decision to fight for herself, thinking, "If an entire nation could seek its freedom, why not a girl?"

By the end of the book, Isabel has discovered that she possesses an inner strength that no inhumane system can quell. She even views the scar from her branding as the mark of a "survivor".

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What are some characteristics of the character Isabel in Chains?

Isabel is sweet. She's a hard worker. She has an evil, female task master. She dreams of being free some day. She sounds a lot like Cinderella, doesn't she?

In addition to the above traits, Isabel is tough. Madam Lockton is flat out mean to her. And I'm not talking about just having a lot of chores to do (although Madam Lockton does give Isabel a big workload). No, I'm specifically thinking about the time that Madam Lockton had Isabel branded. That's something that people do to animals. The incident doesn't break Isabel though. If anything, it strengthens her resolve.

That brings up two more characteristics. Isabel is brave and determined. Most of the story is about her trying to save herself and her sister Ruth. Isabel is willing to do just about anything in order to gain her freedom. That includes spying for Patriots, which would mean death if caught.

Isabel is also incredibly loyal to her sister Ruth. But Isabel's loyalty doesn't end with family. She absolutely feels the need to pay back any debts of gratitude with a similar act of kindness. An example of that would be when Isabel risks her own life to save Lady Seymour from her burning house, because earlier Lady Seymour displayed kindness to Isabel.

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