Symbolism in Chains: Analyzing the Novel

Bees making a commotion in somebody’s brain, a bright red hat, and a water pump in New York City. There seems to be no connection between those objects, but they all in fact have something in common; they are all symbols in the book Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson. In that novel, Isabel and Curzon, two slaves in New York, are ready to escape slavery after being tormented by their cruel masters. But during their path to escape, they encounter symbolism that help them recognize their inner thoughts and feelings. Symbolism provide a richer meaning to a story and gives the reader an idea of events beyond the ordinary using the bees, Curzon’s hat, and the Tea Water Pump, among the most powerful images in Chains.

Isabel’s mood and feelings shift rapidly as shown symbolically with the bees that surround her. First of all, the bees don’t only show anger and confusion, they can also show that Isabel is refreshed. When she thought of joining the British: “The thought washed over [her] like a river, sweeping away the dead bees that filled my brain pan with confusion.”(174) The river sweeping away her dead bees mean that her confusion is swept away by the thought of joining the British, meaning that she is rapidly changing her mood from confused to refreshed and ready to join the British. In addition, after the great fire, Isabel realizes that she has lost Ruth’s doll in the fire. The bees came back and hummed so loudly that she could not even ponder about the doll. Since Ruth’s doll is the only thing left of her, Isabel realizes she lost everything. And because she lost everything, her emotions quickly shift from thinking about staying alive in the fire to thinking about her losses. Finally, when madam tells Isabel that she can’t go to Bridewell Prison, she experiences a sudden change of feeling. Now that she couldn’t go to the prison and care for Curzon, “The ashes of sadness and the buzzing bees of my melancholy all spun a storm inside [her].” (246) The bees inside her spun a storm inside her mind and suddenly changes her mood to melancholy. The bees inside Isabel show feelings using symbolism, but symbolism can can also represent the health of a person or object, as in the use of Curzon’s red hat.

Curzon’s health is described symbolically through his red hat rather than his physical appearance. Before Curzon goes to the Battle of Long Island, his hat is bright red and he is confident about the battle. He feels energetic and happy about the situation and he is wearing a red hat which symbolizes his health. He is in good shape and his red hat proves that he is ready. But later, Curzon gets captured in battle and he is going to prison. He is frail and the only way Isabel recognized him is“[his] hat, nearer brown than red now.” (204-205) Since his hat is now brown, his health is fading. When Curzon was healthy, his hat was red, but now, defeated in battle, his hat is turning brown. But Curzon’s health is at the lowest at the prison. Dibdin, the new commander is wearing his hat and Curzon is near death. He is lying on the ground and he couldn’t even hear Isabel, who is right next to him. His hat isn’t even on him meaning that he is in very poor health. But once Dibdin puts his dirty hat on him again, Curzon gets a little better and he gets the care he needs. Symbolism can represent a person or object, such as using Curzon’s red hat, but it can also represent an idea like how the Tea Water Pump represent community and freedom, an idea instead of someone’s feelings or health.

The Tea Water Pump is the place where Isabel and Curzon, and the whole community met before the war came which symbolizes community and freedom. When Isabel first arrived at New York, one of the first places Curzon took her to is the Tea Water Pump. The whole community of slaves went there to get water for their masters. And after the first time there, that is the only time that Isabel got to see Curzon in public. That event means the Tea Water Pump is the first time Isabel saw the whole community of slaves together, which is what the place symbolizes in the first place. Similarly, under the strict control of Madam Lockton, the daily trip to the Tea Water Pump is the only time where Madam Lockton isn’t in control of her. The Tea Water Pump symbolizes freedom, and this is her greatest feeling of freedom. And this is her only time to meet other people. In conclusion, the tea water pump is the place where Isabel heard about Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation: “The British promised freedom to slaves but won’t give them to won’t give it to the white rebels.” (166) But the people there argue about if the British will actually keep their promise. But nevertheless, the proclamation gives freedom to slaves, and the Tea Water Pump symbolizes freedom. So Isabel heard the proclamation of free at the Tea Water Pump. These three symbols prove that symbolism enriches and deepens the novel.

The bees, Curzon’s hat, and the Tea Water Pump show that symbolism can change a novel to be more interesting and provide a richer meaning to the story. Chains thus provides many examples of historical facts about New York with the help of symbolism. But outside of the novel, symbolism could come in many forms, and can carry the strong political and ideological implications that are apparent in Anderson’s writing.