Socialist Worker

Chains: breaking the chains of slavery means tackling racism

by Sorcha Bradley
Issue No. 2143

As the American Revolution of 1775-83 rages around her, Isabel, a 13 year old slave girl, begins her own struggle.

She soon realises the only way that she will gain her freedom is by fighting for it herself.

Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel, which is aimed at teenagers, is beautifully written and a fascinating historical account. But it is also flawed.

Anderson has managed to entwine fiction and history extremely well. She has researched the time period in acute detail.

However, at times the story can feel unrealistic.

For example, Isabel experiences an apparent lack of racism throughout the story.

All of her troubles seemingly come from the fact that she is a slave, rather than the true reason – the colour of her skin.

In fact, racism is an issue that the novel seems to carefully skate around.

The characters are well drawn, yet unengaging, and there is little development of them.

They are generally two dimensional, with rare moments when the text suggests that they may be more than they appear.

But these developments are rarely sustained.

This leaves the reader frustrated, as the issues the author is trying to tackle are complex.

Although freedom, and the fight for it, seems to be the theme of this book, its meaning is never really explored or defined.

This means that Anderson’s underlying message is not conveyed very clearly.

Indeed, she seems almost fearful of tackling the issues that should be at the heart of this novel.

This is in contrast to classic books such as Alice Walker’s The Colour Purple and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

These movingly confront the complex and many layered issues of racism and slavery.

It is these books that truly challenge racism, and seek to break its bonds, whereas Chains simply ignores it.

by Laurie Halse Anderson
£6.99, available from Bookmarks. Phone 020 7637 1848 or go to »

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

Tue 17 Mar 2009, 18:45 GMT
Issue No. 2143
Share this article


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.