LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Water Dancer, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge
Water, Movement, and Freedom
Hiram starts conducting more frequently. He realizes that the woman who sneakily gave him the gingerbread was Emma. He feels he is beginning to understand something, but also finds Conduction difficult, as each time it leaves him filled with sadness. He is beginning to no longer feel free, and one day decides to leave the Underground. He walks to the docks and stands near the sailors, who seem the freest of anyone in the city. He hopes one of them will approach him and offer him work, but they don’t. He keeps wandering around until it gets dark, when he realizes he has no plan or resources. Resigning himself to life in the Underground, Hiram heads home, but is struck on the head by a white man and passes out.
Hiram’s fascination with the sailors is significant, as their way of life is defined by a form of freedom that involves moving across bodies of water. As has been made clear thus far, water, movement, and freedom are connected in a powerful way for Hiram, as well as for enslaved people more generally. This is in part because one of the most significant forms of rebellion by enslaved people involved jumping from slave ships into the water.
Hiram wakes up chained, blindfolded, and gagged in the back of a moving cart. He is sure that he has been caught by some of the Hounds who live up North and kidnap black people on the street in order to sell them into slavery. He can hear men laughing and a girl next to him crying. After driving or a while, they stop and Hiram is made to sit against a tree, still blindfolded, while the white men eat by a campfire. However, suddenly shots ring out, and Hiram is freed from his chains by Micajah Bland. Two other men stand with him. Hiram is overcome with a sudden, uncontrollable fury, and kicks the corpses of the dead white man until he is too exhausted to kick anymore.
The uncontrollable rage Hiram feels toward the white man who kidnapped him comes as no surprise. Having experienced freedom, Hiram knows exactly how much he has to lose by being captured and re-enslaved. The terrible reality was that this was a fairly common occurrence for free black people in both the North and South. Kidnapping black people, even those who were “officially” free, was a highly lucrative business.
Hiram now realizes that the voice inside him that told him to flee the Underground has always been within him. It is a desire for freedom, but a selfish one. Now it is overtaken by a commitment to family. Led by Bland, they walk toward a woman who checks that Hiram is ok. She asks him what kind of agent lets himself be seized by hounds like that. After the woman walks away, one of the men Hiram doesn’t know asks if he knows who she was, and then tells him it was Moses.
The horror of slavery is so intense than no one could be blamed for wanting to preserve their own freedom at all costs after having escaped it. Indeed, this is what makes the work of the formerly enslaved Underground Railroad agents so admirable. Having successfully escaped slavery themselves, they had the courage and selflessness to go back to rescue others.
Moses has other nicknames, including The General, The Night, and the Vanisher. She is the “living master of Conduction.” As they drive back toward Philadelphia, Bland tells Hiram that by shooting the men who kidnapped him, they will “send a message” to others who do the same thing. Suddenly, Hiram admits to Bland that he was in love with Sophia, and that he often thinks she should have become the Underground agent instead of him. He cries, saying that Sophia deserved better. Bland says that the pain Hiram feels now is the pain of a whole world of black people whose lives have been torn apart by slavery. Hiram thanks Bland for saving him, but Bland says there’s no need—the Underground gives his life meaning.
The next morning, Raymond notes that although he trusts Bland deeply, he doesn’t approve of his vengeful murders of the white men who kidnapped Hiram. He believes that Bland owes Hiram an apology. Raymond then admits that he knows where Sophia is: Lockless. Corrine persuaded Howell to take Sophia back. The Underground has not gone to rescue her yet because of its “rules,” but that they are not going to leave her there. In fact, they have already determined a method for getting her out.
Forge tells the story of Curzon Smith, a runaway slave who enlists in the Colonial Army during the American Revolution. A sequel to Anderson’s previous book,Chains, Forge begins in earnest after Curzon has been abandoned by Isabel, a fellow slave who has freed him from captivity at the end of the previous novel. Isabel has left in search of her lost sister, Ruth – an action Curzon has tried to prevent in order to keep her safe.
Curzon comes across a skirmish on the outskirts of Valley Forge. There, he intercedes as a young boy, Ebenezer Woodruff (Eben) draws down against a redcoat. Eben kills the soldier, and invites Curzon to meet him and his uncle Caleb at camp, to be properly thanked. Curzon follows but is beset by Trumbull, a conveyancer and Curzon’s former employer, who Curzon had stolen from when Trumbull refused to pay Curzon for his work. Caleb thanks Curzon for saving his nephew and bows to him. Curzon is moved by this. He signs up for a full tour, until the end of the war.
The following chapters describe life at Valley Forge – the laborious construction of the huts, which will be the army’s shelter, the terrible cold, and the lack of food, provisions, and resources. This, however, does not deter the good spirits of Curzon and his company. Curzon and his friends band together and survive the elements.
Bigotry and intolerance are a presence in the camp. Curzon runs afoul of John Burns – a scheming, flattering bigot – who spreads stories about him in an effort to sow discord. At a party thrown by the local militia leader, Curzon is mistaken for a slave. This leads to a temporary falling out between himself and Eben, whose privilege and ignorance makes him unable to understand Curzon and his fellow black men and women’s collective plight. Eben and Burns begin stealing food from the neighboring farms, but their alliance soon dissolves when Eben realizes Burns has no intention of sharing the food with his fellow soldiers. He and Curzon cook a pumpkin together, and Eben apologizes for his callousness.
Curzon and his friends continue the construction of their shelter hut – a process that requires the chopping down of trees and hauling of lumber. One day, Caleb mistakenly cleaves his ankle with his axe. The injury claims his life in the night. Burns is made the new sergeant, and a new captain is commissioned to lead their unit. Burns and two goons attack Curzon and steal his boots. The men in his company agree to share their boots between them to spare Curzon frostbite.
A blizzard hits the already flagging camp, and brings with it members of the Continental Congress from York. Among them is Bellingham, the man who formerly owned Curzon. Bellingham seems genuinely excited to discover Curzon is alive. He invites him to Washington’s headquarters to discuss life in the camp – Curzon thinks for a moment that he’ll be able to get justice for his abuse and stolen boots. But the next day, it’s clear that Bellingham has no interest or intention in such things. He attempts to take possession of Curzon yet again, insisting that he “owns” him. Curzon flees but is captured and court-martialed. He is returned to Bellingham, and made to work for Bellingham at Moore Hall – an estate where the congressmen are lodged. There, Curzon is horrified to discover Isabel, captured as well, serving as Bellingham’s maid.
Curzon spends the last third of the novel serving in Bellingham’s house while plotting his escape. He’s overseen and spied on by Gideon – a fellow slave, but one who appears loyal to Bellingham. Gideon overhears Curzon’s intention to flee with Isabel, and tells Bellingham, who threatens to take out any punishment due to Curzon on Isabel. Bellingham has also affixed a heavy iron collar to Isabel’s neck, the key for which he wears around his own. Gideon then falls ill and is rushed back to York for treatment.
Curzon and Bellingham visit the Valley Forge camp, where Curzon is immediately recognized by Eben. He shares with Curzon his plans to help him escape. Curzon tells this to Isabel, but she refuses, telling him that she’d intended to flee with Gideon, who would help her find her sister. Curzon, distrustful of Gideon, urges her to stay with him. Gideon returns, no longer dressed in fancy clothes, but rather dressed as a field hand. He and Isabel leave in the night. Curzon is heartbroken at her departure.
Curzon awakes in the middle of the night to discover that Isabel has returned. She tells Curzon that Gideon has been a spy for the British the entire time, and that her “ghosts” had compelled her to return to him. Curzon tells her the story of how he came to have his name – that it was his father’s spelling of coração, the Portuguese word for “heart.” The two finally kiss.
Spring arrives, and the army is ready to move. Moreover, the French have declared themselves as allies to America. The war is looking up, and Moore Hall is bustling with activity. Curzon intends to flee with Isabel when the army marches out of Valley Forge – he makes a wax impression of Bellingham’s key while he bathes, and he and Isabel melt down musket balls for the iron. Isabel forges letters drawing Bellingham away from the house, and the two steal as much food and money as they can find for their trip.
Bellingham returns armed, realizing that Curzon intends to flee, but seeing that Bellingham has no gunpowder on his lips or shirt, Curzon realizes that the man’s pistol is empty. The two fight, and Isabel knocks Bellingham unconscious with a shovel. They tie Bellingham up in the stable and flee with the army.
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Chain Letter - Chapters 8 and 9 Summary & Analysis
Chapters 8 and 9 Summary
In Chapter 8, Tony is instructed to come in last at the track meet. He decides to ignore the Caretaker's commands, and prepares for the race as usual. Neil is on the sidelines with a cooler of Tony's favorite beverage during track meets: small cartons of lemonade available only at drive-through dairies. Neil worries before Tony takes his first sip of lemonade that perhaps the drink has been laced with something, and he takes a sip him self. He says the lemonade tastes sour, but Tony laughs at him and gulps it down. He wonders whether he senses an after taste, but dismisses the idea as having been elicited by mere suggestion.
Tony assumes his position on the track for the quarter mile race. He is confident that he will defeat the strongest runner there, an undefeated black student from another high...
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Chains is the freedom story about a young slave named Isabel who lives during the Revolutionary War. She and her little sister have been the beloved slaves of her mistress Miss Mary Finch, who had promised to free them in her will, but her brother denies the promise after her death. They're sold to British merchants in New York -- "Madam" Anne and Elihu Lockton. With Tory ties and cruel streaks, these new masters prove unbearable. Madam abuses both of the girl and keeps Ruth by her side at all times in order to separate the sisters. When Isabel meets a fells slave, Curzon, who is a part of the revolution, she agrees to act as a spy for his colonel on the Lockton's property. In exchange, Curzon promises his friendship and to help get the girls freed. One day Isabel learns that Lockton has a store of money on the property marked for the opposition of the patriots. She passes on the information, but it turns out to be a false clue, although the Loctkons remain under suspicion in their patriot-controlled state.
When Isabel catches wind of an assassination plot of George Washington, she begs Curzon to help free her in exchange for the valuable information. Lockton escapes to England, but his wife remains in the colonies. She sells Ruth without telling Isabel because the younger girl started to have seizures which scared her mistress. When Isabel complains, she is branded with the letter "I" on her cheek for insolence. Alone and depressed, Isabel is sent to work for Lockton's aunt, Lady Seymour. Right around this time the great fire of NYC 1776 occurs. Isabel rescues Lady Seymour from the flames, and the two move to the Lockton's estate where they live nearly inseparably since the girl won the old lady's favor.
The British troops march into Fort Washington and throw the patriots into prison. Isabel starts taking food to Curzon in prison where he's being grossly mistreated because he's a slave. In hopes of helping him, she agrees to once more act as a patriot spy in exchange for freedom. Unfortunately Madam soon catches on to her espionage and, outraged, reveals that she didn't sell Ruth after all. She's living at their Charleston estate but will be drowned in order to punish Isabel for her treachery. That threat and the newfound hope of reuniting with her sister inspire Isabel to escape. She snags a free pass from Lockton and walks down the street with immunity. Immediately she goes to the prison where she tricks the guards into believing the very ill Curzon has died. She takes his body via wheelbarrow to the dockyards where they steal a rowboat and row safely to New Jersey. The two of them decide to find Ruth and rescue her as well.
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Chains Questions and Answers
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Study Guide for Chains
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