As is often the case with historical novels, setting is extremely important in Lyddie. Much of the book is devoted to recreating the lives of the young women who worked in American factories during the first half of the nineteenth century. The novel, which begins in 1843, is set both in rural Vermont and industrial Massachusetts. The protagonist, Lyddie Worthen, has been raised in a cabin surrounded by pastures dotted with sugar bush. Isolated from society and providing little shelter against wild animals and the harsh weather, the cabin becomes a prison for Lyddie and her younger brother, Charlie, who must spend a winter there alone. Later, it becomes a temporary hideout for the runaway slave, Ezekial Abernathy.
When Lyddie is finally forced to leave the farm, she journeys to an industrialized world, first working in Cutler's Tavern, which is three times the size of the Worthen Cabin. Lyddie eventually goes to Lowell, Massachusetts, where she takes a job with the Concord Manufacturing Company, working in the weaving room. Like the Worthen cabin, the mill also imprisons Lyddie. At first, the factory seems like a nightmare with gigantic looms that have come to life and noise which sounds like "a hundred stagecoaches all inside one's skull, banging their wheels against the bone." The weaving room is also prison like, with locked windows and closed doors. While the wages Lyddie earns at the factory seem her only hope for buying the Worthen farm, she...
(The entire section is 309 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
While at first glance Lyddie may appear to be little more than a reworking of the diaries kept by factory workers in Concord, Massachusetts, it is a complex book which can be read on several levels. On one level, it is an adventure- accomplishment romance, a sort of realistic hero tale about a poor girl who rescues herself with hard work and the aid of various "godmothers." Like heroes of myths and legend, Lyddie struggles against monsters (bears and giant mechanical shuttles), aided by her courage and intelligence, as well as various mentors. The book is also an effective historical novel, a believable story which communicates the nature of factory life through interesting characters.
Lyddie is also a consciously literary work, using symbols and literary allusions to help develop its ideas. The book clearly parallels Dickens's Oliver Twist, one of the books Lyddie reads. The protagonists of both books are orphaned and find themselves working in unbearable situations from which they escape to big cities on foot. They both subsequently become part of new groups of young people (of their same gender) from which they ultimately must be rescued. It is because her life is so similar to that of Oliver Twist that his story appeals so strongly to Lyddie. Later in Lyddie, life at the factory is contrasted to Dickens' depiction of it in American Notes.
Lyddie is also encouraged by a number of symbolic images and...
(The entire section is 351 words.)
The novel sensitively handles a number of social issues which grow out of the lives of the women who worked at the Lowell factories. Both Lyddie and Brigid are victims of sexual harassment and, while Lyddie stands up for her rights, she loses her job as a result. Lyddie's mentor and co-worker, Diana Goss, spearheads an attempt to better working conditions for the factory girls, dramatizing the conflicts that have sometimes arisen between labor and management. She leaves the factory, however, because she is pregnant, not because of her crusade for social reform. While the book effectively depicts the often dehumanizing conditions of factory work, it is equally critical of the conditions Lyddie encounters while working in a tavern and on the Worthen farm.
At times the novel questions extreme and fanatical religious fundamentalism, particularly when Lyddie's mother is convinced that the world is about to end. Quaker Stevens and his family, however, are treated more sympathetically and it is hinted that someday Lyddie may marry Luke Stevens. The novel does suggest that nineteenth- century women, particularly those who were poor, were often treated as second-class citizens. Paterson dramatizes the attempts of a few who worked towards gaining freedom and independence, attempting to create better lives for themselves. In general, Paterson balances abusive bosses, religious fanatics, and pious snobs with characters like Quaker Stevens, Triphena, and Diana Goss,...
(The entire section is 237 words.)
Topics for Discussion
1. Early in the novel, Lyddie receives a letter in which her nearly illiterate mother writes, "But we can stil hop" [sic]. This misspelled phrase becomes a refrain throughout the novel. How does Lyddie manage to keep hoping? What does she hope for and how do her hopes sustain her?
2. In Chapter One, Lyddie is confronted by a bear. As the book unfolds, Lyddie thinks about that bear again and again. For example, in Chapter 22, Lyddie decides that the bear has "stolen her home, her family, her work, her good name." What does the bear come to represent for Lyddie?
3. According to Amelia, Lyddie and Betsy should not waste their time reading novels. What effect does reading have on Lyddie? What benefits does it provide?
4. Why does Lyddie feel so close to her brother, Charlie? Does he feel the same way? What role does he have in the later events of the book?
5. Why is Lyddie so stubborn and independent? Does she change as the novel progresses? How do her feelings change about Diana Goss? Brigid? Her sister, Rachel?
6. Why does Lyddie finally decide to sign Diana's petition? Why does Lyddie seek out Diana after they have both left Lowell?
7. Are there any hints about Mr. Marsden's true character when Lyddie first meets him? Why does he pretend that nothing has happened after he attacks Lyddie? Why does he finally see to it that Lyddie is fired?
8. Diana Goss and her friends are fighting for...
(The entire section is 467 words.)
Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. Compare and contrast the plot and characters of Lyddie with Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist. Why does Dickens's book capture Lyddie Worthen's imagination?
2. Read the brief section in Charles Dickens's American Notes for General Circulation which describes Dickens's visit to a factory in Lowell. Compare Dickens's view of the factories with those presented in Lyddie. You might also research one of the books listed in the sources at the end of Lyddie, such as David Macaulay's Mill or Lucy Larcom's A New England Girlhood, and discuss how Paterson makes use of it.
3. Katherine Paterson's novels are generally realistic books, but often share similarities with folktales or myths. For example, Park's Quest retells Arthurian legends and Jacob Have I Loved makes use of the Biblical tale of Jacob and Esau. Discuss a folktale or myth which seems similar to Lyddie. Does Lyddie contain any particular folk-motifs (i.e. a mentor, fairy godmother, or wise woman; a heroic quest or ordeal; a monster)? Can this book be viewed as a version of "Cinderella"?
4. Explore the novel's references to slavery. For example, what does Diana Goss mean when she says that it is "the nature of slavery to make the slave fear freedom"? Consider, too, why Paterson includes the subplot about the escaped slave, Ezekial Abernathy, and the song, "I Will Not Be a Slave," which Betsy sings....
(The entire section is 284 words.)
Like many of Paterson's books, Lyddie is concerned with the importance of other books and celebrates the power of reading fiction. For example, in Bridge to Terabithia, the precocious Leslie Burke and her friend, Jess, create the imaginary world, Terabithia, out of the books they have read. In Jacob Have I Loved, Louise Bradshaw draws strength from reading works by Scott, Dickens, and Cooper. The main character of Come Sing, Jimmy Jo finds comfort in a book by Beverly Cleary, while Park of Park's Quest daydreams that he is one of King Arthur's knights searching for the Holy Grail. In Lyddie, Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist sparks Lyddie's interest in books. Not surprisingly, Lyddie itself has some similarities to Dickens's book, particularly since both Lyddie and Oliver travel to a big city and attempt to find a new life in a community of other children or young adults. The similarity between Oliver's workhouse and the factory where Lyddie works is close enough for Lyddie to identify with Oliver. Like Oliver, Lyddie has a few benefactors or mentors who help her see the way out of her sometimes miserable existence.
Lyddie also shares other similarities with the rest of Paterson's novels. Paterson's earlier historical novels, The Sign of the Chrysanthemum (1973), Of Nightingales That Weep (1974), The Master Puppeteer (1976), and Rebels of the Heavenly Kingdom (1983),...
(The entire section is 276 words.)
For Further Reference
Babbitt, Natalie. "Working Girl." New York Times Book Review (May 19, 1991): 24. In this review, children's novelist Natalie Babbitt praises the novel, particularly its historical background and the way in which it rises above the caricatures of its counterpart, Oliver Twist.
Kemp, Sandra. "Working Worlds." Times Educational Supplement 8 (November 1991): 38. This review highlights the novel's relationship to the works of Charles Dickens.
Namovicz, Gene Inyart. "Katherine Paterson." Horn Book 57 (1981): 394- 399. A biographical sketch written when Paterson won the Newbery Award for Jacob Have I Loved.
Odean, Kathleen. Review. School Library Journal 37 (February 1991): 82. A short, positive review which calls attention to the novel's interest in reading.
Paterson, Katherine. Gates of Excellence: On Reading and Writing for Children. New York: Elsevier/Nelson, 1981. A collection of Paterson's essays and reviews which, among other things, reveal her philosophy of writing and her attitudes towards historical fiction.
"Literature and Life." English Journal 80,5 (1991): 11. Paterson discusses the power of literature over children, one of the topics of Lyddie.
"Katherine Paterson." Speaking for Ourselves: Autobiographical Sketches by Notable Authors of Books for Young Adults. Edited by Don Gallo. Urbana: NCTE, 1990: 159-161. A short, autobiographical...
(The entire section is 221 words.)