Lyddie personifies factory girls and their problems.
In the larger sense, Lyddie is a symbol. She is representing all of the factory girls who lived in the 1800’s and the struggles they went through. She puts a human face on the problem.
Lyddie represents the pioneer spirit. She is fiercely independent, intelligent, and loyal. When she becomes a victim of circumstances outside of her control, she never pities herself. She just does her best to do what she can for her family. Many factory girls were in the same position. No one would work in a factory if she didn’t have to.
Conditions in the factory were deplorable. It was noisy, and often unsafe. Disease and injury were common. Both happen to Lyddie. She gets injured rethreading a shuttle on a weaving machine.
Before she could think she was on the floor, blood pouring through the hair near her right temple . . . the shuttle, the blasted shuttle. (Ch. 13)
Lyddie also gets incredibly sick later on, and worries about losing her job from missing work. The doctor is another example of dangers that faced factory girls. He is clearly a predator. He gets her friend Diana pregnant, and tries to kiss Lyddie when she collapses from fever.
Paterson also demonstrates what factory girls tried to do to make conditions better. Lyddie refuses to sign a petition for worker’s rights at first, because she does not want to stir up trouble. Betsy explains how the girls were practically treated like slaves.
“…When I started in the spinning room, I could do a thirteen‐hour day and to spare. But in those days I had a hundred thirty spindles to tend. Now I've twice that many at a speed that would make the devil curse. I'm worn out, Amelia. We're all worn out." (Ch. 12)
The factory system clearly takes advantage of the girls. They must all be single, and live in the factory boarding house. They work long hours in deplorable conditions, and are not allowed to protest. As Betsy demonstrates, they are constantly forced to work harder and faster until it is no longer safe.
Although modern factory workers have rights in this country, and safety laws prevent dangerous working conditions, the problem has not gone away. Many factories still operate illegally in secret, often relying on immigrants as their workforce. In other countries, especially those who specialize in cheap labor, dangerous factory conditions are still a part of life.