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Katherine Paterson's novel Lyddie is set in the nineteenth century, at a time when factory workers were in high demand but were also quite abused by oppressive employers who took advantage of their workers. These are the conditions which eventually lead to the formation of unions to help protect the workers from this kind of abuse. For now, though, conditions are not ideal for the protagonist, Lyddie.
Lyddie's mother has rented their farm and conscripted her children, Lyddie and Charles, to go work in an effort to earn enough money to eventually pay off the family's debts. Charles's new job is at Baker's Mill, and Lyddie's new job is at Cutler's Tavern. Chapter three begins as Lyddie sees the tavern for the first time.
Lyddie is quite aware that as soon as she walks through these doors and begins this job, her freedom is gone and her fate is sealed. As she hesitates outside the tavern, Lyddie meets a lovely and elegant woman who treats Lyddie kindly after arriving at the tavern from a stagecoach. [Later Lyddie discovers that the woman works in a mill factory and has obviously done quite well for herself.]
When Mistress Cutler sees Lyddie for the first time, she makes the false assumption that she is a scruffy little beggar girl. Once her identity is known, however, Lyddie is forced to work like a slave for her hard taskmaster. In fact, she works harder here than she ever did on the farm.
Mistress Cutler watches Lyddie like a barn cat on a sparrow....
The only comfort Lyddie finds in her miserable situation is, late at night, counting the money she got from selling the family's calf before she and Charles left the farm.
In chapter four Lyddie makes a new friend, Triphena, who is a cook for the tavern. Triphena tells Lyddie a little allegorical tale about two frogs, both of which fell into a pail of milk. One of the frogs drowned immediately, but the other kicked so hard and furiously that he created a pat of butter which he was able to cling to until someone looked in the pail and found him in the morning. Triphena's point is that some people are born survivors, and she believes Lyddie is one of them.
Time passes and Charles comes to visit, but Lyddie's memories of the rest of her family are fading. One interesting bit of news that Lyddie overhears is that people are offering large bounties for runaway slaves.
For more information and insights on Lyddie, check out the excellent eNotes sites attached below.
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