What dilemma does Lyddie face when Charlie comes to Lowell in Lyddie?

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Lyddie has to decide if she should send her sister Rachel to Charlie’s new family.

Lyddie has always been the strong one in the family.  When her youngest sister Agnes was born, her mother became mentally withdrawn and unstable and her father left to try to make money out west....

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Lyddie has to decide if she should send her sister Rachel to Charlie’s new family.

Lyddie has always been the strong one in the family.  When her youngest sister Agnes was born, her mother became mentally withdrawn and unstable and her father left to try to make money out west. Lyddie was the oldest, and she became the head of the house.

Even though she had not seen her father in four years, Lyddie still hoped he would come back.  Her mother got tired of waiting, and left the farm to go to Lyddie’s uncle’s house after the family had a close call with a bear.  Bears or not, that left Lyddie and her younger brother Charles alone with the house.

Lyddie’s mother let out the land and sent Charles and Lyddie to work.  Two years later, Lyddie got a letter from her mother telling her that her youngest sister Agnes had died and her other sister Rachel was in bad shape.  Not long after that, Lyddie’s uncle showed up with Rachel.  He left the little girl with Lyddie and told her that her mother was being institutionalized and the farm sold.

Rachel was too light. Boneless as a rag doll. As Lyddie went up the steps of the boardinghouse, she could feel her tiny burden trembling through the shawl. "It's all right, Rachie. It's me, Lyddie," she said, hoping the child could remember her. (Ch. 15)

As a factory worker, Lyddie did not have any place to keep an eight-year-old girl.  She lived in the factory corporate housing, which was a boarding house that took up most of her pay.  Children were not allowed for factory workers.

When Charlie arrived, he told Lyddie that he now was with a good family.  The people who had taken him in had treated him like a son, and then sent him for Rachel.  She could have a good life with them, and live like a child instead of a slave.  Lyddie knows that this life would make Rachel stronger and allow her a chance to go to school, something Lyddie never got to do.

"I have good news there, too. Mrs. Phinney asked me to bring Rachel back.  She craves a daughter as well. And she'll be so good to her, you'll see. … She's never had a proper Ma, Rachel." (Ch. 18)

Lyddie knows this is true.  However, Lyddie is also sad.  Since her father left, all she wanted was for the family to be back together.  Now there seemed no chance of that, with their mother put away and Agnes dead.  Rachel was the last piece of the dream that Lyddie had left.

Still, the choice was really no choice at all.  Lyddie may want to keep her family together, but it would be selfish to keep Rachel when she had no way to take care of her.  Rachel would have a much better life with Charlie’s new family.

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