Much of the novel Lyddie is devoted to the title character’s efforts to earn money and help pay off the debts on her family’s farm. Lyddie’s intended use of her earnings are made known in chapters 7 and 15. These consist of conversations she has with a coachman and with...
Much of the novel Lyddie is devoted to the title character’s efforts to earn money and help pay off the debts on her family’s farm. Lyddie’s intended use of her earnings are made known in chapters 7 and 15. These consist of conversations she has with a coachman and with her uncle, respectively.
In chapter 7, Lyddie is on a coach traveling to Lowell. When it gets stuck, she gets out to push and gets covered with mud. Rather than go back inside, she climbs up front with the coachman. They have a conversation about her reasons for going there to seek work. When the man asks why she is interested in “factory life,” she explains that she needs the money. When he assumes that she wants to buy nice clothes, she corrects this false impression and explains that she needs to pay farm-related debts.
“So you’re for the factory life?”
Lyddie nodded. “I need the money.”
He glanced sideways at her. “Those young women dress like Boston ladies.”
“I don’t care for the fancy dress. There’s debts on my farm ...”
“And it’s your farm, now is it?”
“My father’s,” she said.
Despite Lyddie’s hard work in the mill and her constant efforts to save money, her family’s problems continue to mount. In chapter 15, she receives a visit from her Uncle Judah, who brings her sister, Rachel, to stay with her and delivers sad news about her mother. Her precarious mental health declined so far that the family could no longer care for her; he and her aunt have sent her mother to an asylum. When Lyddie assures her uncle that she intends to pay the debt, he provides another piece of sad news: their decision to sell the farm.
“As soon as I pay off the debt, I’ll take her back home and care for her myself.” He turned at the door, the hat brim rolled tight and squeezed in his big hands.
“Home,” she repeated. “To the farm.”
“We be selling it.”
The first time the title character in Katherine Paterson's novel Lyddie has any money at all is when she sells the calf she and her brother raised. Lyddie tells Charlie, “We got to think about keeping this farm for when Papa comes back.” They will bury the money, she decides, and use it for “seed cash to start over” as soon as they can.
Lyddie doesn't use the money that way, though. Instead, she gives it to Ezekial, a runaway slave. At first, Lyddie thinks she will report Ezekial, whom she finds hiding in her family's cabin, and claim the reward money, which will go a long way to paying off her father's debts. But after she gets to know Ezekial personally, she finds she cannot do that. She recognizes him as a kindred spirit and decides to help him on his way to freedom.
Throughout the story, however, Lyddie continues to focus on earning money to go home. When she loses her job at the tavern, Lyddie tells Triphena that she will “go to Lowell,” work in the mills, and “make real money to pay off the debt so I can go home.” She says the same to Diana and to her roommates. Her entire focus is on earning and saving money. She works hard and fast, tending several machines at once and becoming almost a machine herself.
Lyddie writes to her mother, thinking, “I got to tell her how hard I'm working to pay off the debt.” She also asks her mother how much, exactly, the debt is, so she will know how much she needs, but her mother never responds. “I am saving most of my wages for the debt,” she explains in a letter to Charlie. “I am working hard and making good pay. We can go home soon.”
When Rachel comes to stay with her, Lyddie insists to her Uncle Judah that she will come for her mother, too, as soon as possible, as “soon as I pay off the debt.” Judah informs her that the farm is to be sold. Lyddie soon has to let go of the idea of ever going home. She has to find a new dream, and eventually she does.
Lyddie wants to get her farm back so that she can reunite her family.
When Lyddie first learns about the factory, she finds it hard to believe that a factory girl can make so much money. Then she gets fired from her tavern job, so she goes to work for the factory. At first, she is not interested in anything except making as much money as she can. She wants to get her family back together. In order for that to happen she has to get her farm back.
When her mother left her, it was a big blow to Lyddie. Her father was already gone and for a while she and Charlie had the farm, but then her mother hired her out. As soon as she could, she had a dream of seeing her mother, little sisters, and brother back together.
When Lyddie learns that her littlest sister Agnes has died, she feels the dream slipping away.
She must work harder. She must earn all the money to pay what they owed, so she could gather her family together back on the farm while she still had family left to gather. The idea of living alone and orphaned and without brother or sister‐a life barren of land and family like Diana's . . . (Ch. 12)
Things get even worse for Lyddie when she learns that her mother is being put in an asylum and the farm is being sold. When her uncle tells her this, she is shocked. Her uncle tells her that her father gave him permission to sell the farm before he left. To Lyddie, it seems as if her entire world is falling apart.
She could hardly keep her mind on her work. What was the use of it all anyway if the farm was gone? But it couldn't be! Not after all her sweating and saving. (Ch. 15)
Lyddie always felt that all she would have to do was get enough money, buy the farm, and everyone would come. It didn’t happen. She writes to her brother Charlie, telling him what happened. He comes, but he doesn’t try to stop the farm’s sale. He takes Rachel with him, because the family he lives with can take care of her. It seems Lyddie’s dream is gone after all.