A true "Lowell Factory Girl," Lyddie
spends her first day finally working in the dismal textile factory. Lyddie's day begins even before the sun comes up. It is a horrid, thirteen-hour day. Even the time for meals is cut short during the two short breaks to nourish herself. Breathing in the small cloth fibers into her lungs and dodging the dangerous "shuttles" as they fly back and forth between the weaving looms becomes commonplace for Lyddie as she tries desperately to adjust to the horrible factory conditions, as even the air is "laden with ... debris." A further problem is the noise in the factory, the looms and shuttles are so very loud that they eventually can damage a young woman's hearing. After growing up in a small cabin in Vermont and being proud enough to refuse all charity donations, this adjustment to the bad conditions in the Lowell factories is hard for Lyddie. After this first day of work among the looms, meeting some of her coworkers and her overseer, Lyddie returns to her bed completely exhausted. Her feet are swollen and her head is aching beyond belief. At this point, Lyddie's only desire is one thing: sleep.
The character of Betsy now becomes a very important character in the story. The author, Katherine Paterson
, uses Betsy to introduce the importance of reading novels to improve one's quality of life. After this first day working in the Lowell factories, Lyddie's roommate, Betsy, simply asks if she can read some of Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist
to Lyddie as she tries to sleep. Betsy's reading of Dickens has the opposite effect that Lyddie originally expects. In fact, Lyddie is so engrossed in the storyline and factory conditions in England within the novel of Oliver Twist
that Lyddie tries desperately to keep her eyes open so that she can listen to more of Dickens' words. Not one to put things lightly, Lyddie exclaims that, instead of being "silly," Charles Dickens' novel truly "was life or death."
It is this concept and this first listening to Charles Dickens' novel that inspires Lyddie to learn to read on her own. It is stories like Oliver Twist that give Lyddie a reason to keep on living, even in the horrible conditions to which she is subjected. In Oliver, Lyddie finds a character whose life rivals her own in regards to misery. Lyddie's heart goes out to the orphaned Oliver who is threatened with death when he "dares" to ask for more to eat and is forced, also, to work under horrible conditions during the England of the Industrial Revolution. Further, the character of Oliver reminds Lyddie of her own little Charlie and draws her heart further into the story. Both Lyddie and Charlie (even back home in Vermont) had many days when neither of them had enough to eat. With these thoughts in Lyddie's head, she finally falls asleep and prepares to meet yet another day in the grueling factories at Lowell.