Chapters 10–12 Summary and Analysis
Last Updated on March 12, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1190
Lyddie’s second day, her first full day at the mill, is exhausting. The factory girls rise at four-thirty each morning, begin work by five, and do not stop for breakfast until seven. Lyddie struggles with the noise, the dust-filled air, the heat, swollen feet, and the still-unfamiliar work. By evening, she drops into bed early.
Lyddie’s roommate Betsy reads to her from Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist, and Lyddie finds herself caught up in the story as she listens to Oliver’s experiences in the poorhouse and pictures him as a “younger Charlie.” Lyddie suddenly finds that she does not want to sleep. She is “ravenous for every word,” consumed with a new kind of hunger. She wants to know what happens. When the curfew bell rings, Betsy promises they will continue the story the next night.
The next day, Lyddie finds herself humming and happy, looking forward to hearing more of Oliver’s story. Diana marvels that Lyddie is settling into her job so quickly, but Lyddie cannot explain why. She has found a way to escape the mill in her mind.
The weeks pass, and Lyddie continues to adjust to her new life. She goes to church with Amelia, and Betsy continues to read to her about Oliver. Lyddie gives her friend ten cents to cover the library fees. Betsy confides to Lyddie about her dream of going to Oberlin College in Ohio. When Lyddie and Betsy finish Oliver Twist, Lyddie longs to hear the story all over again, but she does not want to impose upon Betsy’s time.
Lyddie’s roommates go home for vacation in July—Amelia to New Hampshire, Prudence to Vermont, and Betsy to her uncle’s house in Maine. Lyddie’s contract dictates that she remain on the job for a full year, and in any case, she has no home to go to. Diana also leaves for vacation, and Lyddie has a chance to take over more looms. Diana provides no information about where she is going, but she invites Lyddie to a mass meeting of labor organizers. Lyddie declines.
Throughout July, Lyddie works and reads. She borrows Oliver Twist from the library and painstakingly makes her way through it, even copying out sections to study during work breaks. She finally decides that she needs to purchase her own copy of the novel, and she shyly and fearfully visits the bookseller. She stands in amazement at the number of books in the store and in embarrassment for her own ignorance, but the bookseller is kind and tells her that Oliver Twist is an “admirable choice.” Lyddie purchases a nicely bound copy of the novel and hurries back to the boardinghouse with her new treasure.
Lyddie spends the rest of July studying Oliver Twist and developing her reading skills. She even takes the book to church. One day, on the way home from services, Lyddie sees a woman who looks exactly like Diana walking with a well-dressed man. Lyddie calls out, but the woman turns away. Lyddie decides the woman must not be Diana after all.
As Lyddie becomes better and better at her job, she attracts the notice of the overseer, Mr. Marsden, who tells some foreign visitors that Lyddie is one of the best workers. Lyddie’s pay increases as she tends more looms and produces more pieces. At the same time, she occupies her mind with thoughts of Oliver Twist. She reflects on the characters, trying to understand their motivations, and applies the book’s themes to her own life and family.
When Lyddie receives a letter from her mother, she is hesitant to open it. She feels guilty for not sending money to her family. The letter contains the sad news that little Agnes has died and that Rachel is unwell. Lyddie vows to work harder to pay back her family’s debt and reunite them. Lyddie is soon tending four looms, even as the company increases the machinery’s speed. Many girls cannot handle the new pace and go home.
Changes occur in Lyddie’s boardinghouse, too. Prudence leaves, for she has developed a bad cough. Betsy continues to study, and Lyddie continues to delve ever more deeply into Oliver Twist. Amelia tells them they should be going to church and exercising rather than reading all the time. Amelia becomes upset at the other girls for reading novels but is actually breaking down under the stress of the increased speed and pressure. Betsy says she is tempted to sign the petition demanding ten-hour work days, but Lyddie is concerned that she would make less money, and Amelia worries that she would be fired. Betsy announces that as soon as she has the money she needs, she will sign the petition and leave Lowell.
Lyddie does not understand the petition, and Betsy tries to explain that the girls are working more and therefore earning less than they did before. She sings a song about being a slave in a factory, and Lyddie angrily declares that she is not a slave. Betsy and Amelia argue about whether or not it is right to push for better conditions and go out on strike. Again, Lyddie can think only of the money she is making, which is more than she has ever seen in her life.
In chapters 10–12 of Lyddie, the title character discovers a new passion: literature. Lyddie has never before had the chance to receive much education. She has attended school a little, but she knows only the basics of reading and writing. It is apparent, too, that she has never heard many stories. So when Betsy begins reading Oliver Twist to Lyddie, the latter discovers a new world. She is caught up in the characters and their plights. The tale becomes real to her as she compares Oliver to her brother, Charlie, and thinks about how the characters’ experiences mirror her own. Indeed, the book becomes her own story, intertwined with her life. Suddenly, Lyddie has a way to escape the noise of the factory and the monotony of her work. She can focus her mind on Oliver Twist. Moved by the power of literature, she has discovered a way to cope with the hardships of her life in the pages of a book.
Further, hearing Betsy read Oliver Twist inspires Lyddie to improve her own reading. She studies the book for hours, first a library copy and then her own copy, even writing out pieces from it to paste on her loom at work. Lyddie is motivated to understand more and to read more smoothly. She is determined to receive an education any way she can. It is a struggle, for Lyddie has no one to help her, but bit by bit, word by word, the text becomes clear to her. She is hungry for knowledge, hungry for a world beyond her own, hungry to read and learn and grow. Through the pages of Oliver Twist, Lyddie learns to read, to think, and to feel in completely new ways, and she takes her first steps along a journey of life-long learning.