Chapters 13-15 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on March 12, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1398

Chapter 13

Lyddie cannot get Betsy’s song out of her mind. She does not want any petitions or upheavals to spoil her chance at earning money, and she begins to avoid Diana and resist all mention of ten-hour days and labor movements. Betsy teases her about her love of money, but Lyddie tells herself that she is working for her family to be able to pay off their debt and go home.

Lyddie writes to her mother, asking the exact amount of the debt and enclosing some money. She also writes a letter to Charlie but then smears ink on it and tears it up, because she wants Charlie to be proud of her improvements. She cannot bring herself to write a second letter.

The machines speed up even more, and Lyddie works harder, thinking of the machines as bears and nearly becoming a machine herself. Mr. Marsden stops by her looms often and pats her arm, which makes Lyddie uncomfortable. Lyddie is so intent upon her work that she pays little attention to anything else. She eats automatically, hardly tasting her food. She no longer studies Oliver Twist. At the end of the day, she merely falls into bed, exhausted. One night, though, she overhears Betsy and Amelia talking. Betsy declares that she is planning to sign the petition, and she tells Amelia that she will go to college at Oberlin. Amelia says Betsy is being foolish.

Conditions at the mill continue to deteriorate. More girls leave, told by overseers, who are being paid premiums for increased production, that if they cannot do the work, there are others to take their places. Indeed, there are new girls aplenty, but they are different. They live in “the Acre,” a slum by the Northern Canal, and they are Irish Catholics. The company prefers them because it does not have to pay them as much. Diana, as always, helps the new girls, but Lyddie is too busy. Lyddie hears of several accidents and even deaths at neighboring mills, and one girl at Concord is hurt when she catches her hair in the machinery.

Lyddie opens a bank account and is pleased as it grows. Christmas comes and goes, and Lyddie receives a note from Triphena but nothing from her family. Then disaster strikes. Lyddie is hit in the head by a shuttle. Diana hurries to help her, mopping up the blood and bandaging Lyddie’s head. She then takes Lyddie home and calls for Dr. Craven to examine her. Lyddie’s head hurts, but she is nonetheless able to recognize Dr. Craven as the man with whom Diana had been walking back in July.

Chapter 14

Lyddie is determined to return to work as soon as possible, even though her head still hurts. The night before she goes back, she hears Betsy coughing and Amelia telling her to see a doctor. Amelia then announces that she is going home; she can no longer take the pressures of factory life. Betsy agrees to see a doctor if Amelia stays, but by the end of January, Amelia is gone.

Lyddie’s cut heals, but Betsy’s cough does not, and both girls miss Amelia. Mr. Marsden stops Lyddie one day after work, asks about her head, and tells her that he will be putting her in charge of a new girl the next day. Lyddie is worried about her production rate and uncomfortable with Mr. Marsden’s manner, but she has no choice but to agree.

The new girl, Brigid, tries Lyddie’s patience and makes mistake after mistake. Brigid tends to burst into tears, and Diana comes to her aid, making Lyddie feel guilty when she remembers how patient Diana was with her on her first days. When Lyddie calls herself ornery, Diana teases her, suggesting that she is ornery enough to sign the petition.

For her part, Betsy finally does sign the petition but not in time to preserve her health. Her cough puts her in the hospital, and she uses all her savings to pay for her stay. Eventually, she goes back to Maine, still determined to earn enough money to someday go to college. Lyddie realizes, however, that Betsy will never again be strong enough for mill work.

One day at noon, Lyddie returns to her boardinghouse to find Luke Stevens waiting for her. He has been in Boston “fetching some freight”—that is, helping some runaways—and he brings Lyddie news of Charlie, who is doing well, and gives her a mysterious parcel. After Luke leaves, Lyddie opens the parcel to discover a note from Ezekial, who is safe, whose family has joined him, and who now calls himself “Ezekial Freeman.” Ezekial has also sent a bank draft for fifty dollars. Lyddie immediately writes her mother again about the amount of the debt, thinking that perhaps now she will be able to pay it. She encloses only a dollar and does so with difficulty.

Chapter 15

Lyddie reflects that as soon as she has enough money to pay the debt, she will sign the petition and end her time as a factory girl. But then a visitor arrives. At first, Lyddie does not recognize him, but the thin, weathered man before her is her Uncle Judah. He has come to tell her that her mother has been put into an asylum, and he has brought her younger sister Rachel. Judah also informs Lyddie that he is going to sell the farm, which her father gave him permission to do before he left. When Lyddie says he has no right, he answers that he has no choice. He is responsible.

Rachel is small and silent. Lyddie convinces Mrs. Bedlow to let Rachel stay, promising to pay full price, and Mrs. Bedlow gives in, even though she is breaking the rules. She feels sorry for Rachel. Lyddie writes to Charlie immediately, telling him the news and begging him to stop Judah from selling the farm. She wonders if she can get Rachel a job at the mill as a doffer so she can earn her way.

Lyddie’s troubles deepen. At work, Mr. Marsden tells her that Brigid must increase her speed or be dismissed. Lyddie helps Brigid, who suddenly reminds her of Rachel. Rachel herself is still not speaking, but she is eating ravenously. Mrs. Bedlow is worried that the company will find out about Rachel, and Lyddie is worried that her sister hardly responds to her. She feels helpless, not knowing what to do, and one night she dreams about the bear jumping up into the loft.


In this section of the novel, Lyddie learns that she is not invincible. She has always been able to take charge and get things done. Early on, when the bear comes through the cabin door, Lyddie manages to stare it down. She has worked hard to care for her family and earn her way, in the process becoming much like one of the machines she tends at the mill. Yet when she is hit by the shuttle, Lyddie is forced to confront her weakness and vulnerability. Suddenly, she finds herself on the floor, bleeding, and she must rely on Diana to help her and get her back to the boardinghouse.

This is a source of embarrassment to Lyddie, who is not used to receiving care from others. She would rather take care of herself. For a little while, however, she must obey the doctor’s orders, for her head hurts too much to do otherwise. As soon as possible, though, Lyddie is back at work, still unable to cope well with being dependent upon anyone.

Lyddie also comes face to face with her vulnerability when her Uncle Judah shows up at her boardinghouse with her sister Rachel and the news that the farm is to be sold. For all his supposed religious fervor, Judah seems to be motivated by greed more than charity. He and Clarissa have clearly not been taking good care of Rachel, and now Judah wants the money from the farm, funds that rightfully belong to Lyddie, Charlie, and Rachel, for his own use. Lyddie does not know how to handle him nor how to comfort the traumatized Rachel. She must again acknowledge her need for help, yet her fear surfaces in her dream when the bear jumps up to devour her family and she cannot stop him.

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