Chapters 20–23 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on March 12, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1265

Chapter 20

To Lyddie’s relief, Brigid is finally turning into an efficient worker, and Mr. Marsden has taken to largely ignoring Lyddie. Lyddie has now purchased two new books, a Bible and Frederick Douglass’s slave narrative. She pastes up passages on her looms to study and reflect on as she works.

Lyddie is glad that she no longer has to think about the debt, and she and Brigid help new girls together. Brigid is like Diana, gentle with the newcomers, and Lyddie feels ashamed at her own impatience. Then Lyddie learns that Brigid cannot read and begins to teach her the alphabet. Soon, she is working with Brigid daily, and Brigid is making progress.

Lyddie occasionally receives news of her family. Charlie writes that Rachel is well and growing, and he reminds Lyddie of Luke’s letter. In September, Lyddie receives word of her mother’s death. Reflecting on this news, she realizes that she can no longer remember her mother’s face.

One evening, Lyddie leaves work without Brigid by her side. Figuring that the other girl must have forgotten something in the weaving room, Lyddie goes to find her only to discover Mr. Marsden firmly holding onto Brigid, who begs him to let her go. Lyddie yells, slams a bucket filled with water down on Mr. Marsden’s head, grabs Brigid, and runs out the door. By the time she reaches the factory yard, she is laughing hysterically.

Chapter 21

By the next morning, Lyddie is no longer laughing. She fears the consequences of her actions and is doubting herself. Brigid is not at work, and another girl tells her that Brigid was told not to report that day. Soon the agent’s clerk comes to bring Lyddie to Mr. Graves’s office.

Mr. Graves tells Lyddie that Mr. Marsden has identified her as a troublemaker who is a bad influence on the other girls. He then asks Lyddie questions about her work and wages. Lyddie says that she has never signed a petition, asks why she is a troublemaker, and suggests that Mr. Marsden be called, to which Mr. Graves agrees. When Mr. Marsden arrives, he accuses Lyddie of “moral turpitude.” Since Lyddie does not know what the phrase means, she cannot defend herself, and Mr. Graves fires her.

Chapter 22

Lyddie returns to the boardinghouse lost in memories. She believes that the bear has finally won; it has taken everything from her. Later, she admits to Mrs. Bedlow that she has been dismissed but refrains from telling her why. She still does not understand the meaning of “moral turpitude” and does not care to ask and be laughed at.

Lyddie does, however, have enough money saved to support herself for quite a while. She will buy a trunk for her things, she decides, for she has more belongings now than when she arrived in Lowell. She also goes to the bookseller’s shop and purchases a dictionary. The first thing she does when she leaves the shop is look up “turpitude,” and she is indignant at being labeled shameful, vile, base, and depraved when she was merely unladylike at the most.

Lyddie returns to her room, writes some letters, and hurries toward the Acre to visit Brigid. She hands Brigid a letter addressed to Mrs. Marsden with the instructions that if Mr. Marsden ever creates difficulties for her, she is to mail it at once. She also gives Brigid a primer and her copy of Oliver Twist.

That evening, Lyddie meets Mr. Marsden as the latter walks home from work. She defends herself to him and hands him a letter she wrote,...

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telling him that if he makes trouble for Brigid, his wife will be informed about his behavior. She then wishes the overseer good night and remarks, “I hope you sleep easy—before you die.”

After leaving Lowell, Lyddie travels first to Boston and spends time with Diana, who has taken a job at a seamstress’s shop. When Lyddie explains what has happened, Diana cannot help laughing as she envisions Lyddie slamming the bucket onto the overseer’s head and confronting him on his way home. Lyddie has to admit that the latter was satisfying. She spends the night with Diana, wishing that she could be happier for her friend, who has now found a family.

Chapter 23

On her way home at last, Lyddie stops first at Cutler’s Tavern but quickly recognizes that she no longer fits into that environment, despite Triphena’s friendly welcome. Lyddie now sleeps in a guest room and pays for it; she is not the girl she once was.

When Lyddie goes to visit her siblings, they are both at school, so she sets off for the farm. The cabin stands as it always has, but without the wood stacked in front of the door. Lyddie goes inside and lights a fire, feeling how good it is to be home. She decides to stay one night before leaving the area for good.

Suddenly, someone calls Lyddie’s name. It is Luke, and Lyddie now feels guilty for presuming to stay in the cabin. Luke extends the invitation for her to spend the night with his family, and Lyddie accepts with hesitation. She then brings up Luke’s letter, and he apologizes for his foolishness. Luke asks Lyddie where she intends to go, and all at once she knows—she is going to college at Oberlin, she tells him.

Looking at Luke, Lyddie realizes that she could love him, and she wonders if he will wait for her. First, though, she must become fully free. Lyddie begins to giggle, and Luke joins in her laughter, even though he does not understand it. He tells Lyddie he will miss her, and she reflects that they can still hope.


Irony and hope take center stage in the final chapters of Lyddie. Lyddie is struck by the irony that she, once nearly illiterate and with little education, is the one teaching Brigid to read and write. Brigid even calls Lyddie a “scholar,” a term Lyddie would never apply to herself. This irony reveals how much Lyddie has grown and how little she has recognized the change in herself.

Lyddie is again stunned by irony after she is accused of “moral turpitude” by Mr. Marsden and figures out what those words mean. They certainly do not apply to her, but they do, quite ironically, describe Mr. Marsden himself. Lyddie uses that irony to her own advantage when she writes letters recording the truth of the incident and tells Mr. Marsden that if he makes trouble for Brigid, she will make sure his wife knows all about the “moral turpitude” in the weaving room. Through her ingenuity, Lyddie has given Brigid hope that she will have an easier working life in the future, despite having lost her own job.

The end of the story also blends irony and hope. Lyddie discovers quite suddenly that she has adopted Betsy’s dream of attending Oberlin College. There is irony in this, for when Betsy was talking about such an ambition, Lyddie could hardly picture it, much less imagine that she would ever consider such a step for herself. She was, at that point, consumed by the drive to earn money. Now, however, the idea strikes her as perfectly fitting, for it will allow her the freedom Betsy always wanted and that Lyddie now realizes she, too, needs. Within this dream also lies hope: the hope of discovery, the hope of education, and, most saliently of all, the hope of true freedom.


Chapters 16–19 Summary and Analysis