Last Updated on March 12, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1300
Before Lyddie sets out for Lowell, Triphena gives her boots, food, and a loan of five dollars and asks her to remember her. The boots, which are far too big, hurt Lyddie’s feet, and she is finally forced to stop at a village, where she works at the local tavern for a week until the next stagecoach arrives. The mistress begs her to stay, since Lyddie is an excellent worker, but the girl knows that she must move on.
The stagecoach ride is far from pleasant for Lyddie. The other passengers look askance at her and then ignore her even though they are crammed together into the coach. At one point, the coach becomes stuck in the mud, and the gentlemen passengers unsuccessfully attempt to push it out, getting extremely muddy in the process. Lyddie, irritated by their ignorance and uselessness, finally goes to their aid, puts a stone under the wheel, and helps them free the coach. The coachman laughs and allows Lyddie to ride with him for the rest of the journey. In Lowell, the coachman brings Lyddie to his sister’s boardinghouse, Number Five of the Concord Manufacturing Corporation.
The next morning, Lyddie awakens to a strange noise. At first, she thinks it is a bear with an oatmeal pot on his head, but then she realizes that she has been sleeping in an attic room with five other girls. The night before, Mrs. Bedlow, mistress of the boardinghouse, cleaned her up, fed her, and put her to bed. Lyddie listens to the girls and then goes downstairs where she has a conversation with Mrs. Bedlow, who tells her that she will have to buy all new clothing and boots if she wants a job in the factory. Appearance, she says, counts.
With the river too high to run the mill wheel, Lyddie will have time to get her clothing and secure her place in the factory. In the meantime, she meets some of the other girls. Amelia Cate, Betsy, and Prudence Allen introduce themselves, and Lyddie feels like “a crow among peacocks.” The girls, however, are friendly, and they take Lyddie shopping. They also convince Mrs. Bedlow to allow Lyddie to stay with them in their room.
Amelia in particular takes charge of Lyddie, insisting, for instance, that she go to church on Sundays. Betsy explains that the company prefers that the girls attend church and tells Lyddie to go to the Methodist church, which does not charge pew rent. Lyddie wonders why the girls are not free to do as they wish, but Amelia explains that the rules and regulations are “meant for our own good.”
The following day, Mrs. Bedlow accompanies Lyddie to the mill and helps her obtain a position. Lyddie is overwhelmed by the size of the mill complex and by the agent, who agrees to give her a one-year contract. He also gives her a booklet of regulations that Lyddie cannot read. Among those regulations is the requirement of a smallpox vaccination, which Lyddie, to her horror, receives the following day. Amelia tells her to be grateful about it, but Lyddie is too shocked by her new life to feel much of anything else.
Lyddie’s first day in the mill finally arrives, and Mrs. Bedlow brings her to the factory after the noon meal. On the fourth floor, Mrs. Bedlow leaves her in a room filled with ear-splitting noise, where she meets Mr. Marsden.
Lyddie stands stunned before the clatter of the machines, which seem like creatures in a nightmare that are louder than “a hundred...
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stagecoaches all inside one’s skull.” The overseer, Mr. Marsden, shows her the machines and explains her job, but the terrified Lyddie cannot hear a word he says.
Just then, a young woman puts her arm around Lyddie’s shoulders, tells Mr. Marsden that she will help Lyddie, introduces herself as Diana, and begins to show Lyddie how to operate the machines. Diana explains the procedures for exchanging bobbins, rehanging temple hooks, and retying threads. Despite priding herself on being a strong farm girl, Lyddie can hardly handle the machines. Diana remains close beside her throughout the day and even offers to help Lyddie with reading the regulations that evening.
When Lyddie tells her roommates that she is planning to study with Diana, Amelia warns her not to be “taken in.” Diana, it seems, is a “known radical.” Lyddie has no idea what this means, and while she does not want her roommates angry with her, she is determined to visit Diana and learn all she can.
Diana greets Lyddie cheerfully and admits that she is active in a movement for better working conditions. Soon Lyddie finds herself telling Diana all about her life and her family. Diana listens patiently and then asks Lyddie what she thinks about the hours and the wages at the mill. Lyddie suddenly remembers that her family does not even know where she is, and Diana insists that she write to them immediately, giving her paper, postage, and privacy.
When Lyddie returns to her boardinghouse, her roommates question her about her time with Diana, asking especially if she made Lyddie promise to join the Female Labor Reform Association. Amelia again warns Lyddie to watch out for Diana.
Katherine Paterson makes adept use of irony in Lyddie. The title of chapter 7, for instance, is “South to Freedom.” Lyddie heads south from Vermont to Lowell, Massachusetts, to find freedom after she has been dismissed from her job at Cutler’s Tavern. The irony is not lost on her; most people, including Ezekial, travel north to freedom. Also ironically, Lyddie does not find freedom in Lowell. She finds rules, regulations, curfews, and thirteen-hour work days.
Triphena uses irony as she is helping Lyddie get ready to start her journey to Lowell. She gives the girl boots, food, and a five-dollar loan, but when Lyddie protests that the cook is doing too much, Triphena ironically remarks, “I’m not having your dead body on my conscience.” She does not mean precisely what she says, of course. What Triphena actually wants is Lyddie alive and well, for she cares about the girl. Because she doesn't know how to express it, she falls back on sarcasm.
After Lyddie arrives in Lowell and settles into the boardinghouse, she learns that the factory girls have some free time in the evenings. They go to shops, lectures, and dances “run by honest citizens bent on parting the working girls from their wages.” This statement is ironic, given the tension between their alleged honesty and their motives. They are ultimately self-serving and intent upon making a profit; honesty has little to do with the matter.
Irony also appears in the relationships Lyddie develops with her roommate Amelia and with Diana Gross. Amelia claims to have Lyddie’s best interests at heart. She wants to change the way Lyddie speaks, for example, and tells her she must go to church. She even warns her to stay away from the radical Diana for her “own good.” Yet ironically, Amelia does little to actually help Lyddie other than take her shopping and accept her as a roommate. She seems more interested in molding Lyddie to her own ideals.
Diana, on the other hand, supports Lyddie from the outset. She patiently teaches Lyddie how to run the machines. She invites Lyddie to her own boardinghouse to help her learn the regulations. She even provides paper and postage for Lyddie to write to her family. Lyddie finds herself telling Diana all about her life and her family, something she has never before been comfortable doing. Diana listens and accepts Lyddie for who she is. Radical or not, Diana is arguably a much better friend to Lyddie than Amelia is.