Discussion Topic

Lyddie's family members and the location of her father in "Lyddie."

Summary:

Lyddie's father left to go west in search of fortune due to his failures in farming. This departure caused her mother to become unstable and unable to care for Lyddie and her siblings: Charles, Rachel, and Agnes. Lyddie, the eldest, took on adult responsibilities. Her mother was later sent to an asylum, and Rachel was left in Lyddie’s care despite being too young to work.

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Who are all the family members of Lyddie in Lyddie?

Lyddie lives with her mother, brother, and two sisters because her father left them.

Lyddie is the adult in her family.  Her father left them on the farm and went west to seek his fortune, because he was unlucky at farming.  After her father left, her mother was not able to take care of them.  She was just too unstable, something that had started when Anges was born.  Lyddie, the oldest, had a brother a few years younger named Charlie and two “baby” sisters.  Agnus was the youngest, followed by Rachel.

In the beginning of the book when Lyddie is describing the incident with the bear, she lists the ages of her youngest siblings.

No, Mama had never laughed, but Lyddie and Charles and the babies had laughed until their bellies ached. Lyddie still thought of them as the babies. She probably always would. Agnes had been four and Rachel six that November of 1843‐the year of the bear. (Ch. 1)

Lyddie was thirteen and her brother ten when they first went off to work.  Lyddie had to go to work at a tavern, and Charles at a mill, in order to pay off the family’s debts.  Since she does not last long at the tavern, Lyddie loses track of what is happening to her family.  She gets a factory job and tries to make some money, but she worries about her mother and sisters because they are staying with her aunt and uncle, who are not nice people. 

She hadn't seen her mother for two years.  She had no way of knowing what her true needs were. And surely, as mean as Judah was and as crazy as Clarissa might be, they would not let their own sister or her child go hungry. (Ch. 13)

Lyddie’s uncle drops Rachel off, even though she is too young to work at the factory or live at Lyddie’s boarding house.  She finds out her mother has been sent to an insane asylum by her aunt and uncle so they could sell her family farm.  

Lyddie tries to come up with a way to help her little sister.  She is not supposed to stay at the boarding house because it's for workers.  Rachel wants to be a doffer, but Lyddie wants her to go to school.  She regrets never having gone to school herself.

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Where is Lyddie's father in Lyddie?

Lyddie’s father left to go west to find work. 

Lyddie really misses her father.  Although things started falling apart for her family even before he left, her father leaving was the last straw for Lyddie’s mother.  She found herself unable to cope with her four children and the realities of farm life.  Once he left, she lost any control she had. 

Lyddie’s mother does not have a high opinion of her husband, although the children worship him. 

"But how will Papa find us if we've left home?" Charles asked. 

"Your father went out searching for vain riches. He ain't never coming back." 

"He will! He will!" Rachel cried. "He promised." Though how could she remember? She'd been barely three when he'd left. (Ch. 1)

Lyddie's mother's characterization of her father's going west seems to indicate that he might have gone looking for gold.  There were many men who left their families to go to California or nearby states looking for precious metals and easy, instant wealth.  He might have thought it was his only hope. 

Lyddie says that her mother “had gone somewhat queer in the head” after her father left.  She did not believe that he was coming back.  She became even more worthless, with Lyddie taking over the role of both mother and father for the farm.  She took care of her mother and her younger siblings. 

Lyddie describes her father as unlucky. She believes that his attempt to go west was a result of lack of success on the farm.  Although he tried, things never seemed to work out for him.  She doesn’t fault him for it. 

His sugar bush was scraggly and his oat crop barely enough to feed his growing family.  There were stumps to burn aplenty as he cleared the land, but suddenly there was no need for potash in England and hardly any demand in Vermont. He borrowed heavily to buy himself three sheep, and the bottom dropped out of the wool market the very year he had had enough wool to think of it as a cash crop. (Ch. 2) 

Lyddie seems to have inherited her father’s persistence, at least.  She had to take responsibility when he left, and she never blamed him.  She blamed her mother for not maintaining her sanity, and for letting out the farm and sending her two oldest children to work.  Lyddie wanted to keep the family together, and blamed her mother and not her father for its loss.

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