Orphan Train

Orphan Train

Orphan Train Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The chapter opens with the train pulling into Albans, Minnesota. In a small hall near the train station, the remaining children line up again. Niamh feels tired and detached. She feels that being sent back to New York to grow up in an orphanage, where “at least [she’ll] know what to expect,” might be better anyway. A well-dressed woman with dark hair and her short, fat husband approach Niamh and introduce themselves as the Byrnes. Niamh’s heart lights up when the man says that his family also came from Ireland decades back. After a moment of private discussion, the couple agrees to take Niamh. The woman explains that they “have no interest in being surrogate parents,” but they are looking for help for their garment business. She assures Niamh that if she “works hard” she will be “treated fairly.” Mrs. Scatcherd warns Niamh to be grateful and behave well, as this may be her only opportunity.
In contrast with her feelings when she entered the Minneapolis station, Niamh is no longer anxious or hopeful. Her sense of detachment suggests that, like Molly in her teenaged years, she is tired of putting her hopes and feelings in the hands of other people and risking loss and disappointment. The experience of losing Carmine and Dutchy also had a strong impact on her state of mind, draining her emotional energy and leaving her numb. Mrs. Byrne’s businesslike approach and remarks about being “surrogate parents” imply that she sees Niamh as free labor, as opposed to a child who needs the love and care of parents.
Themes
Belonging and Connection Theme Icon
Self and Identity Theme Icon
Safety and Survival Theme Icon
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Hope and Skepticism Theme Icon
Driving away from the station, the Byrnes talk privately in the front seat of their car. Pulling into their driveway, they tell Niamh that they have agreed to change her name to “Dorothy.” Mr. Byrne asks Niamh if she likes the name, but Mrs. Byrne interrupts, telling her husband “it doesn’t matter what she thinks.” Their home and lawn are modest but and well kept. Mrs. Byrne immediately begins telling Niamh about the chores she will be expected to do, including sweeping the porch. She warns Niamh to listen carefully because she “doesn’t like to repeat [her]self.” Inside the house, Mrs. Byrne opens the door to a room that is “full of people.”
The Byrnes’ lack of interest in talking to Niamh on the way home reinforces Mrs. Byrne’s warning that they have no intention of including Niamh in their family. It is ironic that even though they don’t wish to treat her like a daughter, they still take it upon themselves to change her name. Because they don’t see her as their child, this incongruous action seems to merely symbolize their ownership over her. Mrs. Byrne’s dismissal of Niamh’s feelings on the matter further diminishes Niamh’s agency.
Themes
Belonging and Connection Theme Icon
Self and Identity Theme Icon
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon