Orphan Train

Orphan Train


Christina Baker Kline

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Orphan Train: Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Mr. Sorenson and Niamh come to a dilapidated “shack” in the woods. A young boy, Harold, and a baby, Nettie, play without shoes in the yard. With evident disapproval, Mr. Sorenson asks for their mother. Harold says she is sleeping and he won’t wake her. Uneasily, Mr. Sorenson takes Niamh into the house, where they find a three-year-old girl, Mabel. Eventually, a grumpy Mrs. Grote emerges. The woman appears exhausted. She explains that her husband just lost his job at the feed store. She ignores Niamh but confirms that she’ll keep her to help with the kids. Mr. Sorenson seems “eager” to leave. He tells Mrs. Grote they must put Niamh in school. Mrs. Grotes hesitates, and Niamh hopes she “won’t have to stay.” But then Mr. Grote walks in and quickly agrees to send Niamh to school. He signs the papers, and Niamh watches as Mr. Sorenson drives away.
Niamh’s vision of a farmhouse with a kind family is shattered by the reality of the chaos and poverty at the Grotes’. Mr. Sorenson’s depiction of the Grotes as “good country” people now proves his ignorance (or how he’s trying to romanticize the harsh reality). Even when Niamh tries to trust adults and hope for the best, the reality of her situation is getting progressively worse. Just like Mrs. Byrne, Mrs. Grote appears to be interested in exploiting Niamh only as a source of free labor. Despite Mr. Sorenson’s earlier kindness and his obvious distaste for the situation at the Grotes’, he leaves her there anyway. His “eagerness” to leave suggests his discomfort with placing Niamh there, but he takes no further action to help her.
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