Orphan Train

Orphan Train

Orphan Train Chapter 23 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
By fall, Mr. Grote is having better “luck” with hunting and providing meat. Yet he has also become aloof and angry. When Baby Nettie cries, Mr. Grote shakes her until she “whimpers.” Mrs. Grote is also pregnant again, and Niamh hopes that she won’t be responsible for delivering the baby. She remembers her neighbors helping her mother deliver Maisie while she watched the younger children. Soon winter arrives, and when the snow comes, it falls through the cracks and lands on the children. Niamh has trouble getting to school, but the “promise” of a safe warm place and the “distraction” of learning motivate her. Mr. Grote warns her that when the snow worsens, she “might as well forget it.” One day, Miss Larsen expresses concern for Niamh’s missed homework and poor hygiene. Niamh doesn’t want her pity, and tells her “everything is fine.” Miss Larsen instructs her to come to her whenever she needs to talk.
Although the Grotes’ access to food has improved, the atmosphere of neglect and violence at their home has only worsened. This suggests that the Grotes’ poor parenting is related to their poverty as well as their emotional instability and dispositions. The harsh winter makes the situation there even more unbearable, as the house is unequipped to keep the snow out. The winter also threatens to keep Niamh from attending school, which is her only escape. Miss Larsen’s concern for Niamh’s wellbeing contrasts with the neglect of the Grotes and the Byrnes. This highlights how school is the only place where Niamh’s physical and emotional needs are met.
Themes
Safety and Survival Theme Icon
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
One night, Mr. Grote comes into the children’s bedroom and motions for Niamh to come out. She follows, wrapped in a quilt. In the living room, he asks her to sit with him to keep warm, but she refuses. She senses something strange about him. Then he pulls her down and tells her to stay quiet. He undresses and molests her. He tries to rape her, but just then, Mrs. Grote comes into the living room. She yells, calling her husband an “animal”—but she blames Niamh for the incident, and yells at her to “get out.” Mr. Grote objects, concerned that Niamh won’t survive in the snow. Mrs. Grote implies that if she doesn’t survive, they will claim she ran away. Niamh grabs a few of her things and runs out. She leaves behind her gloves from Fanny, “four children [she] could not help and did not love,” and “any last shred of her childhood.”
The fact that Niamh comes out wrapped in a quilt suggests that she knows immediately that something isn’t right. Mr. Grote’s actions in this passage indicate that his previous inappropriate comments were indeed warning signs of his predatory intentions. By blaming Niamh, Mrs. Grote holds Niamh responsible for something that was completely beyond her control—further contributing to the trauma of this horrifying scene. The Grotes’ choice to send Niamh out into the snow, knowing she may die, serves as the ultimate proof of their contemptible character and disregard for her live and value as a person. The trauma of the experience robs Niamh of any innocence she has left.
Themes
Safety and Survival Theme Icon
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Secrets, Reality, and Illusions Theme Icon