Orphan Train

Orphan Train

Orphan Train Chapter 25 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
A man who works for Miss Larsen’s landlady drives Niamh and Miss Larsen to the boardinghouse. They drive into Hemingford, which Niamh hasn’t seen before. The town – with several shops, parlors and a movie theater – is much bigger than Albans. When they arrive at the boardinghouse, Miss Larsen asks Niamh to wait at the entrance. When she returns, she explains that she had to tell her landlady (Mrs. Murphy) about Niamh’s “predicament” to explain why she must stay there. They go into the parlor, where Mrs. Murphy greets Niamh kindly. Mrs. Murphy is from Ireland, and when Niamh speaks, she realizes she’s Irish, too. She knows “Dorothy” isn’t an Irish name, and she asks her real name. She also notices how Niamh “guards” her claddagh cross carefully, remarking: “It’s the only thing you’ve got to remind you of your people, now, isn’t it?” Miss Larsen appears pleased that Mrs. Murphy likes Niamh.
Although Niamh has lived in Hemingford County for several months, she has never actually seen the town of Hemingford before. This draws attention to how isolated her life has been, with the Byrnes in the small town of Albans and again in the woods with the Grotes. The busy streets of Hemingford represent the possibility of a new beginning for Niamh and the end of her isolation. Mrs. Murphy’s shared country of origin also gives her insight into Niamh’s cultural identity. She is the first Irish person Niamh has known since boarding the orphan train, and therefore has the potential to alleviate the loneliness Niamh feels in a place where nobody else shares (or even accepts) her background.
Themes
Belonging and Connection Theme Icon
Self and Identity Theme Icon
Safety and Survival Theme Icon
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Niamh sits with Miss Larsen in her room until supper. She notices that Miss Larsen’s small room is “tidy and bright.” She sees a framed photograph of a man and woman, and Miss Larsen explains that they are her parents who have passed away, so she is “an orphan too.” Niamh explains that she herself “isn’t really an orphan” because her mother may be alive. When Miss Larsen inquires, Niamh reveals a secret she hasn’t told anyone: that her mother was troubled “even before the fire” and ended up in a mental hospital. Miss Larsen laments that Niamh has suffered a lot for her age. At dinner, Mrs. Murphy introduces Niamh as “Niamh Power” to her boarders. There is an abundant dinner spread, unlike anything Niamh has seen since holidays in Ireland. She notices that Mrs. Murphy is opinionated and bossy with the ladies, but “nothing but kind” to Niamh.
Miss Larsen’s “tidy and bright” room is congruent with Niamh's overall image of Miss Larsen as well managed and cheerful. Miss Larsen provides an example of a healthy adult role model; she isn’t cruel and self-involved like Mrs. Byrne or depressed and detached like Niamh’s Mam and Mrs. Grote. The revelation that she relates to Niamh as an orphan explains the depth of her vested interest in Niamh. To Niamh, her name represents her truest sense of self. By introducing Niamh with her real name instead of “Dorothy,” Mrs. Murphy further makes the boardinghouse a space where Niamh can be herself.
Themes
Belonging and Connection Theme Icon
Self and Identity Theme Icon
Safety and Survival Theme Icon
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
After dinner, Mrs. Murphy shows Niamh to the clean room she has prepared just for her. She gives her clean clothes, towels, and soap. She shows her to the bathroom, with hot running water, and tells her to take a bath for “as long as [she] likes” because “the others can use a different powder room.” After she leaves, Niamh looks into the mirror and barely recognizes herself. She feels like she’s starting to get a cold. She takes a bath, and feels like she is “floating on a cloud.” Back in her room afterward, she locks the door—it is the first time in her life that she has a room to herself. As she gets into the clean, warm bed, she “feels safe” for the first time since she came to Minnesota.
Mrs. Murphy’s provisions show her respect and care for Niamh’s emotional and physical needs. This is significant because during Niamh’s experience with the Grotes and the Byrnes, her emotions were disregarded while her body was either neglected or exploited. By giving Niamh a private tub and her own room, Mrs. Murphy respects Niamh’s need for privacy and a sense control after the experiences she has suffered. More than anything, Niamh values feeling safe at this time.
Themes
Belonging and Connection Theme Icon
Self and Identity Theme Icon
Safety and Survival Theme Icon
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Niamh soon comes down with pneumonia. For the next week, she is confined to her bed, going in and out of delirium. Mrs. Murphy and Miss Larsen take turns caring for her and feeding her chicken soup. Mrs. Murphy “bustles around” all day, but “drops everything” when Niamh rings the silver bell she has given her. During the moments when Niamh is conscious, she struggles to believe that she is in a safe bed and that people are taking care of her. When Niamh recovers after a week, Mrs. Murphy opens the curtain to show Niamh the snow that has covered the town. Miss Murphy and Miss Larsen help Niamh find clothing from garments other boarders have left behind. Niamh tries not to get used to such “comfort and safety,” and tries not to think about how much harder it will be to return to deprivation after finally feeling safe.
Niamh’s pneumonia is the logical consequence of her turbulent experiences – not only did she walk for miles in the snow at night, but the stress and shock of her experiences likely affected her immune system. By giving Niamh a bell and “dropping everything” when she needs something, Mrs. Murphy shows that she isn’t begrudging or resentful of Niamh’s dependence on her. Niamh’s struggle to believe that she is being taken care of shows how she has become used to taking care of herself. Still, Niamh knows the situation is temporary and that there are no guarantees that she will feel this safety again.
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
Get the entire Orphan Train LitChart as a printable PDF.
Orphan train.pdf.medium