Orphan Train

Orphan Train

Orphan Train Chapter 28 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After her health improves, Niamh begins riding with Miss Larsen to school each morning. Nearly every day, Mrs. Murphy finds some new garment to give Niamh. Her cooking fills Niamh’s mind with pleasant memories of her Gram’s kitchen. She also begins remembering her Da’s drinking and her Mam and Gram’s fights, each blaming the other for his alcoholism. She remembers overhearing her grandparents talk about the burden of “feeding that family.” On the day her Gram gave her the Claddagh cross from her own first communion, she told her it would always lead her back home. A few weeks later, her Mam and Gram got into another fight. Niamh heard yelling, and when she came into her Gram’s bedroom, she saw her Gram’s prized whalebone brush broken on the floor and a “look of triumph” on her mother’s face. Within the month, she and her family were headed to America.
Mrs. Murphy’s frequent gifts and cooking also allow her to fulfill a grandmotherly role, no doubt further inspiring Niamh’s memories of her Gram. Until now, Niamh’s memories of her Gram have been comforting and pleasant, reminding her of the feeling of love and safety. Yet, as her darker memories reveal, her Gram likely had a key role in sending them to America. The contradiction between Niamh’s romantic vision of her Gram and her Gram’s actual role in sending Niamh to America symbolizes the complicated and flawed nature of family relationships (and nostalgic memories). Even the family member who made Niamh feel the most loved sometimes acted in ways that failed her.
Themes
Belonging and Connection Theme Icon
Self and Identity Theme Icon
Safety and Survival Theme Icon
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Secrets, Reality, and Illusions Theme Icon
Niamh becomes comfortable at the boardinghouse, now sharing in the chores along with the boarders. In the evenings, she sits with the women and listens to them talk. One day, Mr. Sorenson makes an unexpected visit, to Niamh’s dismay. He explains that his search for a placement has been unsuccessful. He adds that her record suggests a problem with insubordination because of “trouble with the women of the house.” He suggests sending Niamh back to New York, when Mrs. Murphy politely asks to speak privately with him. When they return, they cheerfully announce that Mrs. Murphy’s friends, the Nielsens, are in need of help at their general store. Their daughter died a few years before, and they have agreed to meet “Dorothy.” Niamh pretends to be “grateful,” but she feels angry to be used again for labor, and betrayed that Mrs. Murphy wants to send her away at all.
Mr. Sorenson effectively blames Niamh for her own abuse when he suggests that she was thrown out because of “insubordination.” Despite Niamh’s wariness, she has lowered her defenses and allowed herself to feel safe with Mrs. Murphy. Her sense of betrayal signals how shattering it is for her feeling of safety and trust to be removed yet again. Niamh’s loss of trust at this moment connects to the trust issues that she describes to Molly years later. Her false expression of gratitude likewise connects to the Molly/Vivian storyline, serving as the origin of her tendency to “fake” expected emotions when her true feelings have no space to be expressed.
Themes
Belonging and Connection Theme Icon
Safety and Survival Theme Icon
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Hope and Skepticism Theme Icon