Orphan Train Chapter 31: Hemingford, Minnesota, 1935-1939 Summary & Analysis from LitCharts | The creators of SparkNotes
Orphan Train

Orphan Train

Orphan Train Chapter 31 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
One day when Vivian is fifteen, the Nielsens find a half-smoked pack of cigarettes in her purse. She can tell as soon as she gets home that Mrs. Nielsen is upset. Vivian explains that she only wanted to “try” them, but as punishment, the Nielsens take away her Sunday trips to the movies with her friend Judy for two weeks. After this incident, Vivian is terrified of disappointing them. Unlike her friend Judy, she never sneaks out or lets boys get too close. Vivian holds onto her fear that if she becomes too unruly or burdensome, Mr. Sorenson will come and take her back. At night, she dreams she is on the orphan train or alone on the streets. One day, a man comes into the store talking about the misfortune of a young boy who’d rode in on an orphan train a couple years before. Niamh thinks of Dutchy.
Vivian’s first experience of disappointing the Nielsens makes her so anxious that she takes extra care thereafter to behave perfectly. Unlike most teenagers, she feels she can’t afford to rebel because she doesn’t have the confidence and trust in her parents’ love that others have. Even though she wasn’t responsible for the events that led to her abandonment, she was blamed for them nonetheless. Her experiences of rejection and blame made her unable to trust in her caregivers. Although the Nielsens have given her no indication of rejection, she is haunted by her past.
Themes
Belonging and Connection Theme Icon
Safety and Survival Theme Icon
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Hope and Skepticism Theme Icon
When Vivian is sixteen, she takes initiative to help Mr. Nielsen improve and expand his store, taking note of the latest fashions and trends from bigger cities. When she is seventeen, she begins wearing red lipstick. She realizes that makeup gives her the power to change her persona and “determine [her] next incarnation.” She makes her own dress for the senior prom and attends with a boy who she has no serious intentions about. Her English teacher encourages her to apply to college out-of-state, to have a “bigger life,” but Vivian feels the Nielsens “depend on her” and her life is “big enough.” After graduation, she co-manages to the store with Mr. Nielsen while taking business classes at night. When her classmates start getting married, Vivian feels no envy for what she considers a “future of washing some man’s clothes.” Mrs. Nielsen tells her she has plenty of “time.”
Vivian’s discovery that changes to her makeup give her the power to alter her “persona” and create her “next incarnation” parallels Molly’s intentional alteration of her appearance to create a new “persona” at each new foster home. Both girls have had no control over how changes in their lives have forced them to alter their identities, so by taking ownership over how they present themselves, they reclaim a sense of agency. Vivian’s reasoning for her choice not to leave for college suggests that she feels indebted to the Nielsens. Her remark that her life is “big enough” suggests that she has experienced enough change already.
Themes
Belonging and Connection Theme Icon
Self and Identity Theme Icon
Safety and Survival Theme Icon