Orphan Train

Orphan Train

Orphan Train Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It is the middle of the night on the orphan train heading from Chicago to Milwaukee. Niamh has had trouble sleeping, kept awake by Carmine’s restless cries and her own anxiety. When she thinks Dutchy is sleeping, she combs out her hair before putting it back into a ponytail. Dutchy then says that her hair is pretty, and she realizes he is awake. She retorts that she thought he didn’t like it, and he explains that he only meant she’d “have trouble” because of it. Niamh “wants to push away kindness and his honesty.” He proposes they make a promise to find each other later. Niamh argues that their names will be changed and it will be nearly impossible, but she agrees nevertheless. She reminds Dutchy that Mrs. Scatcherd has encouraged them to “let go” of the past. Dutchy tells her there are “some things” he doesn’t “want to forget.”
Niamh’s struggle with Dutchy’s “kindness and honesty” suggests that she doesn’t want to let herself feel close to Dutchy because she knows their time together is limited. From her experiences, she has already learned that loving others can lead to the pain of loss and separation, so her instinct is to carefully guard her affections to survive. Despite Dutchy’s skepticism about the orphan train and the adults in charge of them, his promise to Niamh reveals an underlying sense of hope and optimism. Dutchy still hasn’t lost the ability to care for or hold onto others.
Themes
Belonging and Connection Theme Icon
Safety and Survival Theme Icon
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Hope and Skepticism Theme Icon
As the train pulls into Milwaukee in the morning, Mrs. Scatcherd wakes the children up. She instructs them to change into the clean clothes they each have in their suitcases, to comb their hair, and tuck in their shirts. She reminds them to smile and speak respectfully to the adults they meet. When some of the children begin to joke, Mrs. Scatcherd scolds them, asking whether they’ll be so “amused” when nobody picks them because of their insolence. Many of the younger children begin to cry. Mrs. Scatcherd tells them not to get upset. So long as they behave and present themselves well, she says, they each have a good chance. Dutchy whispers to Niamh that she will be okay, but not him. She tells him he has no reason to be so sure about either of them.
The children’s jokes likely serve as a way to calm their own anxieties and downplay the gravity of their situation. Mrs. Scatcherd’s reassurances and detailed instructions give the children the illusion that they have some agency in a situation that, in reality, is completely out of their control. Dutchy’s comments show that he sees through Mrs. Scatcherd’s efforts and realizes that his fate is out of his hands. Niamh’s response then serves as a reminder that the future has no guarantees, either for better or for worse.
Themes
Safety and Survival Theme Icon
Secrets, Reality, and Illusions Theme Icon
Hope and Skepticism Theme Icon