Orphan Train

Orphan Train

Orphan Train Characters

Molly Ayer

Molly is one of the novel’s two protagonists. She is an intelligent, opinionated, and reflective seventeen-year-old girl who lives with her foster parents, Ralph and Dina Thibodeaus, at their home in Spruce Harbor, Maine… (read full character analysis)

Vivian Daly / Niamh Power / “Dorothy”

Vivian/Niamh is the novel’s second protagonist. Christened as “Niamh Power”, she was born in Kinvara, County Galway in Ireland in 1920. As a young child, she immigrated to New York with her parents and siblings… (read full character analysis)

Ralph Thibodeaus

Ralph is Molly’s current foster father. He works as a plumber in Spruce Harbor. Inspired by his own experience as a troubled teen, he convinced his wife, Dina, to become foster parents. Ralph… (read full character analysis)

Donna Ayer / Molly’s Mother

Donna is Molly’s birth mother. She is white and comes from a low-income background. During Molly’s childhood, she worked at a mini-mart. She gave Molly presents and arranged fun activities, but her struggle with… (read full character analysis)

Mr. Ayer / Molly’s Father

Mr. Ayer is Molly’s father. He was a Penobscot Indian who was proud of his cultural heritage and made an effort to share it with Molly. He had a problem with alcohol abuse, however… (read full character analysis)
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Jack

Jack is Molly’s boyfriend. His mother, Terry Gallant, is white and his father is Dominican. His parents weren’t married and his father left his mother to return to the Dominican Republic. Jack is… (read full character analysis)

Patrick Power/ “Da”

Patrick Power (“Da”) is Vivian/Niamh’s biological father. Born in Ireland at the turn of the twentieth century, he immigrates to New York with his wife Mary and his three children, Niamh, Dominick, and James(read full character analysis)

Mary Power/ “Mam”

Mary Power (“Mam”) is Vivian/Niamh’s biological mother. Born in Ireland at the turn of the twentieth century, she immigrates to New York with her husband Patrick and her three children, Niamh, Dominick, and James(read full character analysis)

Gram

Gram is Vivian/Niamh’s biological grandmother. She is the mother of Patrick Power. She is born in Ireland in the late 1800s and remains there even after her son emigrates. Gram is a good… (read full character analysis)

Grandad

Grandad is Vivian/Niamh’s grandfather, the husband of “Gram” and the father of Patrick Power. He is born in Ireland in the late 1800s and remains there even after his son emigrates… (read full character analysis)

Margaret (“Maisie”)

Maisie is Vivian/Niamh’s biological little sister. She is conceived during the voyage to America and born in New York in 1927. As a child, Niamh is responsible for taking care of her little sister… (read full character analysis)

Mr. and Mrs. Schatzman

Mr. and Mrs. Schatzman are Niamh’s neighbors on Elizabeth Street in New York in the 1920s. They are a middle-aged couple who emigrated from Germany. They care for Niamh in the days after the… (read full character analysis)

Dutchy / Hans / Luke Maynard

Dutchy is Vivian/Niamh’s true love. He is born in New York in the late 1910s to German parents. After escaping his abusive father to live on the streets as a shoe-shiner, Dutchy is taken… (read full character analysis)

Raymond Byrne

Mr. Byrne is Vivian/Niamh’s first adoptive father. Born in Minnesota, Mr. Byrne’s family comes from Ireland. He is cheerful and talkative. He and his wife Lois own a ladies’ garment business run out of… (read full character analysis)

Lois Byrne

Lois Byrne is Vivian/Niamh’s first adoptive mother. She is stern, cold, and controlling. She and her husband, Mr. Byrne, own a ladies’ garment business run out of their home in Albans, Minnesota. Mrs… (read full character analysis)

Mr. Sorenson

Mr. Sorenson is the local social worker for the Children’s Aid Society in the Albans-Hemingford region of Minnesota in the late 1920s. After the Byrnes kick Vivian/Niamh (called “Dorothy” at the time) out of their… (read full character analysis)

Wilma Grote

Wilma Grote is Vivian/Niamh’s second adoptive mother. She lives with her husband Gerald in a shack in the woods outside of Hemingford, Minnesota in the late 1920s. They have four children, and Mrs. Grote… (read full character analysis)

Gerald Grote

Gerald Grote is Vivian/Niamh’s second adoptive father. He lives with his wife Wilma in a shack in the woods outside of Hemingford, Minnesota in the late 1920s. They have four children. Like his wife… (read full character analysis)

Miss Larsen

Miss Larsen is the teacher at the rural schoolhouse Vivian/Niamh attends in Hemingford County, Minnesota. Miss Larsen’s parents have both passed away, and she lives with other unmarried women in a ladies’ boardinghouse in Hemingford… (read full character analysis)

Mrs. Murphy/ “Miss Larsen’s Landlady”

Mrs. Murphy is the matron of the ladies’ boardinghouse where Miss Larsen lives in the town of Hemingford, Minnesota. Originally from Ireland, Mrs. Murphy is a widow. She takes in Vivian/Niamh and, with the help… (read full character analysis)

Viola Nielsen

Viola Nielson is Vivian/Niamh’s third and only legal adoptive mother. She is descended from Swedish Romani who migrated to the United States. She and her husband, Mr. Nielsen, run a successful general store… (read full character analysis)

Mr. Nielsen

Mr. Nielson is Vivian/Niamh’s third and only legal adoptive father. He and his wife, Mrs. Nielsen, run a successful general store in the town of Hemingford, Minnesota. They had a biological daughter, Vivian(read full character analysis)

Sarah Dunnell/ “May”

Sarah is the biological child Vivian/Niamh has with her first husband, Dutchy. At birth, Vivian/Niamh names her daughter “May” after her sister, Maisie, who shares Sarah’s blonde hair. Sarah’s biological father, Dutchy, dies… (read full character analysis)

Molly Molasses

Molly Molasses (or Molly Pelagie) was a famous Penobscot elder who lived from 1775-1867. She was known for her powers as a medicine woman as well as her courage and strength. Among her people, she… (read full character analysis)
Minor Characters
Dina Thibodeaus
Dina is Molly’s current foster mother. She works as a police dispatcher. She is politically conservative and frequently expresses her judgment of others for their social status, race, and appearance. She is suspicious of Molly and disapproves of her vegetarianism. Dina and Molly frequently fight.
Terry Gallant
Terry is Jack’s mother. She is white. She was a popular cheerleader in high school, and she wasn’t married to Jack’s father. She works as a housekeeper for Vivian. She is loyal to Vivian, protective of Jack and initially suspicious of Molly.
Lori
Lori is Molly’s social worker. She is energetic and direct. She encourages Molly to stay on track and treats Molly like she is smart and capable.
Mr. Reed
Mr. Reed is Molly’s American History teacher. He teaches a section on Native American history in which the local Penobscot tribe is featured. He nominates Molly for a history prize for a school project she creates featuring Vivian’s life story.
Tyler Baldwin
Tyler is a student in Molly’s American History class.
Megan McDonald
Megan is a student in Molly’s American History class.
Dominick and James Power
Dominick and James are Vivian/Niamh’s twin brothers. They are born in Ireland around 1923, and immigrate with their parents and sister to New York. They die in a house fire in 1929.
Jim Daly
Jim is Vivian/Niamh’s second husband and the former shipmate to her first husband, Dutchy. Vivian/Niamh gets along well with Jim, who is even-tempered and practical, but they are never in love. They have no children together, and are married for several decades.
Carmine
Carmine is the 18-month-old baby Vivian/Niamh takes care of and becomes attached to on the orphan train. He is adopted by a young couple in Minneapolis. As an elderly woman, Vivian/Niamh discovers that Carmine grew up to be a salesman, married, and had many children and grandchildren.
Mrs. Scatcherd
Mrs. Scatcherd is the matron of the orphan train during Vivian/Niamh, Dutchy and Carmine’s ride. She is smart, strict, and authoritative, but wishes the children well and does her best to take care of their needs on the train. She works alongside Mr. Curran.
Mr. Curran
Mr. Curran is the second adult supervisor of the orphan train during Vivian/Niamh, Dutchy, and Carmine’s ride. He is well intended but is noticeably less able to manage the children than his colleague, Mrs. Scatcherd.
Fanny
Fanny is the kind elderly woman who works as a seamstress for the Byrnes’ garment business in Albans, Minnesota. She is their most trusted employee. She immediately welcomes Vivian/Niamh (renamed “Dorothy” at the time) and does her best to look after her.
Mary
Mary is the Byrnes’ youngest seamstress at the Byrnes’ garment business in Albans, Minnesota. She is cold and mean to Vivian/Niamh (renamed “Dorothy” at the time) because she is afraid that the Byrnes’ will replace her job with “Dorothy’s” unpaid labor.
Bernice, Joan, and Sally
Bernice, Joan, and Sally are three of the seamstresses who work for the Byrnes’ garment business in Albans, Minnesota. Vivian/Niamh (renamed “Dorothy” at the time) takes comfort in the company of the seamstresses, with the exception of Mary.
Mabel
Mabel is the three-year-old daughter of the Grotes, the poor rural family who adopt Vivian/Niamh (called “Dorothy” at the time) after the Byrnes. Like her siblings, Mabel is severely neglected and doesn’t seem to be developing normally.
Gerald Jr.
Gerald Jr. is the two-year-old son of the Grotes, the poor rural family who adopt Vivian/Niamh (called “Dorothy” at the time) after the Byrnes. Like his siblings, Gerald Jr. is severely neglected and doesn’t seem to be developing normally. He clings to “Dorothy” more than most of his siblings.
Nettie
Nettie is the baby daughter of the Grotes, the poor rural family who adopt Vivian/Niamh (called “Dorothy” at the time) after the Byrnes. Like her siblings, Nettie is severely neglected and doesn’t seem to be developing normally.
Harold
Harold is the six-year-old son of the Grotes, the poor rural family who adopt Vivian/Niamh (called “Dorothy” at the time) after the Byrnes. Like his siblings, Harold is severely neglected and doesn’t seem to be developing normally. He clings to “Dorothy” more than most of his siblings.
Mr. Post
Mr. Post is the man who helps Miss Larsen to operate the rural schoolhouse Vivian/Niamh attends in Hemingford County, Minnesota. Mr. Post is kind and discrete.
Lucy
Lucy is Niamh’s classmate at the rural schoolhouse she attends in Hemingford County, Minnesota.
The first Vivian Nielsen
Years before adopting Vivian/Niamh, Mr. Nielsen and his wife Viola have a biological daughter they name Vivian. She dies as a child of diphtheria. Niamh is then legally renamed as “Vivian” in memory of the Nielsen’s biological daughter.
Judy
Judy is Vivian/Niamh’s close friend during high school in Hemingford, Minnesota.
Lillian
Lillian is Vivian/Niamh’s close friend during college in Hemingford, Minnesota. Like their shared friend Emily, she is more worldly and outgoing than Vivian/Niamh. She is engaged to Richard.
Richard
Richard is the fiancée of Lillian, Vivian/Niamh’s close friend from college. He has a grandiose demeanor that is off-putting to Vivian/Niamh.
Emily
Emily is Vivian/Niamh’s close friend during college in Hemingford, Minnesota. Like their shared friend Lillian, she is more worldly and outgoing than Vivian/Niamh.
Becca
Becca is the granddaughter of Sarah Dunnell and the biological great-granddaughter of Vivian/Niamh. She “likes adventure” and has red hair and freckles just like Vivian/Niamh. She comes along with her grandmother to meet Vivian/Niamh for the first time.
Francis Fahy
Francis Fahy was an Irish poet, nationalist, and ballad composer from the 1880s to the 1930s. He was born and died in Kinvara in County Galway, Ireland, but launched his literary career in England.