Orphan Train

Orphan Train

The Attic / Boxes in the Attic Symbol Icon

Vivian’s attic represents the unresolved matter of her past. Throughout Vivian/Niamh’s long life, she has loved and lost many important people. She has experienced many traumatic and difficult events that she has never processed emotionally and has kept secret to herself for many years. Because she hasn’t processed and reconciled her feelings about the people and events in her life, she has carried her past with her into the present. As she has moved through life, she has likewise accumulated countless boxes full of objects that tell the story of her life. As Vivian/Niamh cleans out her attic with the help of Molly Ayer, the two women discuss the symbolic importance and the story of each item. The process of cleaning out the attic represents Vivian/Niamh’s process of acknowledging and making peace with her past.

The Attic / Boxes in the Attic Quotes in Orphan Train

The Orphan Train quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Attic / Boxes in the Attic. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Belonging and Connection Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the William Morrow edition of Orphan Train published in 2013.
Chapter 13 Quotes

To her surprise, Molly feels a lump in her throat. She swallows, pushing it down. How ridiculous – an old lady gives her a moldy book she has no use for, and she chokes up. She must be getting her period.

Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 26 Quotes

Why shouldn’t Vivian’s attic be filled with things that are meaningful to her? The stark truth is that she will die sooner than later […] So yes – Molly has begun to view her work at Vivian’s in a different light. Maybe it doesn’t matter how much gets done. Maybe the value is in the process – in touching each item, in naming and identifying, in acknowledging the significance of a cardigan, a pair of children’s boots.

Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 27 Quotes

But over and over, Molly begins to understand as she listens to the tapes, Vivian has come back to the idea that the people who matter in our lives stay with us, haunting our most ordinary moments. They are with us in the grocery store as we turn a corner, chat with a friend. They rise up through the pavement; we absorb them through our soles.

Page Number: 177
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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The Attic / Boxes in the Attic Symbol Timeline in Orphan Train

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Attic / Boxes in the Attic appears in Orphan Train. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011
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
...tells her that the elderly woman his mother works for needs help cleaning out her attic, and that Molly could volunteer to fulfill the community service requirement of her probation. He... (full context)
Chapter 2: Spruce Harbor Maine, 2011
Safety and Survival Theme Icon
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Secrets, Reality, and Illusions Theme Icon
Hope and Skepticism Theme Icon
...is Molly, who anticipates the project of working with a rich elderly woman in her attic to be incredibly dull. Molly wonders whether juvenile detention would have been better. Jack tells... (full context)
Chapter 7: Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011
Belonging and Connection Theme Icon
Self and Identity Theme Icon
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Hope and Skepticism Theme Icon
...house. When he asks her how the interview went, she expresses reservations about whether the attic project will ultimately work out. Jack encourages her to remain hopeful and try her best.... (full context)
Chapter 8: Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011
Belonging and Connection Theme Icon
Secrets, Reality, and Illusions Theme Icon
Hope and Skepticism Theme Icon
...alone in a house with fourteen bedrooms. Terry leads Molly and Vivian up to the attic. Seeing all of her boxes, Vivian jokes that other people probably have children so that... (full context)
Chapter 13: Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011
Belonging and Connection Theme Icon
Self and Identity Theme Icon
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Hope and Skepticism Theme Icon
After one week, Molly realizes that Vivian isn’t throwing out anything in the attic. Vivian talks about things and Molly puts them into a new box. When Molly mentions... (full context)
Chapter 26: Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011
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
...off “like garbage” on the orphan train. As they go through more boxes in the attic, Molly is beginning to connect stories and objects into a “pattern that was impossible to... (full context)
Belonging and Connection Theme Icon
Self and Identity Theme Icon
Trauma and Loss Theme Icon
Secrets, Reality, and Illusions Theme Icon
...work relationship. He says it doesn’t look like they are making any progress in the attic, but Molly insists that they are. She considers it pointless to expect Vivian to get... (full context)
Chapter 38: Spruce Harbor, Maine 2011
Belonging and Connection Theme Icon
Safety and Survival Theme Icon
Secrets, Reality, and Illusions Theme Icon
...says she’s done “something important” in helping Vivian reconcile her past by sorting through the attic. (full context)
Chapter 39: Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011
Self and Identity Theme Icon
Safety and Survival Theme Icon
Secrets, Reality, and Illusions Theme Icon
...paperwork from her completed community service hours. She asks if Molly finished cleaning out the attic, and Molly says she did. Molly thinks of the boxes, sorted through and neatly organized... (full context)