Orphan Train

Orphan Train

Belonging and Connection Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
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
Hope and Skepticism Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Orphan Train, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Belonging and Connection Theme Icon

Molly Ayer and Vivian Daly, two women born in different places and eras and who were orphaned as young children, both struggle to find a sense of home and belonging. Because of the loss and betrayal they have suffered, they each find it difficult to open their hearts to new people. Ultimately, however, the two women form a friendship through storytelling and mutual acts of care and acceptance. Even though they both lack a conventional family, they find a sense of belonging and connection in their friendship with each other.

As orphaned children, Molly and Vivian (born “Niamh Power” and then renamed “Dorothy”) both suffer from loneliness and detachment resulting from having no family or community where they belong. Even when their physical needs are met, they seldom feel truly wanted by others. For example, as a child living in temporary adoptive homes, Vivian lives in constant fear of being thrown out. And even though she eventually finds a stable home, she continues to live in fear that she isn’t wanted.

Even when Vivian and Molly do feel wanted, they have trouble identifying with the emotions of others. For both women, this results in an overall feeling of disconnection. After multiple dangerous and uncaring foster families, Vivian is eventually placed with the Nielsens, a loving, safe family who come to see her as their daughter. But even though she is safe and cared for, Vivian doesn’t identify with the Nielsens or feel a sense of belonging with them. Vivian is from Ireland, and her adoptive parents express little interest in her culture and her family background. Instead, they expect her to assimilate seamlessly to their way of life, religion, and culture. They care for her, but they don’t fully see who she is. She respects and appreciates them, but she struggles to return their love.

Similarly, Molly has trouble forming friendships with her peers. Moving around frequently has made her feel like a perpetual outsider wherever she goes. Unlike Vivian, Molly hasn’t found a stable adoptive family: she continues to bounce between foster families throughout her childhood. With her foster parents Dina and Ralph, as with many foster parents before them, Molly feels that her place in their home is precarious and conditional. When Dina ultimately kicks Molly out, Molly is unsurprised. With the exception of her biological parents, most of the adults in Molly’s life haven’t made her feel loved or understood. It’s only when Molly moves in with Vivian that she finally feels a sense of unconditional love and acceptance.

Within the novel, being unconditionally loved and accepted is a prerequisite for feeling a sense of belonging. This is the kind of love that is generally provided by biological family members. Even though Vivian’s Mam was often neglectful and her Da was an alcoholic, she at least felt a sense of belonging with her family. Likewise, Molly felt a sense of unconditional love and belonging with her biological parents, even though her parents weren’t always able to provide materially or offer emotional support. For both girls, their families have an even deeper sense of belonging because of their shared cultural identity (Vivian’s family is Irish and Molly’s father is Penobscot Indian). When they were orphaned, both girls struggled to find a new sense of belonging and connection in their adoptive and foster care homes.

Over the course of the novel, both women come to realize that shared experiences can also help to build a sense of common identity. Even though Molly and Vivian have different backgrounds and a wide age difference, they share the common experience of having been orphaned as children. Their shared experience gives them insight into each other’s experiences, and this in turn gives them a sense of belonging and connection with each other. They become like family to one another: they are able to provide each other with deeper support than the foster/adoptive families and friends they’ve had throughout their lives. Through the emotional progress they spur in each other, both women are able to open their hearts to new and healthier relationships with others. Molly takes steps to improve her relationships with her boyfriend, Jack, by becoming more honest with him, and after decades Vivian finally reopens her heart to love and family by making contact with the daughter she gave up for adoption. As they move forward in their other relationships, their friendship continues to provide them each with a central source of love and support.

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Belonging and Connection Quotes in Orphan Train

Below you will find the important quotes in Orphan Train related to the theme of Belonging and Connection.
Chapter 1 Quotes

The charms are all she has left of what used to be her life.

Related Characters: Molly Ayer, Mr. Ayer / Molly’s Father
Related Symbols: The Three Pewter Charms / Molly’s Charm Necklace
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

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Even after getting into trouble like this and probably getting sent away, she knows she’d never have asked Jack to buy the book. If there is one thing she hates most about being in the foster care system, it’s this dependence on people you barely know, your vulnerability to their whims. She has learned not to expect anything from anybody.

Related Characters: Molly Ayer, Jack
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

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But Mr. Schatzman frowns and shakes his head, and it’s then that I realize just how alone I am. There is no adult on this side of the Atlantic who has reason to take any interest in me, no one to guide me onto a boat or pay for my passage. I am a burden to society, and nobody’s responsibility.

Related Characters: Vivian Daly / Niamh Power / “Dorothy” (speaker), Mr. and Mrs. Schatzman
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

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No one feels sorry for me because I’ve lost my family. Each of us has a sad tale; we wouldn’t be here otherwise. The general feeling is that it’s best not to talk about the past, that the quickest relief will come in forgetting.

Related Characters: Vivian Daly / Niamh Power / “Dorothy” (speaker)
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

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How strange, I think – that I am in a place my parents have never been and will never see. How strange that I am here and they are gone. I touch the claddagh cross around my neck.

Related Characters: Vivian Daly / Niamh Power / “Dorothy” (speaker), Patrick Power/ “Da”, Mary Power/ “Mam”
Related Symbols: The Claddagh Cross / Vivian’s Necklace
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:

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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.

Related Characters: Molly Ayer, Vivian Daly / Niamh Power / “Dorothy”
Related Symbols: The Attic / Boxes in the Attic
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:

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I keep forgetting to answer to Dorothy. But in a way I am glad to have a new identity. It makes it easier to let go of so much else. I’m not the same Niamh who left her Gram and aunties and uncles in Kinvara and came across the ocean on the Agnes Pauline, who lived with her family on Elizabeth Street. No, I am Dorothy now.

Related Characters: Vivian Daly / Niamh Power / “Dorothy” (speaker), Gram, Raymond Byrne, Lois Byrne
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:

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I feel myself retreating to someplace deep inside. It is a pitiful kind of childhood, to know that no one loves you or is taking care of you, to always be on the outside looking in. I feel a decade older than my years. I know too much; I have seen people at their worst, at their most desperate and selfish, and this knowledge makes me wary. So I am learning to pretend, to smile and nod, to display empathy I do not feel. I am learning to pass, to look like everyone else, even though I feel broken inside.

Related Characters: Vivian Daly / Niamh Power / “Dorothy” (speaker), Raymond Byrne, Lois Byrne, Mr. Sorenson
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:

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He’s always making excuses – “She didn’t mean nothing by it,” “She’s yanking your chain” – when Dina does things like intone “the Tribe has spoken” when Molly expresses an opinion. “You need to stop taking yourself so seriously, little girl,” Dina said when Molly asked her to knock it off. “If you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re going to have a very hard life.”

Related Characters: Molly Ayer, Ralph Thibodeaus, Dina Thibodeaus
Page Number: 130
Explanation and Analysis:

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Maybe it’ll be a stretch to find drama in Vivian’s portage – a happy, stable life does not an interesting story make, right? But even the rich have their problems, or so Molly’s heard. It will be her task to extract them.

Related Characters: Molly Ayer, Vivian Daly / Niamh Power / “Dorothy”
Related Symbols: Portaging
Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:

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“Well,” Molly says, “I think the boat represents what you take with you – the essential things – from place to place. And the water – well, I think it’s the place you’re always trying to get to.”

Related Characters: Molly Ayer (speaker), Vivian Daly / Niamh Power / “Dorothy”
Related Symbols: Portaging
Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:

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“I will help you find a home,” she says gently. “A place that is safe and clean, where you’ll be treated like a ten-year-old-girl. I promise you that.”

Related Characters: Miss Larsen (speaker), Vivian Daly / Niamh Power / “Dorothy”
Page Number: 156
Explanation and Analysis:

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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.

Related Characters: Vivian Daly / Niamh Power / “Dorothy”, Jack
Related Symbols: The Attic / Boxes in the Attic
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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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.

Related Characters: Molly Ayer, Vivian Daly / Niamh Power / “Dorothy”
Related Symbols: The Attic / Boxes in the Attic
Page Number: 177
Explanation and Analysis:

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They don’t seem eager to learn about me, but then again, few people are. I get the sense that my abandonment, and the circumstances that brought me to them, matter little to them, compared to the need I might fill in their lives.

Related Characters: Vivian Daly / Niamh Power / “Dorothy” (speaker), Viola Nielsen, Mr. Nielsen
Page Number: 189
Explanation and Analysis:

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“Ah, well,” Vivian says. “I suppose we all come under false pretenses one way or another, don’t we?”

Related Characters: Vivian Daly / Niamh Power / “Dorothy” (speaker), Molly Ayer
Page Number: 217
Explanation and Analysis:

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We both start laughing – at the absurdity of our shared experiences, the relief of recognition. We cling to each other like survivors of a shipwreck, astonished that neither of us drowned.

Related Characters: Vivian Daly / Niamh Power / “Dorothy” (speaker), Dutchy / Hans / Luke Maynard
Page Number: 230
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lying in that hospital bed I feel all of it: the terrible weight of sorrow, the crumbling of my dreams. I sob uncontrollably for all that I’ve lost – the love of my life, my family, a future I’d dared to envision. And in that moment I make a decision. I can’t go through this again. I can’t give myself to someone so completely only to lose them. I don’t want, ever again, to experience the loss of someone I love beyond reason.

Related Characters: Vivian Daly / Niamh Power / “Dorothy” (speaker), Dutchy / Hans / Luke Maynard, Sarah Dunnell/ “May”
Page Number: 246-247
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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She can sleep with the door open, wander around freely, come and go without someone watching her every move. She hadn’t realized how much of a toll the years of judgment and criticism, implied and expressed, had taken on her. It’s as if she’s been walking on a wire, trying to keep her balance, and now, for the first time, she is on solid ground.

Related Characters: Molly Ayer, Vivian Daly / Niamh Power / “Dorothy”
Page Number: 256
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco labori

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Sitting in the rocker in the kitchen, looking out at the water, Molly feels oddly at peace. For the first time since she can remember, her life is beginning to make sense. What up until this moment has felt like a random, disconnected series of unhappy events she now views as necessary steps in a journey toward… enlightenment is perhaps too strong a word, but there are others, less lofty, like self-acceptance and perspective.

Related Characters: Molly Ayer, Vivian Daly / Niamh Power / “Dorothy”
Page Number: 272
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fu

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Molly touches Vivian’s shoulder, frail and bony under her thin silk cardigan. She half turns, half smiles, her eyes brimming with tears. Her hand flutters to her clavicle, to the silver chain around her neck, the claddagh charm – those tiny hands clasping a crowned heart: love, loyalty, friendship – a never-ending path that leads away from home and circles back.

Related Characters: Molly Ayer, Vivian Daly / Niamh Power / “Dorothy”, Sarah Dunnell/ “May”
Related Symbols: The Claddagh Cross / Vivian’s Necklace
Page Number: 273
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occ

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Chapter 3 Quotes

And though I rarely take the claddagh off, as I get older I can’t escape the realization that the only remaining piece of my blood family comes from a woman who pushed her only son and his family out to sea in a boat, knowing full well she’d probably never see them again.

Related Characters: Vivian Daly / Niamh Power / “Dorothy” (speaker), Gram
Related Symbols: The Claddagh Cross / Vivian’s Necklace
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.