In the aftermath of traumatic events and devastating losses, Molly and Vivian struggle to hold onto a sense of hope. In its place, they often feel disillusionment and skepticism, particularly towards other people and human relationships in general. Ultimately, however, they discover that hope is a prerequisite to feeling connected to others—and connection, they learn, is what gives life meaning.
As Molly and Vivian demonstrate, skepticism makes risky emotional situations more palatable. Rather than expecting for things to turn out well, they learn that having “no expectations” makes it easier to cope when life doesn’t go as expected or when people let them down. For example, Molly becomes progressively more disillusioned by each negative experience with foster care families. By the time Molly meets Vivian, she has chosen to stop nurturing a sense of hope and instead to expect the worst from people. Her cultivated sense of skepticism is evident from Molly’s lack of surprise when Dina and Ralph kick her out after an argument. Throughout her story, Molly actively tries to defeat hope in order to prevent disappointment.
In some cases, Molly and Vivian sabotage their own relationships because they are afraid of risking loss by giving in to hope. By interrupting and damaging their own relationships, they exercise control over loss rather than allowing themselves to be at the mercy of loss. After losing her parents, siblings, and then finally her one true love, Vivian determines that “loss is inevitable.” She knows it will happen; life has taught her that it is beyond her control. She then decides that the only way to prevent loss is to keep from loving someone so much that losing the person would destroy her. So, she gives her baby up for adoption because she doesn’t want to risk losing another person she loves. But despite this, she already loves her baby, and her attempt to avoid hope only forces her to compound her suffering with yet another loss, this time at her own hands.
In a similar way, Molly often tries to push away her boyfriend, Jack, despite his efforts to trust her and deepen their relationship. The more love and acceptance Jack shows, the more Molly tries to show him the darker parts of herself in order to “test” his love. She doesn’t want to let herself believe that Jack is sincere and that they have a possibility of a successful relationship, since doing so would mean risking disappointment if things don’t work out. Because human relationships always run the risk of loss, Molly, like Vivian, believes that forming deep human connection isn’t worth the risk.
Despite their fears that they are “broken,” Molly and Vivian’s ability to regrow and renew their sense of faith in others shows both their resilience and the resilience of the human ability to hope. Both Vivian and Molly try to hold onto hope throughout their journeys as orphans. Despite the immense loss of her family, Vivian nurtures the hope that someone will pick her and take her in. Even after she is exploited, neglected, and rejected by the Byrnes, she indulges in imagining a beautiful, cheerful home at her next family, the Grotes. Only after her devastating experience of neglect and sexual abuse with the Grotes does she give up on hoping for a traditional home and family. But then again, after she is shown kindness by her teacher, Miss Larsen, and the landlady, Mrs. Murphy, she begins to regain some sense of hope. And years later, after decades of loneliness and disconnection, Vivian allows her sense of hope to be restored by Molly’s friendship. Her experiences suggest that hope can never be permanently destroyed. Rather, it grows and fades depending on an individual’s experiences.
As Molly and Vivian both learn, deep human connection is essential for life to be meaningful. For both women, cultivating a reliable and loving friendship opens the door to regaining a sense of hope. Because the source of their hopelessness is their distrust in the love or consistency of others, their ability to find love and consistency in their friendship serves to revive their respective senses of hope. As their friendship progresses, they each make progress in deepening their other human relationships. Vivian finally chooses to find and reach out to her long-lost daughter, and Molly deepens her relationship with her boyfriend and his mother. Through the understanding and trust they build with each other, they are able to regain a sense of faith in people in general.
Hope and Skepticism ThemeTracker
Hope and Skepticism Quotes in Orphan Train
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.
Our sponsors have told us little; we know only that we are going to a land where apples grow in abundance on low-hanging branches and cows and pigs and sheep roam freely in the fresh country air. A land where good people – families – are eager to take us in […] But I am skeptical. I know all too well how it is when the beautiful visions you’ve been fed don’t match up with reality.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.