The Orphan Train

By Christina Baker Kline

Character Analysis (Protagonist)

Vivian Daly experienced much pain and hardship throughout her life beginning with the tragic loss of her father, brothers, and sister in 1929 to a house fire. She was a poor Irish family that came to New York for a better life. Growing up her Dad was a heavy drinker and her Mom had some dark moods. She is very caring as shown to be true when she took care of Maisie when her mother couldn't find care for her. Also while on the Orphan Train she cares for Carmine, a younger boy, she feeds him sugar lumps that she saved from her breakfast tea.

She is also extremely protective. For example when Dutchy and Vivian go exploring the train station in Chicago and the police get called, Vivian took the blame to save Dutchy from getting in trouble. Also Vivian shows her protective side when they were in Minneapolis and the train stops and the woman wanted to take Carmine, however the woman said she could only take Carmine, even after Vivian's plea that she can cook and clean. This is also another example of loss that Vivian faced during her life.


One theme in The Orphan Train is the way events beyond our control shape our lives.

Niamh had no control over her mentally ill mother's ways nor her brother's drinking. She had no control over the fire that killed her family yet her future was shaped by those events. She became an orphan and she was told that her sister, Maisie, who she took care of, also died. Niamh was sad and alone after this.

Niamh had no control of who chose her on the orphan train. When the Byrnes took her to work in the sewing factory, she was forced to live in a place where they locked the refridgerator and made her do a lot of work. She had no control when they changed her name to Dorothy but she decided to treat the women at work like her family. She learned what it felt like to be treated well by Fanny.

When Mr. Grote, sexually abused Niamh , her decision to run away to her teacher at school shaped where she was placed after that. She had a positive experience with the Nielsen's which lead to her meeting Dutchy again.

Vivian allows Molly to clean her attic and they form a special bond because of the orphan lives and Molly looks into people from Vivians past which allows Vivian to finally meet her daughter.


Characterization of Molly is that Molly is a girl who asks many questions. She is outspoken and bold. Molly questions Vivian the first day she goes to her house to do " community service." It is because she asks about the things she finds in boxes in the attic that Vivian opens up to her and shares her past. Molly listens to Vivian and appreciates what Vivian shares. It is because Molly can relate that both old Vivian and young Molly end up sharing a honest relationship. They trust each other and really understand. Vivian appreciates that Molly stole the library book to own something because she also had a book from her teacher and she had the claddagh from her grandmother. Molly had the turtle necklace. Molly is persistent and she gets Vivian to get a computer and begins to research people and events from Vivian's life. Molly helps Vivian find her daughter and Molly tells Vivian what really happened years ago to Maisie. Molly does not let Terry scare her off. When Terry thinks Molly broke in the house, Molly doesn't get worried and run off she waits for Vivian to explain things.


The Orphan Train is an interesting story of a historically significant period in U.S history. Between 1854 and 1929, over 200,00 kids were transported by train from East Coast cities to the mid-west. These children were homeless or abandoned and the movement in the mid- west was supposed to save them from an unfortunate life. For many it was very bad- they were beaten, lost their identities, drifted from home to home. I never heard of orphans train before I read this book and so I learned another part of our history. This book made me imagine what it was like for those children many alone being picked like puppies in a pet store. Christian Baker Kline introduces two main characters: Vivian and Molly. The reader can not only journey with an orphan in 1929 and live her experiences but she introduces Molly, a current day foster child, that readers can learn from. The author does a good job making the reader feel the connection between Vivian and Molly. We are rooting for them to be "family" for each other, to help each other find peace. I think girls would enjoy this book more then guys. I can imagine some chicks cheering for Vivian and Molly and crying when Molly helps Vivian find her daughter. Orphan Train is a historic story of survival, resilience, friendship, love, and connection. Like Vivian Daly says " People who matter in our lives stay with us, haunting our most ordinary moments. We absorb them through our soles." This book makes me think of how people endure through all sorts of conditions and situations.