Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Orphan Train

We had the unusual experience of everyone liking the book and while that often leads to a short discussion, we found plenty to talk about  today.  The history of orphan trains was new to Kathy and several others said the same thing, wondering how this piece of American history had slipped by them.  And while both stories were interesting, we found Vivian's to be more compelling.  Claudia noted that Molly's response to her circumstances was angry rebellion whereas Vivian threw herself into each experience, learning and acquiring skills along the way.  We liked how the author paralleled their experiences and used the class project of portaging as another parallel.  The Indians knew the value of traveling light, understanding that it required leaving some things behind, as both Vivian and Molly learned

We talked about how the children were expected to step into the work roles as adults, cleaning, cooking and tending children.  Joanne felt it was as much cultural as anything.  She began cooking with her Italian grandmother when she was three and by the time she was six, she could put out a whole meal.  She began by making bread.  She said breaking an egg into flour and kneading it into dough was fun play for her.

Vivian who was our favorite character, was quite feisty for a 91-year-old woman, trotting up the stairs to the attic each day with Molly.  Joanne said there was one thing that didn't ring true to her and that was giving up her baby when that was all she had left of Dutchy, the love of her life, and especially after her experiences, thrown on the kindness and not-so-kindness of strangers.  Kathy said she realized the end was probably a little too convenient, but she was glad when Vivian found her daughter.

There were things mentioned and then not followed up on, like if Molly was Indian, was she dark skinned?  And Jack's dad was Dominican yet we don't know what he looked like.  He must have had some Negroid features which would certainly set him apart, but for the big role he played, we know more about his mom than him.

We spent quite a bit of time trying to get our heads around the concept of putting children on a train and sending them off, like darts to a dart board, with little or no accounting system.  Angela read that between 1854 and 1929 the trains delivered an estimated 250,000 orphaned and abandoned children to 45 states plus Canada and Mexico.  Patricia brought in a nonfiction book about the orphan train movement and read to us about Reverend Loring who founded the movement in an attempt to address the needs of children living on the streets of New York City.  Mary noted that social welfare fell to the churches, and while the two things expected of families taking children was to send them to church and school, it's clear that many didn't.  Kathy questioned why the trains stopped and wondered if one of the FDR's New Deal programs addressed this problem.  We were as interested in the history behind the story as much as the story.

Per Kathy's request, here's a repeat of the Reader Response:

I found the Kelly Corrigan quote which was in the March post.  The term is Reader Response:  "I remember a lecture from one of my lit classes about a theory called “Reader Response,” which basically says: More often than not, it’s the readers—not the writers—who determine what a book means.  The idea is that readers don’t come blank to books.  Consciously and not, we bring all the biases that come with our nationality, gender, race, class, age.  Then you layer onto that the status of our health, employment, relationships, not to mention our particular relationship to each book—who gave it to us, were we read it, what books we’ve already read—and, as my professor put it, “That massive array of spices has as much to do with the flavor of the soup as whatever the cook intended.”