Orphan Train

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Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children whose fates would be determined by pure luck. Would they be adopted by a kind and loving family, or would they face a childhood and adolescence of hard labor and servitude?

As a young Irish immigrant, Vivian Daly was one such child, sent by rail from New York City to an uncertain future a world away. Returning east later in life, Vivian leads a quiet, peaceful existence on the coast of Maine, the memories of her upbringing rendered a hazy blur. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past.

Seventeen-year-old Molly Ayer knows that a community-service position helping an elderly widow clean out her attic is the only thing keeping her out of juvenile hall. But as Molly helps Vivian sort through her keepsakes and possessions, she discovers that she and Vivian aren't as different as they appear. A Penobscot Indian who has spent her youth in and out of foster homes, Molly is also an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past.

Moving between contemporary Maine and Depression-era Minnesota, Orphan Train is a powerful tale of upheaval and resilience, second chances, and unexpected friendship.

Curriculet Details
68 Questions
50 Annotations
3 Quizzes

This 9th and 10th grade curriculum includes annotations with links to videos about historic events and literature referenced in the story, images that describe the setting, and insights into character development and thematic elements. The Common Core aligned questions focus on thematic issues, ranging from coming of age experiences to unconditional love, the use of literary devices, specifically similes, and the way in which flashbacks contribute to the structure of the narrative and larger thematic elements. The three quizzes in this curriculet reinforce the elements, themes, and character development of this engaging, modern and historical Bildungsroman. Note: this novel contains occasional profanity and sexual content, including a disturbing rape scene.

The curriculet is being added to your library

Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011

The following video will help you learn about character development in a literary text. There are several important characters in Orphan Train, and the author carefully crafts a portrait of each one and reveals how each person changes over the course of the novel. As you read this novel, continually ask yourself this question: How is this character changing?  (This annotation contains a video)
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The metaphor used in this description of the main character, Molly, most likely suggests  
The figurative language used here is meant to express the idea that people can make bad choices and ruin their own lives or derail their forward progress. Hence the phrase "going off the rails." Although the main character has grown up in less than ideal conditions for healthy development, she has found a way to survive and keep her sanity. 
Jane Eyre is a novel that was written by Charlotte Bronte, and it is considered a classic example of bildungsroman--a German phrase that means coming of age. The reference to this novel carries symbolic significance: Molly's story is also a coming of age narrative in which she will also have to make choices in order to mature and grow up.  
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The charms that Molly wears most likely reveal  
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In what ways does the author portray Molly's pessimism about her life and others? Cite textual evidence to support your response.  
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Molly feels that Jack cares about her in spite of who she is and her past. This highlights which of the following themes that we are likely to see throughout this novel?  

Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011

The picture below displays a white Victorian home with black shutters. It most likely resembles the home in which Molly does her community service. Victorian-era homes were built during the reign of Queen Victoria of England (1837-1901). It's interesting to note that the Gothic period of literature influenced this style of architecture. Molly identifies herself as a Gothic. For further thought, what do you think the color combinations of this home (white and black) may symbolize in this story?  (This annotation contains an image)
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When the author explains "It's always startling to see Jack's big brown eyes in his mother's wide, soft-featured face," she most likely wants us to know what about Molly? 
An important aspect of how characters are revealed and developed in this novel is the way the author uses descriptive details and literary devices. In this paragraph, both metaphors ("a topographical map of veins") and similes ("eyes as bright and sharp as a bird's") abound. Details like "tiny creases around her eyes" also give us a clear visual, too, of Mrs. Daly's appearance. Close your eyes and imagine what Mrs. Daly looks like based off of this description.  
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We learn that Molly decided to adopt a Gothic style because  

New York City, 1929

Mrs. Daly's early life takes place during the Great Depression--a point in American history in which our economy and the lives of millions were at an ultimate low. The following video provides a historical context for this era, and gives insight into the environment in which one of our main characters lived.  (This annotation contains a video)
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Throughout history, people have migrated to other lands for many reasons. What is the primary reason the Vivian's family left Ireland for America? 
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The seeming purpose of the flashback structure used in this narrative is to 

New York City, 1929

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In what ways do Molly and Vivian's childhood experiences parallel each other? Cite evidence from the text to support your response.  
Millions of Irish immigrants fled their impoverished surroundings in Ireland because of the The Great Famine--a time when their staple crop, the potato, ceased to grow. With millions starving, Irish boarded ships with the little they had and made their way to a very Anglo-centric East Coast United States, where the majority of American citizens where already established religiously, culturally, and socially. The Irish were seen by many as an unwelcome invasion of peasants and third-world immigrants, who stood out because of their accent, unfashionable clothing, and red hair. Most Irish lived in very poor conditions and were discriminated against constantly. The video below provides information about the types and degree of this discrimination.  (This annotation contains a video)
In response to the growing number of neglected and abused children in the eastern states of America, the Children's Aid Society developed a foster care program that placed children from the ages of 6-18 in foster homes, mostly throughout the midwestern states on farms. These children were required to work on the farms and lend a helping hand. Older children were required to be paid wages. The following video provides a succinct summary on this historical movement. (This annotation contains a video)
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The highlighted phrase is an example of what type of literary device?  
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Based on the highlighted passage, what similarities can you draw between Molly and Vivian's outlook about life in their early childhood?  
The author uses another simile here to reveal the pleasant smell of this baby. A custard is a type of pudding dessert. This particular simile demonstrates the way in which authors provide sensory details about the characters' surroundings.  

New York Central Train, 1929

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What is the overwhelming tone in this song?  
A bootblack is a nickname for anyone who makes a living from polishing shoes. These bootblacks would usually set up their shops at train station depots or inside department stores and offer to shine business men's shoes. Below is a picture of a young boy serving as a bootblack outside on a city street. May orphans found an opportunity to easily make money this way.  (This annotation contains an image)
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In what way does Vivian's new friend most  affect her during their first encounter?  

Union Station, Chicago, 1929

During the 1920's a group of Christian women and other individuals pushed Congress into adding an Amendment to the Constitution that banned the sale of alcohol. To accommodate the demand for liquor sales, speakeasy establishments were opened and they become underground bars and saloons. Hans supposedly spent some of his time learning to play piano at one of these places.  
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Based on what unfolds with the police and the incident in the train station, why does Vivian protect Hans (Dutchey)? Use evidence from the text to support your inference.  
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________ is an important theme that is highlighted through the orphans' fears.  

Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011

The saying "opposites attract" not only applies to couples, but it also extends to friendships. Both Jack and Molly compliment each other--Jack is optimistic and Molly is pessimistic. Their viewpoints, though one not better than the other, create balance in their friendship.  
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Molly dislikes Dina because 

Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011

The idea of indentured servitude comes up again in this narrative. First, when Vivian first describes what children on the orphan train felt like when they were put on a farm to work. Again, here, when Molly relates her work to indentured servitude. The parallel circumstances of both main characters is meant to foreshadow the common bond that both of them will feel with the other.  
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The mood set forth in this passage by each character is different. Which word best describes Molly's mood? 
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As Molly begins thinking about her work assignment you begin to sense  

The Milwaukee Train, 1929

The idea of destiny or fate is a common theme in literature that dates back to ancient tales of heroism and valor and continues through modern stories. Moses, Hercules, King Arthur, Oliver Twist, and even Luke Skywalker were all destined at a young age to greatness. Hans statement here brings to light this common theme in literature--those who grow up in dire circumstances often find greatness.  
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Does the treatment of these orphaned children on this train seem humane? Support your opinion with evidence from the text.  

Milwaukee Road Depot, Minneapolis, 1929

An actual poster for the Orphan Train is shown below. Families from the local area would make their way down in hopes of finding valuable working hands.  (This annotation contains an image)
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The hidden implication that Mr. Curran gives in his choice of words is that these children are  
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What does the way these adults from Minneapolis select children suggest about them? 

Albans, Minnesota, 1929

Albans was one of many stops on the few routes that the Orphan Train took from New York City. Other routes took children farther south or into towns in the Midwest area.  (This annotation contains an image)
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What does the text directly say Vivian (Niamh) and this man have in common? 

Albans, Minnesota, 1929

The image below is a restored Singer sewing machine. The fabric would sit atop the extended table on the left, and the seamstresses would push the pedal on the floor to move the thread through the machine. This particular brand is American-made, and many of these machines are considered highly valuable antiques today.  (This annotation contains an image)
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What can you infer about Mary's treatment of Vivian (Dorothy)? 
Orphan Train Quiz #1 

Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011

Anne of Green Gables is a popular coming of age tale, written about a young girl, Anne, who learns to adapt to her new life as an orphan in an unfamiliar place. The following clip is a trailer for the longer motion picture. Many of Anne's experiences resonate with both Molly and Vivian's.  (This annotation contains a video)
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According to Vivian, what word best describes the way Molly reacts when she is around Jack? 
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What is the primary way Vivian learns about Molly? 
A turtle is a symbolic animal in many cultures. To Molly, it means strength, perseverance, and protection. To the Chinese, Hindu, and some Native American cultures, the turtle represented a creature that provided balance to the Earth, carrying the weight of the world on its shell. It is a foundational source of strength, therefore, for many cultures. See the picture below and notice that it occupies the base of the totem pole and carries the weight of others upon its back.  (This annotation contains an image)

Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011

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Based on what we learn about Molly in the beginning of this chapter, it can be said that she has a very _______ personality.  
A common element in coming of age tales is that minor characters seem to take either one of two angles on the main character--they believe in them or they do not. Terry, though she wants to give Molly a chance, does not truly believe in her. Jack, on the other hand, does. The same is true of Vivian and her surrounding characters. Which surrounding characters believe in her? Which do not?  
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Self-perception and its relationship towards maturity is a common theme in literature. Based on this passage from the English novel Jane Eyre, what point of view does Jane have about herself and those she loves?  

Albans, Minnesota, 1929

As already mentioned, the author is using the technique of flashback to develop a parallel plot--although both characters' childhood experiences are separated by 80 years. Does this theme help you better understand the themes or character development in the story? Why? (This annotation contains a video)
In 1918, Mississippi became the last state to decide that all children were required to attend school. Although compulsory education became a law, not everyone followed it. Today, special actions are taken by the school board, child welfare, and law enforcement to make sure that children are kept in school, regardless of the parents' views or circumstances. Special exceptions allow students to be home-schooled.  
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In what way do Vivian's foster parents parallel Molly's foster parents? 
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The highlighted statement is an example of 
There were two main groups of Christianity in America and Europe for the majority of the history of Western civilization. Both types of Christianity were often critical of each other, and caused a form of bigotry in many members towards the other group.  

Albans, Minnesota, 1929–1930

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In what ways do you predict the stock market crash will directly affect Vivian? Make exactly two predictions. Justify your predictions with evidence from the text, prior knowledge, or reasoning.  
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The highlighted simile is meant to connect to which of the following themes? 
Foster children are often placed temporarily in a home. If the foster parents and child click, then the parents can exercise their option to legally adopt the child. In some cases, children cannot be adopted, and are returned to their biological parents. Many foster children, especially during these times, went from home to home, never finding a permanent spot. The following video is a current advertisement from New York City's Children's Aid Society. What do you think are the right conditions for a foster child?  (This annotation contains a video)
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What was the primary reason Mr. and Mrs. Byrne gave Vivian (Dorothy) back to the agency? 

Hemingford County, Minnesota, 1930

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The author develops suspense by 
It appears as if Vivian is going to be placed in yet another unpleasant foster home. Although you might be hoping that she catches a break, the author is giving an opportunity to see how Vivian has grown in her maturity and outlook--she accepts what is given to her and keeps pressing forward. Hence, we can see now why Molly's turtle and its connection to the theme of perseverance is coming to the foreground of this novel.  

Hemingford County, Minnesota, 1930

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What appears to be the underlying reason the Grote family wants a foster child? 
The image below depicts a schoolhouse from Minnesota. In many rural areas, children would often attend school within the same building, accompanied by only one teacher. The concept of grade levels was only practiced in more affluent areas, and not practiced widespread throughout America until the last fifty or sixty years.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Why are Vivian's footsteps slow?  
A gallimaufry is a mixture of a variety of ingredients into a stew or baked dish. This type of cooking was common among people who ate from the land. Without many of the same cooking conventions that wealthier people had, they used every food they had so that it wouldn't go to waste and they could optimize their nutrition and calorie intake. The video below shows a video of a modern day gallimaufry.  (This annotation contains a video)

Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011

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What does this conversation with Lori reveal about Molly? 
It's becoming obvious that Dina is a mean person. Her comment here reveals her insecurities about her own low self-esteem during high school. Her racist remarks give the reader more reason to dislike her. Compare her outlook on life, what that of Mrs. Byrne and other embittered characters. These people become the antagonists in this novel for both main characters.  

Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011

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In what way does the concept of "portgaging" relate to what Molly is doing with Vivian? Use evidence from the text to support your response.  
The map below shows the various tribes, including the Penobscot, that inhabited the area around modern-day Maine.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Molly had a _______ relationship with her dad.  

Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011

The concept of leaving home and moving from place to place until you arrive at your destiny, is a common theme in literature. The Book of Exodus is a prime example. The people of Israel left behind the homes, most of their belongings, and traveled to their "promised land." Both main characters struggle through their childhood as they search for their own promised land.  
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What does Vivian mean by "left us behind"? 

Hemingford County, Minnesota, 1930

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What do Mr. Grote's comments about his wife most likely foreshadow? 
This simile highlights the defensiveness that both Vivian and Molly have grown as a result of their harsh surroundings. Vivian compares herself to an armored beetle; Molly a turtle.  
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What do the lines of this poem suggest about Vivian? 
Flappers were a nickname given to a group of women from the Roaring Twenties--a time when sub-cultures like the jazz movement and athleticism--rose to the forefront of American society. These women broke all the stigmas of society, smoking, drinking, and wearing clothing that most of society felt was not appropriate for young women. They were seen as rebels by some, but were idolized by many women who wished to break free from a restrictive society.  
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What does the loss of Vivian's hair represent?  

Hemingford County, Minnesota, 1930

This scene is a horrific reminder that many children are abused by adults they trust. Although this event has been foreshadowed by Mr. Grote making Vivian a confidant and treating her too fondly, we still experience shock about what is happening to her.  
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After this brutally horrific experience, how does Vivian immediately change? 

Hemingford County, Minnesota, 1930

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Mr. Sorenson believes that Vivian (Dorothy) is lying because 
The last statement that Vivian makes is meant to create tension within the story. She has just gone through a horrible experience, and yet seems to find joy in possible new beginnings. Based on her past experiences, though, we are left wondering if this will really be a better situation. What do you think she will encounter? Fortune? Misfortune?  

Hemingford, Minnesota, 1930

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The author's mention of Vivian's mom still being alive but crazy is meant mostly to  
In most coming-of-age tales, the main character experiences a series of hardships. However, there are those bright moments when the main characters find repose in a kind word, good deed, or act of love. These moments, more than any others, are the ones that solidify the inner resolve to be a better person and persevere towards a better life. Consider all the people in your life who have helped you see the brightness in this world.  
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What acts towards Vivian have most profoundly shaped her character? Pick two. Use evidence from the text to support your response.  

Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011

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What do the boxes in Vivian's attic symbolize? 
The author brings to light another common theme found in literature--the more you know, the more sorrow you feel. This theme is echoed in literature throughout history. King Solomon, arguably one of the wisest men to ever live, said, "For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow." Consider how both Molly and Vivian's experiences have created sorrow in their lives.  
More than halfway through this novel, characters begin to fade into the background or pop into the forefront. Watch the following video and think about which characters fall into static and dynamic categories.  (This annotation contains a video)

Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011

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What connotation does the word "haunting" carry in the context of this passage?  
Quiz #2 

Hemingford, Minnesota, 1930

The image below is a sketch of what Vivian's claddagh design possibly looked like. The path of the lines around the heart indicate the truth that Gram is trying to impart to Vivian: though you leave home, home will never leave you.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Vivian's description of Mr. Sorenson is really meant to convey 
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The adults in Vivian's life constantly disappoint her. Do you agree or disagree? Justify your conclusion with evidence from the text.  

Hemingford, Minnesota, 1930

Like many of the other adults who were "concerned" with making sure Vivian made a good impression and found a way to be accepted by foster parents, Mrs. Murphy's attempts to doll her up reveal the irony of the situation. Vivian's politeness and appearance have nothing to do with how well she will be accepted. People who do not truly love her will not accept her for what she is.  
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What does Vivian wish for most at this moment in her life? 

Hemingford, Minnesota, 1930–1931

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What does Vivian seem to enjoy the most about her new foster home? 
For the first time in her life, Vivian has celebrated a holiday with one of her host families. This fact, along with the warm tone with which her memories are retold, create a different mood for the first time with one of protagonists--she can rest now that things are well.  
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Why is Mrs. Byrne's death ironic?  

Hemingford, Minnesota, 1935–1939

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Why does Vivian not risk falling in love with a boy? 
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In her early adulthood, Vivian finds success  

Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011

It is pretty clear who is a protagonist and who is an antagonist at this point in the novel. Although we hope some antagonists have a change of heart, it becomes clear that some people remain stuck in their cruel ways. Why do some bad people change and others not?  (This annotation contains a video)
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What is the deeper meaning for Molly's rage? 

Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011

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The highlighted passage is an example of what type of literary device? 
This scene draws heavily upon symbolism. All of the important symbols that Molly has held on to, like the charms, begin to give her strength. They have helped shaped her character and outlook. 
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This comment about the tea is meant to convey what idea about this scene? 
Watch the video below. The protagonists in this novel have to work out a variety of conflicts--both internal and external ones. What kind of conflict is Molly dealing with here? How does she resolve it?  (This annotation contains a video)
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Based on the text, what type of reaction does Vivian appear to have towards this breaking news?  

Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1939

The Wizard of Oz was one of the first color films in the history of cinema. The first several scenes are shot in black and white; the rest are in color. This movie is also a coming-of-age tale, in which the main character (also named) Dorothy learns that there is no place like home. For readers who know and understand this theme, it adds irony and greater meaning to one of the main themes of this story. Many of the minor characters in this story helped Dorothy in her journey to grow up. Which characters in this novel positively helped Vivian and Molly grow up? (This annotation contains an image)
The concept of things coming full-circle is appropriate to mention here. Vivian thought she would never see Dutchy again, but as time went on, it seemed they were destined to meet. This often happens in coming-of-age stories, where a character goes through so much heartache, but then finds closure and loose ends begin to tie up.  

Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1939

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The highlighted line is an example of what type of literary device? 
Glenn Miller was a popular musician during the 1930s. One of his band's most famous songs is performed below.  (This annotation contains a video)
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What tone does Dutchy probably have when he says this phrase? 

Hemingford, Minnesota, 1940–1943

Dutchy and Vivian are united by shared, painful experiences. Although one might think that tragic events would make two practical strangers not want to be around each other and have to relive those experiences, many disastrous events actually bring people closer together. The deep sympathy these people need can only be understood by someone else who has been through it too.  
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a deliberate attempt to antagonize the United States into war with Japan. Below is a video of footage that shows parts of this attack. Like the Twin Towers of 9-11, this event propelled America into war.  (This annotation contains a video)
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Why does Vivian give Dutchy her claddagh? 

Hemingford, Minnesota, 1943

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What does Vivian mean "I learned long ago that loss is not only probable but inevitable" in the highlighted passage? Cite evidence from throughout the story to support your response.  

Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011

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What ultimately happened to Vivian after Dutchy died in combat? 
This is an important phrase: resolute unsentimentality. Think about what it means for a moment. Define the words if needed. How does this phrase summarize Vivian and Molly's entire existence?  

Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011

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The opening of this chapter is  
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Ralph's tone and comments reinforce the idea that  

Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011

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What is Molly's tone with Lori? 

Spruce Harbor, Maine, 2011

Vivian's daughter put in a request to find her mother fourteen years before Vivian tried to find her. Although the intent wasn't just to find her mother (any kin are contacted) it means that she might be open to seeing Vivian.  
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Do you think Vivian was justified in giving up May for adoption? Explain your opinion using evidence from the text.  
Quiz #3