Date of Award

Spring 5-2014

Degree Type

Honors College Thesis



First Advisor

Ellen Weinauer

Advisor Department

Interdisciplinary Studies; English


The Orphan Train Adventures, a series of historical novels by Joan Lowery Nixon (1927-2003), is concerned with the responsibility exercised by its child characters during the antebellum and Civil War periods. This thesis examines how Nixon, by illustrating the positive effects of responsibility through her child characters, suggests the value of cultivating responsibility in children of the contemporary period. Nixon’s use of the mid-nineteenth-century setting and the rearing practices associated with this time allows her to demonstrate positive acts of responsibility in her main characters—six siblings sent west from New York City on the “orphan trains.” This study finds that children are capable of exercising responsibility and that a sense of responsibility is necessary for children to develop into successful adults. Through her characterizations Nixon suggests that familial relationships actually have a strong effect on one’s development of responsibility and that family members are essentially accountable for the development of responsibility among each other. Nixon thereby suggests that even as the American family has undergone many changes in the contemporary period, children and parents should combat these changes to successfully develop responsibility. In fact, this study works to understand the characterization of responsible siblings in children’s and young adult literature and offers new ways to understand responsibility and the contemporary child.