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Life Through Narrative Essay, Research Paper

One of the primary themes of Kaye Gibbons? novel Ellen Foster is the vitality of storytelling in the human life. The fact that ?narrative is the only art that exists in all cultures? (Morton, 2) indicates that storytelling is instinctive in all humans. ?Nothing passes but the mind grabs is and looks for a way to fit it into a story, or into a variety of possible scripts?? (Morton, 3). In an article written for The New York Times Book Review, Katherine Morton restates and supports many of the storytelling themes present in Gibbons? novel. Morton illustrates that the stories humans create assist us as we go through life. ?It is by narrative that we experience our lives? (Morton, 2).

?The first sign that a baby is going to be a human being?comes when he begins naming the world and demanding the stories that connect its parts? (Morton, 3). Ellen substantiates this statement continually throughout the novel. She has no family to teach her anything about the world, and she has to learn for herself. She creates stories so that she may have an understanding for the world in which she lives. These stories not only help her understand her world, they also help her live in her world. Ellen uses stories in every aspect of her life, demonstrating that humans are ?insatiable for patterns?patterns of sequence, of behavior, or feeling?connections, reasons, causes: stories? (Morton, 1). When there is disruption in sequence in Ellen?s life, she feels as if the has no control. For example, Ellen notices how much Starletta is growing up and says, ??I always thought she should be little and fast forever?I want to press my hands to her to stop her from growing into a time she will not want to play? (Gibbons, 83). More evidence that small children will be human beings is that they ??will want a story at bedtime? (Morton, 3). Ellen tells her reader, ?I am not able to fall asleep without reading. You have that time when your brain has nothing constructive to do so it rambles. I fool my brain out of that by making it read until it shuts off? (Gibbons, 10). As Ellen tries to fall asleep, she has problems with her mind wandering. To prevent this, she reads, forcing her mind to stay occupied so that she does not have to face the pain. Ellen?s behavior of repetitively creating stories illustrates that ??imaginative narrative?was decisive in the creation of our species, and is still essential in the development of each human individual and necessary to the maintenance of his health and pursuit of his purposes? (Morton, 3).

As human beings we develop stories to comprehend things we do not understand about our lives and the world as well as to cope with our sufferings. On page 26 of the novel, Ellen describes how she plays ?catalog.? She searches through catalogs to cut out a father, mother, children, and clothing for the family. The family will have everything that she thinks a family should have. This separate reality she has created helps her to forget her own reality. Ellen also tells of picking beans with her mother. She describes vividly how her mother would leave piles of weeds for her to pick up, and then, when the beans were ready to pick, show her which ones to pick. She talks of this as if it was a frequent occurrence, but her mother was actually only well for one growing season. ?You see if you tell yourself the same tale over and over again enough times then the tellings become separate stories and you will generally fool yourself into forgetting you only started with one solitary season out of your life? (Gibbons, 49). Both these stories are how Ellen is able to handle never having had a real family.

A fundamental purpose of Ellen?s stories is finding her identity. Ellen defines herself through the stories she tells. The usual ways that people define themselves, i.e. parents, names, social status, etc., do not work for Ellen. Her parents are not respected and she has no social standing, so she shifts around the facts of her life so find a truth about herself. There are instances in the novel when Ellen looks in a mirror but does not recognize herself. While living with her grandmother, she is told she is just like her father. Her grandmother tells her, ?All I know is when I look in your face I see that bastard and everything he did to my girl? (Gibbons, 78). This causes a struggle within Ellen as she has been told by Mavis that she looks just like her mother. She says, ?Sometimes she talked so strong to me that I had to check in the mirror to see if I had changed into him without my knowing or feeling it? (Gibbons, 68). Later in the novel, as Ellen is coming closer to finding her identity, she decides that she needs a new name. She feels that her family ?wore the other name out? (Gibbons, 88). So, Ellen?s stories are exceedingly significant as they help her ?to make sense out of the greatest mystery all of us must face?ourselves? (Morton, 4).

Ellen?s stories are part of her human nature and are how she lives and experiences life. Without her stories, she would never have survived or began to find herself. Morton best sums up Ellen?s situation when she says, ?I tell you that the only world I know is the world as I know it, and I am still learning how to comprehend that? (Morton, 4).


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