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Ellen Foster Essay, Research Paper

“When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy.” [P.1], says eleven-year-old Ellen. Thus the young narrator begins her life-story, in the process painting an extraordinary self-portrait. “Ellen Foster” is a powerful story of a young girl growing up in a burdensome world. As one reads this work presented by Kaye Gibbons, a chill runs down their back. Ellen, the main character is faced with a hard life dealing with endless losses, with the deaths of both her parents and her grandmother being included. Why would one get a chill you wonder? This individual has thoughts and feelings that many have never experienced and cannot express. Ellen is merely a child no older then the age of ten but if not knowing this fact, readers would think she was an aged woman who has lived their life sufficiently.

In this book Ellen refers to herself many times as “Old Ellen.” I believe that she uses this name because throughout the book Ellen is always taking care of someone beside herself: her colored friend, Starletta, and her dying mother. Ellen’s parents die, and her grandmother dies, but this isn’t really a great loss for Ellen. Her mother was a frail and sick woman whom Ellen was constantly protecting from her drunken father. For a time, Ellen’s Art teacher, Julia, and her husband move Ellen into their home. She feels, for the first time, that she is apart of a loving family. She describes, in the book, “ the three of us could pass for a family on the street.” {P. 55} Unfortunately, the juvenile courts system must always intervene, and her mean old Grandmother takes over her life. Her grandmother treats her badly. She acts as if Ellen is to blame for her daughter’s death. This is how Ellen describes the beginning of hers’ and her grandmother’s relationship, “My mama’s mama picked me up in her long car that was like the undertaking car only hers was cream. I told Roy and Julia on more time I did not need to go. If we have to live together the least you could do is talk to me like you know I am in your car is what I thought to say to her. I figured she would warm up to me. But all she asked on the way to her house was when does school start again? Lord it just ended and I sure am looking forward to the summer at your house I said for the icebreaker. I asked you when school starts. I do not need the commentary is what she said back to me hot. So September. I said September. I said my answer quick and on time like the army way. I saluted in my head.” {P. 61}

Ellen finds a woman at church that takes in orphan girls, but will there be any room for her? Will it just end up being another misunderstanding, like with her aunt, who was under the assumption that she would just be visiting for a few days. It is Ellen’s determination which eventually lands her a place in a loving home, with loving companionship.

Against all odds, Ellen never gives up her belief that there is a place for her in the world, a home that will satisfy all her longing for love, acceptance, and order. Her eventual success in finding that home and courageously claiming it as her own is a testimony to her unshakable faith in the possibility of good. Ellen is my favorite character in the book, because she never loses that faith, and she never loses her sense of humor.

This book was hard to keep up with, at first, because the author jumps back and forth between past and present memories of Ellen’s life. I kept myself focused, and eventually tie in both timelines of past and present. I would recommend this book for a quick read, especially for Spring break readers!


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