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Ellen Foster


Say A Prayer for the Youth of America

Ellen Foster is the compelling story of a young girl who is thrust into
reality at a very early age. Written by Kaye Gibbons, the novel is a
documentary of the saga of growing up. It is a recurring theme, growing
up, depicted through many events over the course of this girl^s
childhood. This growing up theme is evident through the experiences she
has, as well as the many hardships she faces.

Ellen^s awkward situation of two dead parents forces her to lose her
innocence at a young age, and mature much faster than any other person
her age. This is shown through her in-depth observations about the
world and people around her, such as ^He was a big wind up doll of a
man.^ This metaphor depicts her father, a lazy drunk who dies early in
the book, probably from alcohol poisoning. Her life with him is one of
constant fear and hatred. She blames him for the death of her mother,
who overdoses on heart medicine to escape from her life. His drinking
habits take over his life, and Ellen is left at home alone, sometimes
for days at a time, to fend for herself. This is only one of the many
hardships she must face. After her father^s death, Ellen is forced to
move from house to house. She is miserable in all of them, but they are
still better than what she had to put up with before. When she finally
does reach a house which she likes, her aunt Betsy kicks her out after
the weekend, telling her that Ellen was only meant to visit for two
days. The torment she receives is not limited to her father. Relatives
like her aunt Nadine, who blames everything her daughter Dora does on
Ellen, instead of paying her the attention and love she needs, toss her
around like an Christmas fruitcake no one wants. These events, though
somewhat exaggerated in Ellen^s life, are all a part of growing up.
Unbearable parents, relatives you can^t stand, being betrayed by
someone you care about, they are all part of life, and life lessons.
 Equally important in growing up are friendship, prejudice, and
 death, all of which are present in the childhood of Ellen
Foster. Her friendship with a black girl named Starletta is a subject
of much controversy. Not controversy with other people, but controversy
within Ellen^s own mind. Her feelings towards her best friends are
contorted by society^s acceptance of other races. This is a common
thing among younger people. Not necessarily among races, but more
along the lines of good kids versus bad kids. Society^s perception of
who^s good and who^s bad really affects a child^s perception of who
they should or shouldn^t be seen with. Ellen at the beginning of the
book is somewhat ashamed of Starletta, because she eats dirt, and also
feels sorry for her because she only has a one room house, and doesn^t
even have an ^inside the house^ toilet. As the story progresses,
Ellen^s opinions twist and turn until she reaches the conclusion ^If
they could fight a war over how I^m supposed to think about her then
I^m obligated to do it.^ This is evidence for her evolution as a
person, or growing up. Her views of the world mature at a young age, as
does she. Work is also an important part of growing up. Ellen gets her
first taste of real manual labor when she moves in with her
grandmother, who feels a deep resentment for Ellen, because she blames
her and her father for Ellen^s mother^s death. She immediately puts
Ellen to work in the cotton fields with Mavis and the rest of the
workers. With the help of Mavis, she is able to quickly adapt and work
just as well and as fast as anyone else. This adds to the speed of her
maturing, and gives her time to think. This work also adds to one of
the deepest and Ellen^s most profound line in the book, ^And all this
time I thought I had the hardest row to hoe.^ This quotation shows her
understanding of the life she has come to accept. She realizes now that
although her life has been the pits, there is someone who could have
had it worse off.
 Ellen^s fictional pre-adolescence, though much harsher, is
 essentially the same as that of any child. She experiences the
same confusion and events as any other regular child, but to a much
greater extent. Also, she is much more aware of her emotions, and is
very capable of expressing them. All in all, her life really isn^t that
different from any other,
and is a metaphor for growing up.


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