- The novel's eleven-year-old protagonist, she suffers sexual
and psychological abuse at the hands of her alcoholic father, and,
after her mother commits suicide, is tossed from one unhappy home
to another. All the while Ellen remains hopeful that she will someday
find a loving home, which she eventually does.
in-depth analysis of Ellen Foster.
- The novel's antagonist, he abuses his daughter, Ellen, sexually
and psychologically. A severe alcoholic, he holds no job other than
selling liquor and eventually drinks himself to death.
- Ellen's mother. She has suffered from poor health
since having "romantic [rheumatic] fever" as a child. When she is
at last out of the hospital, she is so depressed by her husband's
cruelty and her bleak situation that she commits suicide by ingesting
a bottle of her prescription medication.
in-depth analysis of Mama.
- Ellen's black best friend. Starletta helps Ellen
to see that skin color makes no difference in the quality of a person.
She lives with her mother and father in a ramshackle cabin with
no indoor toilet and often provides Ellen with refuge from her father.
Gradually, she transforms from an unsophisticated child into a mature
young woman, and she develops a crush on a white boy from school.
in-depth analysis of Starletta.
- Ellen's foster mother. She is
everything for which Ellen could have hoped. New Mama is kind, caring, nurturing,
always has enough money to pay for groceries, and has plenty of
love to give Ellen and the other children she fosters.
- Ellen's grandmother. She is
old and miserly and treats Ellen with the utmost cruelty, as she
vehemently hates Ellen's father and seeks vengeance on him through
Ellen. After winning custody of Ellen in court, she immediately
sends her to work the fields with the black field hands on the farms
she owns in the scorching summer heat. At the end of the summer,
she dies of illness, even after Ellen has taken extraordinary good
care of her.
in-depth analysis of Mama's Mama.
kind field hand on Ellen's grandmother's farm. Mavis takes Ellen
under her wing and teaches her how to row the land and how to stay
cool in the unbearable summer heat. She tells Ellen of how she had
known her mother as a child and says that Ellen looks very much like
her. Mavis has a large, happy family that Ellen admires and wants
aunt on her mother's side. Nadine is false and pretentious and lies
to herself that she is wealthy and successful to gain confidence.
She is forced to take Ellen for a short period of time, though she
eventually kicks her out of the house on Christmas day. She dotes
on her daughter Dora and treats Dora like a small child, although
she is the same age as Ellen.
cousin and Nadine's daughter. Dora is a sheltered, spoiled brat
who gets everything she wants when she wants it. She is a chronic
pants-wetter, though she is the same age as Ellen.
grade school art teacher who temporarily cares for Ellen after another
teacher learns that she is being abused at home. Julia is a hippy
raised in the northeast, who has migrated to the south after college
with her husband, Roy. She is very liberal and encourages Ellen in
her artistic endeavors.
husband. Roy is a progressively minded hippy who keeps an organic
garden that he fertilizes with chicken manure, with which Ellen
is fascinated. He bakes Ellen a lovely cake for her birthday and
does not mind taking care of other household chores typically performed
by a woman.
Rudolph and Ellis
- Ellen's uncles on her father's side. They agree to spy
on Ellen and her father for Ellen's grandmother. They make inaccurate
reports that Ellen is wild and a troublemaker and are compensated
by Ellen's grandmother with large sums of money, some of which she
instructs them to give to Ellen and her father for the bare necessities.
foster sister at her new mama's house. Stella is a big flirt and
sits at the back of the bus with the boys on the way to school.
As a seventh grader, she is a mother to a fatherless baby, Roger,
and is the youngest mother Ellen has ever known.
baby son who likes to crawl into Ellen's room and chew on objects
he finds on the floor.
aunt on her mother's side. Betsy allows Ellen to stay with her for
a weekend and finds it funny when Ellen had misunderstood that she
would be staying permanently. She is petty and bickers with Nadine,
her sister, when their mother dies.
horse Ellen rides and cares for at her new mama's house.
new foster sister who loves to dance to music with no words.