When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy. I would figure it out this or that way and run it down through my head until it got easy.
Ellen opens the novel with this startling first sentence, immediately probing us to question why it is that she so wants to kill her father. She continues her introductory narrative with an explanation of the many ways she's imagined his murder. We soon learn that Ellen's father is sexually and psychologically abusive, a violent man who loves his alcohol and nothing else. Ellen knows that without him, not only will he be free of his torment, but he will be generally better off. And she will only feel this freedom and relief when he is no longer alive to haunt and hurt her. Ellen's murder method of choice is letting go a poisonous spider in her father's bed while he sleeps, after which she will pretend to be shocked and sad at his death when the undertaker comes to collect his body. However, Ellen does not have to kill her father; he drinks himself to death shortly after she has been removed from his custody.
I would really like to paint them one of my brooding oceans but they would miss the point I am sure of how the ocean looks strong and beautiful and sad at the same time and that is really something if you think about it.
In chapter 14, Ellen says this with regard to Nadine and Dora's shallowness and materialistic values. She knows that they will not see the beauty and depth that she sees in the ocean and opts to paint them a picture of cute, cuddly kittens instead. Ellen is fascinated by the ocean's immensity, as she is with most things that strike her as mysterious, like heaven, and feels a strong respect for so powerful a force. That Nadine and Dora will not understand Ellen's painting of the ocean speaks to their vanity and shallowness. Unlike Ellen, they are only concerned with themselves and how they appear to others. They put up a facade of wealth and prosperity to impress others and trick themselves into believing their lies are true. Ellen is disgusted by this, and though Nadine and Dora are unfailingly condescending to her, Ellen seems almost to pity them and their pathetic self-deceit.
My aunt is so glad to be out of a colored town. She unlocks her door now because she feels safe.
In Chapter 4, Ellen notices her aunt Nadine's obvious discomfort as, on the way to her mother's burial service, the funeral train passes through a "colored town," which is surely impoverished and run down. This quote is exceptionally revealing of the attitude towards black people during the mid to late 1970s in the southern United States, which plays a key role in Ellen Foster. There is a current of racial tension that electrifies the novel, and this particular quote condenses the general sentiment of whites toward blacks in Ellen's southern community. This sentiment greatly affects Ellen's relationship with her best friend Starletta, who is black, though Ellen eventually learns that it is character and content, not skin color, that defines an individual. The quote also serves to highlight her aunt Nadine's generally uppity and condescending attitude. Though Nadine is only a bit wealthier than Ellen—which is to say, not wealthy at all, she acts as though she is royalty and vilifies nearly everyone she encounters.
I do not have to worry about snakes anymore here.
Ellen says this at the close of Chapter 4, just after she has told the story of her mother's burial service. In this section of the chapter, she is out for a horseback ride with Dolphin, enjoying the freedom she has to roam the pasture. Ellen recognizes how lucky she is to have her new mama and her new, loving home because there, she no longer has to worry about abuse, violence, alcoholism, or any of the other terrible "snakes" she has had to worry about in the past. At her new mama's, she knows she will be fed and loved and never has to fear abuse or neglect of any kind, as she had to for so many years before. At last, Ellen is safe from these snakes and takes comfort in knowing that she is secure in a loving, stable home and family life.
I came a long way to get here but when you think about it real hard you will see that old Starletta came even farther ... And all this time I thought I had the hardest row to hoe.
Ellen closes the novel in Chapter 15 with these final lines. Starletta has come to stay over her house, and, after a long battle with adversity, she is awakened by the sudden awareness that Starletta has fought battles of her own. After a long friendship with Starletta, Ellen has finally cast aside the racist prejudices that have been taught to her by her community and her family. Once she sets aside her racial biases, Ellen realizes that all along it has been Starletta who has endured the most hardship and adversity and not herself, as she had always thought. Although Ellen has suffered abuse, neglect, and ongoing displacement, Starletta has suffered racial prejudice, which is something that will take years and years to remove or change. When Starletta develops a crush on a white boy at school, Ellen thinks how sad it is that she will never be able to have him and only because of the color of her skin. This is when Ellen begins to realize that Starletta will never be able to overcome her suffering as easily as Ellen has overcome her own.
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