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Ellen Foster

Kaye Gibbons

Chapter 13

Chapter 12

Chapter 14

Summary

When she finds her grandmother dead, Ellen immediately calls the undertaker, and then Nadine and Betsy, who sound put out that their mother has died so close to the busy Christmas holiday. Nadine comes over right away, and when she sees the frame of fake flowers that Ellen has strewn around her grandmother, she scolds her. Ellen has framed her grandmother's body with the flowers so that the Lord will be more apt to welcome her into Heaven, though she thinks that Jesus will see through the false smile she wears on her face. Betsy and Nadine fight over which one of them is to blame for their mother's illness, and Ellen is glad that, for once, she is not being held responsible for another family member's death.

Ellen packs up her few belongings and moves to live with Nadine and Dora. On the way to their house, Ellen feels lonely as she remembers how she would spy on Mavis and take note of her family. She wishes there were a store where she could purchase a home.

Ellen does not go to her grandmother's funeral because she feels that she has seen enough of death. Dora warns Ellen not to go in her room while she is at the funeral, and, thus, Ellen spitefully hunts around in Dora's room while she is gone, though she does not find anything surprising or scandalous. Both Dora and Nadine treat Ellen with distance and condescension, and Ellen declares that she will leave her room only to eat, go to school, and take phone calls, as she is disgusted not only by their attitude towards her, but by the convenient lies they tell themselves for comfort. She is determined to live a better life and knows she is deserving of it.

It pains Ellen to ask for new clothes, but she must, as she has outgrown her wardrobe. Nadine gives her a bit of money, and Ellen takes herself shopping. While in the store, Ellen makes a conscious effort to look earnestly, and eventually finds a dress she thinks is the most beautiful dress she's ever seen. When she puts on the dress and looks at herself in the mirror, she thinks she could fall in love with herself and takes the dress as the first sign that her luck is changing for the better. Surely enough, the following Sunday, during church, Ellen sets her sights on her new mama. While everyone is praying, Ellen looks at her new mama, then up at the Lord to thank him for sending her the dress, because in it, she looks like she is worth something. After the service, Ellen asks Dora about her soon-to-be new mama, and Dora tells her that she will take in anything from "orphans to stray cats," which sounds good to Ellen.

As expected, Ellen's new mama welcomes Starletta and even ensigns the letter "S" on a set of towels, per Ellen's request. Ellen wants more than anything to repay Starletta for all of the kindness she showed her when they had been closer friends. She spreads her own rumor in the lunchroom that Starletta is coming over to stay at her house that night and takes special care to ensure that Dora finds out.

Analysis

Throughout the novel, Ellen has very few of her own possessions, for each time she moves, she tosses her belongings into a cardboard box, as she does before leaving to stay with Nadine and Dora. Material possessions have little value and little importance to Ellen; the one thing Ellen wants is what she cannot seem to have—a loving home. On her way to Nadine and Dora's house, Ellen wishes that there were a store where she could buy such a home, though she must eventually learn that money cannot buy love. Indeed, Ellen has tried to pay for love, first offering a dollar to Starletta's mother in exchange for one night's stay and safety, and later, to her new mama for her care and attention. Also, Ellen has already learned from her miserly grandmother that wealth does not necessarily equal happiness. Despite what she has learned in the past, Ellen's foremost need is for a stable, loving home, and the only way she knows how to attain it is to pay for it, as she has learned to do with everything else.

Ellen hungers for a family s she rides to Nadine and Dora's house and remembers how, during her stay with her grandmother, she would spy on Mavis and scribble down notes on how she and her family interacted with one another. Ellen feels intense loneliness as she remembers Mavis because she lacks the closeness Mavis and her family share and yearns to experience it with a family of her own. Ellen's feelings of loneliness are surely intensified during her stay with Dora and Nadine, as she decides to isolate herself from them after they have consistently treated her with utter condescension.

As Ellen explains, there is no real reason for Dora and Nadine's condescension of Ellen, besides the fact that, like her father, they want to lord their authority over her. Ellen thinks that maybe she should humor Dora and Nadine about the lies they tell themselves to make them happy, but Ellen herself wants to taste real joy. She disapproves of Dora and Nadine's deceit namely because she does not ever want to feign happiness or base her pride on a self-created falsehood. Clearly, Ellen pities Dora and Nadine for having to concoct lies about themselves in order to feel enjoyment.

Pride is an exceptionally important quality to Ellen, and this is why it is especially difficult for her to grovel and ask for new clothes from Nadine. In asking, Ellen has hurt her own pride, as she feels she has belittled herself to a woman who already thinks the worst of her. Even the act of shopping requires self-pride in Ellen's case, as she scans the racks of clothing, trying to look as honest as possible, and trying to prove to the sales person that she is a serious shopper and not a thief. Ellen does not want to be mistaken for a thief, nor a dirty, impoverished brat, which is how Dora and Nadine see her. Regardless of her many charms, Ellen will never be able to prove herself to Dora and Nadine, who are so entangled in themselves that they cannot see Ellen's worth. In her new, beautiful dress, Ellen feels for once that she is worth something—the dress acting as validation for and a representation of the pride and value Ellen has in herself. In rags, she may feel like as impoverished urchin, but in her new dress, she feels worthy of her new mother's love.

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