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Ellen Foster

Kaye Gibbons

Chapter 15

Chapter 14

Important Quotations Explained

Summary

On her walk over to her new mama's house, Ellen rehearses and perfects what she will say to her, as she has already done so many times during church. When she tries to recall other people who could take her in if her new mama will not, Ellen can think of no one. She has exhausted her limited pool of friends and relatives and, in hindsight, reflects that if her new mama had not taken her in, she would have been doomed to survive on her own, on the streets.

Ellen works up the courage to knock on her new mama's door, and when she answers, she welcomes Ellen into her warm home. When Ellen takes off her coat, her new mama notices her dress right away and comments on how beautiful it is. It is then that Ellen proposes that she stay there with her soon-to-be new mama and offers her the one hundred and sixty-six dollars she has saved in exchange for room, board, and attention. Her new mama refuses the money—which she keeps safe—and assures Ellen that she will call the county first thing in the morning to see if they can arrange for Ellen to stay with her. Ellen's new mama hugs her and muses that Ellen has probably "never thought old Santa Claus would bring [her] a new mama for Christmas." This, Ellen says, is where she derives the name, "new mama."

Before Ellen will unload her box of belongings, she asks her new mama a few questions about her health. Is she crazy, an alcoholic, given to fits of unusual cruelty? Her new mama assures Ellen that she is completely healthy and fairly even-tempered, which Ellen is very glad to hear. In bed that night, Ellen thinks that she will never want to leave this new place.

In her new home with her new mama, Ellen thinks of how lucky she is and imagines what could have happened to her had her new mama not rescued her. Ellen is still haunted by her grandmother's order not to cry and is unable to shed a tear, though her new mama promises that she will eventually work through it with a little help.

At long last, it is the weekend when Starletta is due to sleep over Ellen's house. Ellen is so excited to spend time with Starletta that she announces her plans to the bus driver and throughout the school day, cannot stop thinking about Starletta's visit. When Ellen takes Starletta home with her, Ellen is happy that her new mama has very genuinely complimented Starletta and welcomed her into their home. When they are alone, Ellen confesses to Starletta the guilt she feels for once being glad that she is white. Now, Ellen tells Starletta, she does not know why she felt glad that she is not colored. As she lays by Starletta and watches her nap, Ellen feels joy in knowing that she is breaking a social rule and realizes that though she, herself has overcome many an obstacle, Starletta has overcome even more. This, Ellen finds truly amazing.

Analysis

In Chapter 15, the book's final chapter, Ellen's layered narrative, which continuously interweaves past and present, all comes together with the last piece of a gradually forming puzzle picture. It is in this final chapter that Ellen's story is given an origin, as she tells it, from beginning to end, mapping out how and why she is where she has ended up.

In hindsight, Ellen realizes exactly how lucky she is to have been taken in by her new mama, as otherwise, she would have surely been cast to the streets. All along, Ellen has known that she deserves a loving family and a stable home, though she has had no means of attaining it. Now, Ellen is finally given her due: a caring mother, a warm, safe home, and an endless supply of love and home-cooked meals.

Ellen's remarkable initiative to find herself a new home, on her own at eleven years old, speaks to her unfailing endurance and precocity. By now she knows that if she wants to survive, she must be the one to create or find the situation in which she can, as no one else has been able to do it for her—not the school, not the courts, and certainly not her family. Ellen's will to persevere despite her deplorable circumstances is rich evidence of the faith she has in herself and the extraordinary maturity which she possesses. There is no question that Ellen's experience has been nightmarish and undeserved, though she has realized, ultimately, that Starletta has been the one to suffer the worst adversity. In this epiphany is the crux of the novel; Ellen's experience as an abused child has been torturous, but Starletta's experience as a person of the black race has been far worse. Ellen's realization signifies her new expanse of awareness, not only of herself, but of her community and of the world. Throughout the course of the novel, she has metamorphosed from an acutely self-aware child, one unusually mindful of her own universe and own troubles, to a rapidly maturing young woman conscious of greater social issues, namely the debilitating and unfounded racist beliefs that overwhelm her southern society. In Chapter 8, Julia tells Ellen about her childhood dream of saving the world; Ellen does not want to save the world, but wants desperately to change it. She relishes how she is breaking a social rule by inviting Starletta sleep over her house and shudders as she recalls the day she would not even sup from the same cup as her dearest friend, only because of the color of her skin. With every good and bad experience, Ellen has learned that it is not skin color that determines the quality of a person but, rather, the goodness of one's heart.

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