Skip over navigation

Ellen Foster

Kaye Gibbons

Chapter 9

Chapters 7–8

Chapter 10

Summary

During naptime one afternoon, Ellen's father arrives at the school and demands that Ellen surrender herself to him. He stands in the parking lot shouting and waving an envelope of money with which to bribe her. Ellen notices that he has parked his truck in a flowerbed that the "special handicapped children" have planted. She knows it is him before she sees or hears him and immediately feels ill. Her teacher is gone on her coffee break, so Ellen takes it upon herself to instruct the class, demanding they sit and stay quiet until her father leaves. She wonders what they will remember of this episode when they are older. Eventually, her teacher returns to the room and shoots Ellen a dirty look, as if she is to blame. Ellen tells her teacher that she can make her father stop if she can have a pistol, then yells to her father to put his money on the ground and leave. At last, the police arrive and arrest Ellen's father. Julia takes Ellen home with her and produces the money that her father had left.

Shortly after the episode at school, the court believes that Ellen should be with her family and orders her to live with her mama's mama. Ellen is confounded by this because Roy and Julia are the only family she has ever known. Roy and Julia go to court to fight for Ellen, but they are powerless against the judge's order. Ellen believes that the judge has her family mixed up with another group of people; he thinks that they are a "Roman pillar" when, truly, they are a "crumbly old brick."

Ellen's new mama makes delicious meals, especially on Sundays, though they must attend church before they may eat. Her new mama receives a portion of the collection money each week for the children's food and clothing, and they carry themselves with pride when in church, as to show that they are a loving, respectable family. Ellen looks to her new mama during the service for an example of how she should compose herself, as her new mama wants them to behave appropriately.

The only child who is not required to attend church is Roger the baby, who Ellen says reminds her of Starletta. Dora and Nadine attend the same church as Ellen and her foster family, and they strut down the aisle as if to boast their wealth and sophistication, of which they have none. Ellen remembers when she had to live with Dora and Nadine, before she even knew her new mama, who she thinks is mother who best suits her. Even while she was staying at Dora and Nadine's house, Ellen would think of how much her new mama looked like she actually does, before she even knew her name.

After church, Ellen, her new mama, and her foster sisters, Stella, Francis, and Jo Jo all participate in cooking the Sunday meal. Stella and Ellen work the stove, as they have cooking experience, and Jo Jo gets time off to practice her dancing. Afterwards, Ellen finishes her homework, watches television, or reads in her room. Sometimes, Roger will crawl in, and Ellen will make sure he does not grab anything that he can choke on. She thinks, matter-of-factly, that though he has a mother, Stella, he did not get a father.

Analysis

Ellen's extraordinary maturity is evident when she takes charge after her father has come, probably drunk, to school to reclaim her, as if she were a piece of his property. Ellen's father tries to buy her back with money, which by now has become a recurring and prevalent image. The idea of exchanging money for a service, or, in this case, Ellen herself, has appeared already in Chapter 7 when Ellen offers Starletta's mother a dollar to take her in and later, in Chapter 15 when Ellen offers her life savings to her new mama as incentive to adopt her. Money is important to Ellen, though obviously not important enough for her to return to her father's cruelty and abuse.

Wealth and poverty are juxtaposed in Chapter 9 when Ellen is ordered to live with her grandmother, a wealthy, greedy old woman who, like Ellen's father, wants possession of Ellen only so that she may lord her authority over her. When the judge moralizes about the "family society's cornerstone," Ellen is frustrated, as she believes the judge has confused her immediate family—a "crumbly old brick"—with her grandmother—a "Roman pillar"—and the air of wealth and power she exudes. Later, in Chapter 10, Ellen rescinds her initial thought that spending her summer in her grandmother's care could not possibly be all bad, seeing as she has so much money. Ellen soon learns that even immense wealth cannot afford her happiness.

As where money is regarded as somewhat of a dirty object throughout the book, food is portrayed as a symbol of love and comfort. In Chapter 7, Ellen mentions that her new mama grocery shops consistently every week and never runs out of money to pay for food. Many of Ellen's descriptions of her new, happy home life are of food and its preparation, as is the case in Chapter 9 when she describes the weekly ceremony of preparing a large Sunday supper. After Ellen returns home from church, she tells of the meal she is soon to eat, saying "it has been waiting for me and me for it," just as she has hungered for and eagerly awaited the new family who has embraced her.

Ellen jumps ahead of her semi-chronological explanation when she recalls living with her Aunt Nadine and her cousin Dora. Ellen is sent to live with Nadine and Dora after her grandmother, who has had custody of her over the summer, passes away. The scene in the church is particularly notable, especially when related to later chapters in the novel, as Ellen first meets her new mama during a Sunday service. In the same scene, Ellen is made highly aware of how she presents herself and does not overlook the importance of the pride and dignity her new mama exudes. Ellen recognizes this pride and dignity in herself too. Though she may not be exceedingly wealthy, she now feels enriched by the love her new family has given her and is proud for it.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us