Ellen Foster

Summary

Chapters 1–2

Summary Chapters 1–2

Summary: Chapter 2

The following morning, Ellen wakes to find her mother alone with her father in the kitchen. This makes Ellen nervous, as she knows that he is prone to abusive violence. Ellen laments that even when they sleep, she tries her best not to leave them alone together. When she hears them arguing at night, she demands that she must sleep in her baby crib, which is still in their room.

In the kitchen, Ellen's father is rifling through her mother's purse. Ellen sees her mother's heart medication on the table, and her father barks that she has swallowed almost the entire bottle. Ellen then asks her mother to vomit up the pills, but she refuses. When Ellen suggests she run to the store to use their telephone, her father threatens to kill her and her mother with a knife if she does. He then tells Ellen that all her mother needs is sleep and orders her to take her back to bed. He assures Ellen that the pills will not hurt her mother. Lying beside her in bed, Ellen notices that her mother's heart has stopped beating.

Later, Ellen prepares to go to her mother's funeral, tolerating an ugly dress and contemplating wearing her mother's lipstick, though she decides it would be improper. She notes that the redness of her father's eyes is not from crying but, presumably, from liquor. Finally, though, her mother has triumphed: for once, he is quiet.

Ellen tells of how, in her new home, she stays up late reading, otherwise, she will not be able to fall asleep. She loves to read and is bored with the stories she is assigned to read in school.

Analysis

Throughout the entirety of the novel, Ellen carries the story in her own, ten- year-old voice, using colloquialisms, improper grammar, and, occasionally, a misconstrued phrase, such as "romantic fever" (for rheumatic fever). There are no direct quotations, only words that we are exposed to after they have filtered through Ellen's sieve, thus taking on the distinction of her own voice. Many of these indirect quotes are hysterically funny as construed by Ellen's matter-of- fact delivery and provide a strikingly accurate and honest portrait of the other characters in the book. Also, many of the characters in the book do not have actual first or last names, as Ellen knows them only by nickname, such as "mama" or "mama's mama." Despite her young age, Ellen never once complains about her situation, nor does she lose faith that one day she will escape it. Although much of the language is basic, as is common to a ten year old, Ellen is clearly precocious in her insights and understanding. Most importantly, she understands that she deserves a higher standard of living and far more happiness than she derives from her home, with an abusive father and a dying mother. To have endured all that she has been through, Ellen is unfailingly determined to prevail. She wants to kill her father not because she is demonic, but because she is desperate. Ellen's deepest desire is for survival, and she knows that the only possible way she can survive is to cut her father out of her life. If the only way she can do that is to kill him, then her determination will give her the courage to go through with it. When her father dies of his own accord, having drank himself to death, Ellen says that she is better off without him, relieved not only that her primary source of torture is gone, but also because she does not have to worry about how she will escape him and is relieved from having to kill him.

As Ellen tells the school psychologist, whom she despises for "picking into her brain," she was once scared but is no longer. Throughout, it is evident that Ellen has a certain toughness to her, a shell of courage and fearlessness that she has developed over years of hardship and suffering. From the first to the last chapter of the book, Ellen intersperses scenes from her nightmarish past with those from her new, happier present. Although her past and present are enmeshed together, the distinction between them is brilliantly clear: in the past, Ellen feared for her life and well-being; in her new home, she worries only about when she will do her homework or what time dinner will be ready to eat.