There are five foster children at Ellen's new home, all of whom Ellen likes very much. When she returns from her gallop in the woods with Dolphin, Ellen and her new family make a terrarium together. Afterwards, Ellen's new mama washes Ellen's hair, a practice of which Ellen savors every moment. Ellen examines herself in the mirror after her bath and "feels like a stranger in [her] own self."
Although Ellen is best friends with Starletta, who is black, she still harbors the racial biases and falsehoods that have been taught to her, as she has been surrounded by racism all her life. In having been raised in a racist, southern community, Ellen, who is young and, though exceptionally headstrong, is only beginning to form her own ideas, judges Starletta and her family as she has been taught to judge them. She does not scorn them outwardly but clearly thinks of them as lower than she, as is the case when she, however politely, declines to eat with them. This is a particularly important scene, as, later in the novel when Ellen has indeed formed her own opinion of race, she remembers her feeling of supremacy with absolute shame. In Chapter 6, Ellen mentions that regardless of how fond she is of Starletta and her family, she doesn't think she could ever "drink after them" and examines "what Starletta leaves on the lip of a bottle." And though she has "never seen anything with the naked eye," she thinks that an invisible contaminant is will doubtless "get into [her] system and do some damage." This "damage" Ellen is concerned about is her fear that she will somehow lose the little status she has as a white person, however poor and miserable she may be. She feels sorry for Starletta purely because of her skin tone, though she later relents and realizes the richness that Starletta and her family possess. Also later, after Ellen has realized that skin color is of no real importance, she says that she will even lick Starletta's cup to prove how much she loves her and how sorry she is that she ever pitied her on the basis of race alone.
Although Ellen harbors these racist misconceptions, it is clear that she does not understand them. When she hears her grandmother say that she would "rather some real niggers" have her mother's clothes than those who "drink and carry on like trash," she does not know how to interpret it, as she does not drink and will "not even eat at a colored house." Ellen's flimsy racist values have been taught to her by adults, though these values seem illogical to her, because she can find no tangible evidence to support them. She does not understand the distinction her grandmother sees in white versus black and has no concept of how her family's destitution and low social class fuel her grandmother's close association of them with the people she hatefully calls "niggers."
Ellen feels that she is too old to enjoy most of Starletta's toys, as indeed, she seems much older than any other ten-year-old child. Ellen's days are not filled with dollhouses and crayons but, instead, electric bills and frozen dinners. She cannot be carefree and young to the extent that Starletta is, as she must undertake the responsibilities of an adult. Although it is not blatantly clear, Ellen is most definitely envious of Starletta's family, thus explaining the overwhelming flood of emotion she feels when Starletta's parents present her with the sweater, which Ellen notes "does not look colored at all." It is this thought that serves as the catalyst for Ellen's reconsideration of race relations. If the sweater, which Starletta's parents bought at the "colored store," is not definitively or even noticeably "colored," then why is there any difference between white and black at all, and, more importantly, why does it matter? Eventually, Ellen asks herself these questions and comes to the realization that, indeed, there is none. It is also important to note that it is not just the sweater that Ellen loves, but the warmth and affection with which it has been given to her. Starletta's parents serve as a source of love and care for Ellen and constantly provide refuge from her domestic misery.
It is not made clear exactly how far her father goes in his sexual abuse of Ellen, though it is certain that, for Ellen, this is the final straw. During the encounter, her father calls Ellen by another name, presumably her mother's, as Ellen shouts at him that it "was her name ... I am Ellen!" Thus begins a thematic issue of identity and self, which continues throughout the novel. This theme of identity is also touched upon in Chapter 6 when Ellen is at her new house and looks at herself in the mirror. When she examines her reflection, she says that she "feels like a stranger in [her] own self," having changed her life completely. This metamorphosis, accentuated namely by Ellen's changing opinions of race, occurs gradually throughout the course of the novel, beginning with the death of her mother and ending with the acquisition of her beloved new mama.