Analysis

In Chapter 12, food is once more representative of love, comfort, and stability. As Ellen eats her breakfast before school, she compares it to the breakfast featured on the side of the cereal box, complete with toast, juice, eggs, milk, and cereal, which matches hers exactly. In the past, Ellen has had to scrounge for food and, at times, has had barely enough money to buy groceries. Now, Ellen is comforted in knowing that she will always have plenty of food and no longer must feel guilty for eating, which she mentions as some of her favorite aspects of living with her new mama. Even when Ellen has been provided with adequate portions of food at her grandmother's, and later at her aunt's house, she always ate alone or in silence. At her new house, food signifies an occasion; a meal necessitates a social gathering of family and implies a feeling of great unity and warmth.

Food is also symbolic of love in Chapter 12 when Ellen feels remorse for refusing to take a meal with Starletta in the past, solely because she is black. Ellen wants to redeem herself by inviting Starletta to stay over her house for the weekend and says that she will lick the cup from which Starletta drinks to prove how much she loves her. Only now does Ellen realize that there is no difference between a "white biscuit" and a "colored biscuit," which marks a crucial turning point in both Ellen's thinking and in the novel, itself.

Everything, it seems, is changing. Ellen has at last realized that black and white are equal and that, in her changed beliefs, race holds no meaning. Also changing is Starletta's body and level of maturity, by which Ellen is somewhat alarmed. Ellen fears that Starletta's physical, emotional, and psychological growth will completely alter their relationship and wants to stop her from growing so much that they will ultimately drift apart.

Also a primary focus of Chapter 12 is Ellen's ever-changing identity. Interestingly, Ellen thinks that, deep down, she had truly been intended to be black, but instead had been "bleached and sent to the wrong bunch of folks." This transformation in Ellen's views of herself and of race in general can only be attributed to what she has learned about love from her new home and what she has learned from both Starletta and Mavis about friendship. Even Ellen, herself, has a hard time recognizing the girl she has metamorphosed into and wonders if she is "the same girl" she had been, which she knows she is most assuredly not.

Ellen is forced to address her own changing identity again when she meets with the school psychologist. In changing families, Ellen has changed herself and wants her last name to reflect her transformation. Ellen also does not want to be associated with the painful baggage her last name carries and adopts "Foster" to signify her attachment to her new family. Thus, when the psychologist explains that "Foster" is not the last name of her new family, but merely a title for its type, Ellen feels a bit displaced, as she had before while living with her relatives. Ellen has no deep family roots or history and therefore is not rocked by this news. All she really wants is for someone to love her and for her name to signify a "fresh start."