Exploring Themes in the Kaye Gibbons Novel

Aug 27


Nick DAlleva

Nick DAlleva

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The novel Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons is a brilliant coming of age novel where after the death of her father, a young girl finds her home too dangerous of a place and seeks to find a new life and a new home. The novel is filled with imagery that should be explored by any true fan of the author and the novel.


Ellen Foster could be categorized as a bildungsroman,Exploring Themes in the Kaye Gibbons Novel  Articles or a coming of age, novel. The main plot line is based on the growth and maturing of a young girl, Ellen. After her mother had dies, Ellen searches for a stable home. She finds herself in a number of temporary homes that do not suit her. Throughout the story, many themes are revealed and developed by the characters’ thoughts and actions; of these themes, three major ideas are brought about: racial attitude, self responsibility, and money.

Ellen was raised around people with prejudice toward blacks. As she grows up, Ellen becomes close friends with Starletta, a black girl from her area. She lives a simple life compared to Ellen. Although Starletta and her family don’t live a very luxurious life, Ellen is jealous of Starletta because her parents really care for her. Because she grew up in a prejudice society, Ellen does not recognize that she puts up racial boundaries. As the story progresses, Ellen begins to mentally mature and change her views in several ways. Ellen says, “No matter how good it looks to you it is still a colored biscuit” (32). Eventually, she becomes closer with Starletta and begins to understand that skin color does not make a person who they are; rather it’s what they have inside. By the end of the story, Ellen develops a new opinion on racial boundaries and prejudice. This change exposes the maturity she gained from the experiences she has been through, many of them involving racial issues.

A second theme is Ellen Foster is self responsibility. Ellen states, “. . . I think I am somebody now because I said by damn this is how it is going to be. . .” (95). Ellen’s personality strengthens as she deals with the conflicts in her life. To become self responsible is to become independent; with both of her parents dead, Ellen is forced to be independent and raise herself. As she moves from house to house, with different care-takers each time, she absorbs the information around her to make herself smarter and more aware of her surroundings. After her mother died, Ellen knew that she would need to become responsible for herself because her daddy was not able to take proper care of her properly. Although Ellen grows to be independent, she is not the only character who shows the theme of self responsibility. Julia, one of Ellen’s teachers, exhibits self responsibility by recognizing her responsibility to help Ellen. Julia and her husband take care of Ellen as if she was their own child. They allow her to live a life she enjoys. They give her a party and a beautiful art set for her birthday. Both Ellen and Julia benefit from their experience together, by learning from each other. These and other characters display self responsibility.

A final theme is Ellen Foster is economic status, or the amount of money someone possesses. Ellen’s lifestyle does not include buying luxurious items for herself and others. When she is sent money in the mail, she spends it rationally. She knows that if the money gets to her daddy, it will get spent on alcohol. For being such a young girl, Ellen is quite mature for saving most of the money for important things. Money is not only involved in the story from Ellen’s economic standpoint. When Ellen stays with her aunt, she is permitted to buy nice things because her aunt can afford them. When she stays with Julia, she lives in a nice home and is given things that she would not be able to afford. Her new mama is the same way; she takes care of her no matter what the cost. Throughout the story, money is a common theme.

These themes of race, responsibility and money appear numerous times in the novel in the characters actions, and sometimes motives. As she grows into the person she ends up being, she develops a deeper view on life. She understands what is most important in her own and other people’s lives. After enduring many hardships, Ellen, fortunately, finds herself welcome at her new mama’s home. She has learned to accept her surroundings and will continue her life as she desires.

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