Ellen Foster

At the age of ten, most children are dependent on their parents for everything in their lives needing a great deal of attention and care. However, Ellen, the main character and protagonist of the novel Ellen Foster, exemplifies a substantial amount of independence and mature, rational thought as a ten-year-old girl. The recent death of her mother sends her on a quest for the ideal family, or anywhere her father, who had shown apathy to both she and her fragile mother, was not. Kaye Gibbons? use of simple diction, unmarked dialogue, and a unique story structure in her first novel, Ellen Foster, allows the reader to explore the emotions and thoughts of this heroic, ten-year-old girl modeled after Gibbons? own experiences as a young girl.
Kaye Gibbons? experiences as a child are the foundations for this
breathtaking saga of a young girl?s tragic memories of her childhood. As with
Ellen, Gibbons? parents both died before she was twelve-years-old forming the
basis of the plot and themes of this novel. The fond memories she possessed of her mother and the harsh ones of her father are reflected in the thoughts and
actions of Ellen. The simplistic and humble attitude that both Gibbons and
Ellen epitomize in the novel is portrayed through diction and dialogue
throughout the novel allows the audience to gain a better understanding and
personal compassion for both the character and author.
The novel is written in a short, choppy sentence structure using simple
word choice, or diction, in a stream of consciousness to enable the reader to
perceive the novel in the rational of an eleven-year-old girl. One short, simple sentence is followed by another , relating each in an easy flow of thoughts. Gibbons allows this stream of thoughts to again emphasize the childish perception of life?s greatest tragedies. For example, Gibbons uses the simple diction and stream of consciousness as Ellen searches herself for the true person she is. Gibbons uses this to show the reader how Ellen is an average girl who enjoys all of the things normal children relish and to contrast the naive lucidity of the sentences to the depth of the conceptions which Ellen has such a simplistic way of explaining.
Gibbons? and Ellen?s harrowing past is related in the novel through
Ellen?s inner thoughts and the dialogue between characters. However, when
Ellen converses with other characters, Gibbons chose not to use quotation marks
or any of the formal methods of documenting dialogue between characters; she
merely writes what the character has said. Gibbons uses this to express Ellen?s
and her own confusion about their lives. It allows the reader to gain a better
comprehension of Gibbons? own still mixed feelings about her past. The lack
of correct punctuation shows the unimportance of the formal punctuation to both
the author and the true meaning of the novel.
Punctuation is not the only bizarre element of Gibbons? style, the page
setup that she uses to convey her story is completely genuine. The setup is a
form of a series of flashbacks from her present happiness as she recalls her
miserable childhood; these flashbacks are triggered by things in her new family
that remind her of her older days with her relatives. Gibbons? use of this
incredible stylistic element tells much about herself and the character that she
has modeled after herself. Ellen and Kaye Gibbons both struggle with the
horrible memories of their past lives, even though they live in pleasure and
happiness now. Gibbons? uses this to convince the reader of the horrible pain
that is always in the hearts of those in their situation. The audience is reminded of the courage and strength these two women possess and the precedence they have set for all women as strong and independent. Gibbons? bold use of such a revealing stylistic element shows her openness and willfulness to help others.
Throughout Ellen Foster, Kaye Gibbons? uses these stylistic elements to
stress the power of independence and determination to the reader, because it is
through these two great qualities that both Ellen, the main character, and
Gibbons overcame the ties that bound them to their unhappiness and found the
true meaning of love and family. Ellen Foster emerges as a heroine that has
overcome the insurmountable troubles of life. This allows the reader to behold
the power of one small person, an eleven-year-old girl. Some heroes emerge
gloriously, but many of them earn their title by overcoming the everyday
hardships that people must face.