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Ellen Foster Essay

1303 words - 5 pages

Center stage in Kaye Gibbons’ inspiring bildungsroman, Ellen Foster, is the spunky heroine Ellen Foster. At the start of the novel, Ellen is a fiery nine-year old girl. Her whole life, especially the three years depicted in Ellen Foster, Ellen is exposed to death, neglect, hunger and emotional and physical abuse. Despite the atrocities surrounding her, Ellen asks for nothing more than to find a “new mama” to love her. She avoids facing the harsh reality of strangers and her own family’s cruelty towards her by using different forms of escapism. Thrice Ellen is exposed to death (Gibbons 27). Each time, Ellen has a conversation with a magician to cope with the trauma (Gibbons 22-145). Many times Ellen’s actions and words cause it to be difficult to tell that she is still a child. However, in order to distract herself, Ellen will play meaningful games (Gibbons 26). These games become a fulcrum for Ellen’s inner child to express itself. Frequently, Ellen will lapse into a daydream (Gibbons 67). Usually, these daydreams are meant to protect herself from the harsh reality around her. Ellen Foster’s unique use of escapism resounds as the theme of Kaye Gibbon’s Ellen Foster.
To illustrate Ellen’s ability to survive traumas such as death and abuse, one might look to her imagination. Ellen is still a small girl when the novel takes place, so it seems normal for her to have a vivid imagination. Ellen goes to numerous funerals, and she witnesses two deaths (Gibbons 22-30, 114-130). While at these funerals, or around the lifeless body of a supposed loved one, Ellen has a small talk with the character known as “the magician” (Gibbons 22-145). Ellen calls upon this character to help explain the finality of death. Since she is still a child, she does not yet understand death. So, she conjures up the magician to help cope with the conclusiveness of perishing. The first dialogue with the magician takes place at Ellen’s mother’s funeral (Gibbons 20). Just as they are lowering her mother into the ground, Ellen makes contact with the magician. She asks him if she has to watch the ceremony, and if her mother is still in the casket. The magician replies “It is all done with the lights” (Gibbons 22). This means that it is a trick, and that her mother isn’t in the casket anymore. She feels as if she needs to hear this, to silence her wrongfully placed guilt. The second talk with the magician takes place as Ellen is imagining herself at her father’s funeral. She pictures her father’s coffin, when he appears. “Go ahead and look” he tells her (Gibbons 82). She refuses. He tells her that it is all an illusion, and to look into the box, and to see what is there. “Go ahead,” he says “There is nothing to be afraid of. Everything has vanished! See. There is nothing in the box.” Ellen replies, “Where did it go? I need to know.” This conversation represents Ellen’s fear that even after death, her father will harm her. By summoning forth the magician, Ellen is able to...

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