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Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons

“When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy. I would figure out this or that way and run it through my head until it got easy.” This is how the book, Ellen Foster, opens. The narrator is a young girl, named Ellen, with an alcoholic father. Ellen's dad is clearly the antagonist in the novel. He drinks way too much on a regular basis which affects his relationship with his daughter, and events that occur throughout her life in the book.


Due to being an alcoholic, he forced his innocent daughter to watch as her mother died. He denied Ellen her request to call for help and, as a little girl, made her stay with her mom as death came upon her. Not only did this cause his daughter to have reasonable feelings of hatred toward him, but it gave her feelings of helplessness and abandonment that she was too young to know how to cope with. He indirectly assisted in his wife's suicide, which ultimately, only brought more loneliness, guilt, depression and self-pity upon him. All he knew to do was to drink his problems away; he drank himself even deeper into his own sorrow, (only furthering his issues).


In many drunken states, Ellen's father abuses her both emotionally and physically. With the amount of alcohol he consumed, at times he did not know reality from his hallucinations. He punished her in cruel ways, such as mentioned previously, but also put so much fear inside of her. There are times throughout the book where Ellen stays places she does not want to be, simply because she is frightened to go back home with her dad. This is seen when Ellen is visiting her colored friend, Starletta's, house. She watches the family eating dinner together, envious of them, and wants so badly to leave. Part of her cannot handle watching how close the family is, but she stays anyway since going home would have been far worse, in her eyes. Her father's use eventually got so severe that he sexually abused his own daughter. At the time, he was unaware of the reality of his actions. He even called Ellen by a name that was not her own (presumably her mother's), giving her what was the start of future identity issues.


Eventually, the father's feelings of remorse and loneliness grew so intense that he drank himself to death. Even though he acted so tough and uncaring in parts of the novel, a part of him became very aware of his behavior over time. He realized what he had driven his wife to do, and how he helped her to her death. He also slowly understood the psychological and irreversible damage he had inflicted upon his only daughter. He made it so that Ellen had no choice but to be the adult in her life and take care of herself, as well as others around her, even before she was a teenager. He came to terms with the realization that he had never been a true father to Ellen.


Her dad allowed his disease to get the best of him for so long. He completely destroyed the very few relationships left surviving in his life, and lost everything he once had and took for granted. He had nothing left in his life since he ruined everything he was once able to live for, and in this novel's tragic end, he, unfortunately, allowed his addiction become the death of him.





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