The story about Ellen Foster circles around the childhood abuse of Ellen. Ellen's father is at the center of the abuse cycle. First he abuses Ellen's mother, which shifts into Ellen's mother committing suice as a form of escape, and then he abuses Ellen. Her father does not work, and Ellen is forced, as a child, to take on the responsibility of paying bills and maintaining the household. Her father is a drunkard, and his abuse shifts from neglect to sexual abuse. Amidst all of this, Ellen has an African American friend whom she arrogantly feels above because she is white. Ellen's behavior is demonstrative of the cylce of abuse. While her father is trying to claim power by overpowering Ellen, Ellen is trying to claim power by psychologically structuring herself as better than her friend.
When Ellen finally decides to leave, the only family that remains rejects her, but she is eventually saved by a foster parent. Gibbons may have been stating that the societal ideal of the "family" is false. Conceptually, the family structure should hold that "blood is thicker than water;" however, Ellen's family is detrimental to Ellen instead of supportive.