Ellen Foster, the protagonist and narrator. Eleven years old when the story begins, Ellen never reveals her original last name. She has taken the name Foster to identify with her chosen family, whom she knows, at first, only as “the foster family.” Unusually perceptive and resourceful, Ellen, like many abused children, tries to be self-sufficient. Throughout her struggles, she never compromises her integrity. Ellen’s strength, however, is sometimes a disguise for real suffering. Her hatred of her abusive father and her desire to find a loving family motivate her even in the darkest times.
Bill, Ellen’s father. An abusive alcoholic, he is the epitome of what Southerners call “trash.” A shiftless farmer, his main interests in life are liquor and making other people suffer. After driving Ellen’s mother to suicide, Bill attempts to make Ellen his substitute wife. Ellen’s hatred of him is mixed with a certain twisted loyalty that is typical of abused children.
Starletta, Ellen’s friend. Starletta is black and seems a little younger than Ellen. Ellen feels superior to her but loves her loyally. Starletta and her family are, at first, Ellen’s only refuge from her own wretched home life. Ellen and Starletta’s friendship is marred by Ellen’s unself-conscious racism. Learning the emptiness of prejudice may be the greatest challenge Ellen must...
(The entire section is 504 words.)