The Great Gilly Hopkins Characters
by Katherine Paterson

Start Your Free Trial

Download The Great Gilly Hopkins Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Galadriel "Gilly" Hopkins, the main character of the novel, is an angry, aggressive foster child who wants to hurt others as she has been hurt. Abandoned to foster care by her mother, Gilly attempts to create an identity for herself as the "great Gilly Hopkins." A loner and a troublemaker, she alienates those who try to care for her. She believes that nobody will want to tangle with her because she is "too clever and too hard to manage."

Anger dominates Gilly's character. Lashing out at the world that has ignored her, she bangs doors, spits obscenities, punches pillows, and gets into a fight with six boys at school. She exasperates Miss Ellis, her harried social worker, and draws a warning from her concerned principal, Mr. Evans. But she also learns that she must take the consequences for her outbursts. Her exaggerated letter to her mother describing the conditions at Trotter's results in her being forced to leave the place she was beginning to think of as home.

Gilly's prejudice feeds her destructive behavior. She steals money from the blind Mr. Randolph, a black man who lives next door to Trotter. When Gilly repays the money, he forgives her, demonstrating the importance of friendship. He also introduces her to the value of poetry. Gilly's racial prejudice is also apparent when she takes a hateful homemade greeting card to her black sixth-grade teacher. Speaking with Gilly privately after school, Miss Harris acknowledges her own anger, but she does not end the discussion there. The teacher uses the confrontation to com- ment on Gilly's own volcanic anger, encouraging Gilly to face her anger and reroute her emotions into constructive channels. After Gilly has been moved to Virginia, Miss Harris sends her copies of the J. R. R. Tolkien trilogy The Lord of the Rings, from which the name Galadriel is taken. Gilly's experiences with both Mr. Randolph and Miss Harris cause her to reevaluate her racist feelings. Hereafter, she will not judge people by her first impressions or by their skin color.

The most positive influence on Gilly is her foster mother, Maime Trotter, "a huge hippopotamus of a woman" who is a poor housekeeper and not well educated. Gilly at first scorns Trotter, but she begins to change her mind when she sees Trotter's wholehearted concern for another foster child, seven-year-old William Ernest (W.E.) Teague, who is as shy as Gilly is brash. When Gilly takes time to help W.E., he becomes a friend. And gradually, Trotter draws Gilly into her "family," none of whose members are biologically related to one another. Agnes Stokes and Nonnie, while not fully developed characters, are important to the action of the story. Agnes, a lonely classmate, tries to befriend Gilly, who at first snubs her. But Gilly reconsiders her actions when she thinks that

Agnes can be manipulated. At the conclusion of the novel, Gilly's situation is, ironically, the same as that of Agnes Stokes—each lives with a maternal grandmother. When Gilly departs from Trotter's, she goes to live at Nonnie's, a big, empty house that her grandmother shares with ghosts and painful memories. Gilly, too, must confront and accept these ghosts as part of her...

(The entire section is 811 words.)