Ellen Foster | Critical Review by Andrew Rosenheim

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of Ellen Foster.
This section contains 343 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Andrew Rosenheim

Critical Review by Andrew Rosenheim

SOURCE: "Voices of the New South," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4469, November 25, 1988, p. 1306.

Rosenheim is an American novelist and critic. In the following excerpt, he examines the "narrative tone" in Ellen Foster, contending that "the voice is distinctly Southern … [and focuses our attention as much on the story as the voice telling it."]

In Kaye Gibbons's first novel, Ellen Foster, detachment is the keynote of an eerily removed narrative tone. The narrator is Ellen herself, recalling a personal history of repeated tragedy and abuse. When the heroine says at the beginning of the novel, "I had me a egg sandwich for breakfast", some readers may groan, anticipating the rural, folksy, semi-literate Southern dialect that has degenerated by now into self-caricature. Yet, unselfconscious, undramatic, never aggrandizing, the quietness of the girl's account subtly magnifies the awfulness of what has happened to her—her father, a brutal drunkard, drives her mother to suicide, and begins to make sexual advances towards his daughter; Ellen, returned by the courts from a short reprieve in the home of a kindly school-teacher to live with her grandmother, is put to work chopping cotton; the death of her father is followed rapidly by the grandmother's demise; and when her upbringing is taken over by yet more unkind relatives, she moves finally to take her fate into her own hands.

Through all this we slowly come to recognize the girl's remarkable, understated quality: her sheer spunkiness. Alone on Christmas Eve, she wraps presents for herself, and says simply: "When I found them the next day I was very surprised in the spirit of Christmas." The voice is as distinctively Southern as the unschooled monologues in Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, yet it stops sufficiently short of self-caricature to focus our attention as much on the story as the voice telling it. For a first novelist, Gibbons seems remarkably free of the anxieties of influence; like other new Southern women writers (Ellen Gilchrist, Nancy Lemann), she has no difficulty telling a story in her own way.

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This section contains 343 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Andrew Rosenheim
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