The Great Gilly Hopkins | Study Guide

Katherine Paterson

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Course Hero. "The Great Gilly Hopkins Study Guide." Course Hero. 14 Sep. 2020. Web. 25 Sep. 2021. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Great-Gilly-Hopkins/>.

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Course Hero, "The Great Gilly Hopkins Study Guide," September 14, 2020, accessed September 25, 2021, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Great-Gilly-Hopkins/.

The Great Gilly Hopkins | Themes

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Home

Gilly Hopkins struggles with the meaning of home throughout the book. In the opening scene, Gilly is on her way to her third foster home in less than three years. The inability to stay in one place for long is part of Gilly's plan. When she was younger, Gilly had a foster family that felt like home, but the family moved and she was left behind. Since then Gilly has made sure that she leaves a foster family before they have the chance to leave her first. That is her plan for her new foster home, too. Gilly has no intention of getting attached to the people in Thompson Park or staying for long. She tells her foster mother Trotter the first day, "I like moving." She wonders to herself if it is even worth unpacking her suitcase.

Gilly believes that her only chance for a permanent home is with her mother Courtney, whom she hasn't seen since she was three. She imagines her mother as a beautiful woman who will sweep in to carry her home as soon as she can. Trotter says toward the end of the book that Gilly has spent her life straddling both decks. Gilly has always had one foot in her fantasy home with Courtney which means she hasn't been able to firmly plant her foot in any of her foster homes. By the time that Gilly learns she must leave Thompson Park, she discovers that she is firmly planted in Trotter's home. She understands that Trotter has given her love, support, and a sense of permanence which are what a home is. Trotter also helps Gilly see that life is tough, but "doing good" on a tough job can make you happy. Gilly realizes that her new home with her grandmother Nonnie isn't perfect and wasn't part of her plan, but she will work on it because she is home at last.

Racism and Prejudice

Racism and prejudice present a difficult theme in The Great Gilly Hopkins because they may upset readers and cause readers to dislike Gilly. Prejudice is an unfair or harmful opinion of a person or group of people based on preconceived opinions about their race or other characteristics rather than facts. Gilly displays a variety of prejudices in the book. When Gilly first meets her new foster mother Trotter, she immediately characterizes Trotter as a "bale of blubber." She assumes Trotter is an unfit foster mother and not very smart because she's overweight and missing some teeth. Gilly is also unhappy because Trotter is a devout Christian. Gilly is similarly judgmental about Trotter's foster son William Ernest. Upon first glance she decides he is a "freak" and likely "retarded." Gilly considers herself smart and is a good reader. She makes fun of William Ernest because he is behind in reading.

Gilly's racial prejudice is more disturbing for many readers. Gilly is upset when she discovers that she is expected to eat dinner with their neighbor Mr. Randolph, who is both black and blind. She is certain that families like her mother Courtney's "did not eat with colored people." Gilly is horrified to find that her new teacher Miss Harris is black, as are many of the kids in her class. It is worse for Gilly when she realizes that many of them do better in math than she does. The most striking example of prejudice in the book is when Gilly writes a card with a racial slur to Miss Harris.

Miss Harris's reaction to the card is a turning point for Gilly. Miss Harris talks to Gilly about the card and instead of getting angry, tells Gilly that the two of them are alike and that she admires Gilly's ability to express her anger. Gilly is forced to confront her own racism, and it upsets her. The more Gilly gets to know Trotter, William Ernest, Mr. Randolph, and Miss Harris, the more she sees them as people with individual characteristics. Gilly can overcome her prejudices by understanding people as individuals, not as members of a group.

Control

As a foster child, Gilly can't control many things in her life. She can't control where she will live or with whom, and she can't force her mother to provide a home for her. Gilly is determined to control every aspect of her life that she can. She lies, steals, and schemes to get her way. Gilly has a plan to live with her mother, and she won't let anyone or anything get in the way.

Gilly knows from experience that she loses control if she becomes attached to people. Her strategy is to make sure she has power over people so that she can use them to get her way. She quickly realizes that the way to have power over Trotter is to have power over William Ernest. At first she pretends to like him and to help him so she can gain power over him. Gilly only makes friends with Agnes because she thinks Agnes might be of use. Gilly has learned to control her schools and teachers by doing well in her studies for a while and then suddenly failing her classes. Gilly realizes that she isn't able to control Miss Harris as easily as she has with other teachers, so she tries to shift the balance of power by insulting Miss Harris with a racist card.

While she's living at Trotter's house, Gilly confronts the one thing she can't control: unconditional love. No matter how mean, insulting, and disrespectful Gilly is, Mr. Randolph and Miss Harris treat her with respect and kindness. Trotter and William Ernest love her. Even when Gilly steals money and runs away, Trotter calls her a "child of mine" and fights to keep her as part of her family. Gilly slowly learns that she can't control who does and does not love her. She realizes that she can face whatever comes her way by learning to love others.

Questions for Themes

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