The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls | Teen Ink

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

September 10, 2020
By DianaMa BRONZE, Farmington, Connecticut
DianaMa BRONZE, Farmington, Connecticut
1 article 1 photo 0 comments

The Glass Castle is a 2005 memoir by Jeannette Walls. This is Jeannette’s story of growing up in her unique and dysfunctional family. This book has the charm of bringing the reader into the brain of little Jeanette to feel with her. Experiencing all the emotions and changes in her life, while also worrying for her well-being due to her bizarre and extremely irresponsible parents. However, this story is not just about a pitiful girl trapped by her horrible family, it’s also about conquering difficulties, being independent and striving to live an ideal life. This book offers encouragement and can be a model for people in despair.


There are four children in the Walls family: Lori, Brian Jeannette and Maureen. The dad, Rex is loved by all the children because of his funny nature, imagination and promise to build a glass castle; however, he is also an alcoholic, who usually becomes violent and unstable. Because of this, he never manages to hold a job longer than a few months. The mom, Rose Mary, is a free-spirited “artist” who is irresponsible and childish. Living in a family like this, unavoidably makes Jeannette’s life a lot more “colorful” and arduous.


When Jeannette was three, she burns herself while cooking on her own. After recovering in the hospital, Dad smuggles her out without paying the bill and Jeannette is back to cooking unsupervised. The family moves frequently from one place to another, but dad promises the kids a wonderful life with gold and a fantastical glass castle. The only problem is the  funding for this great invention of his. The Walls family never has much money because Dad spends it on alcohol. Mom has a teaching license yet insists that she is a true artist without an income. Because there’s no income, the children are constantly starving and treated poorly. They are forced by poverty to move to dad’s parent’s home in Welch where Jeannette realizes that Erma, her dad’s mother, might have sexually assaulted him in the past.


Jeannette is forced to mature quickly, realizing how horrible her parents are, but also how Dad has a certain control over the entire family. Mom can’t leave Dad mentally, and she uncontrollably does whatever Dad says, even giving him their essential money to survive. She also realizes that the siblings have no future living with their parents, so they start doing jobs and saving money on their own to escape to New York City. Lori should be the first to go, but Dad steals their savings for alcohol. Eventually, Lori successfully gets to New York, but the kids’ relationship with their father has greatly suffered and they will never be able to trust him again.


With Jeannette in college, Mom and Dad decide to move to New York as well. After being kicked out of several apartments, they become squatters, homeless, even though Mom owns land worth over one million dollars. Jeannette and her siblings are successful at this point except for Maureen. The family drifts apart, and a year later Dad dies of a heart attack. The family reunites again around a dinner table, chatting about their unique childhood and offering a toast to Dad.


Some people are poor not because they are physically or mentally unable to be rich, but because they choose to be. This is the case with Jeannette’s parents. They are born middle class, well-educated and capable, actually very intelligent as well. However, their mental state and personality drives them to be irresponsible with their money, their children and their promises. At the same time, they love their children in their own way. Dad, Rex, is such an intriguing and contradictory character. He doesn’t work and is an alcoholic, but his brain is humorous and brilliant. He fails at all the hopes and dreams his children once believed in but surprises them all when he quietly sees Jeannette off for New York, and offers her money for college without hesitation. Sometimes, after seeing Dad being such a scum, then also does these loving and protective acts, it’s weirdly sad and pathetic. What turns this funny and gentle spirit into the drunkard who damns his entire family? Maybe there’s something we don’t know or see, maybe there’s just himself to blame. Humans are such complex creatures, and life is even more capricious.


Despite the horrible environment and family Jeannette and her siblings are in, they manage to persevere like a bud from a rock. To be exact, it is the hardship they experience that makes them stand out among peers. Jeannette’s experiences fighting bullies on the streets of Welch prepare her to face muggers in the South Bronx. The absence of a qualified parent forces her to be more independent and mature. The hardship help her find love and acceptance. The siblings earn every piece of happiness and success they have because every step they take to be at this place is sprinkled with thistles and thorns. Family is not what defines or limits you, but it is something that follows you throughout your whole life. So be grateful for everything in the present, for you don’t know when a fire will burn it down to ashes.


This book is not just a story. It’s educational, inspirational, and emotional. No matter old or young, rich or poor, happy or sad, this book has something to offer everyone. It can be a glimpse of another’s way of life, it can offer encouragement to conquer hardships, or it might be a tour to the deeper places of humanity. The Glass Castle is worth the read.

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