Alcoholism in the Walls Family

Alcoholism is one of the most commonly seen problems in familial environments. It not only affects the health of the person consuming the alcohol, but also has an impact on the wellbeing of those surrounding him or her. Jeannette Walls’s memoir The Glass Castle demonstrates the toll alcoholism can take on a family. Due to his alcoholism, her father Rex Walls becomes emotionally distant and neglects his children. Furthermore, his alcohol addiction prevents him from being able to keep a job and provide for his family. Rex’s drinking problem also causes him to act irrationally and abusively; this not only hurts the family physically but also traumatizes them. The alcoholism demonstrated by Rex Walls has a major impact on the Walls family emotionally, financially, and psychologically.

When Rex Walls’ begins to drink more excessively, he becomes distant and unreliable to his children. Initially, Jeannette looks up to her father and believes everything he tells her, including his idealistic fantasies about the future. He regales her with visions of striking rich and building a beautiful glass castle for the whole family. However, over time, Jeannette becomes aware of her fathers drinking problem and begins to lose faith in all his claims, saying, “I listened to Dad’s plans and tried to encourage him, hoping that what he was saying was true but also pretty sure it wasn’t”(Walls 171). She loses faith in him to the point where she advises her mother to leave him. Unlike Jeannette, her siblings Lori and Brian are not as close with their father and are quicker to realize his serious flaws. Rex Walls often disappears for days at a time, becoming less involved in his children’s lives. For example, when Jeannette is jumped and beaten by the local bullies she neglects to tell her father of the serious issue, as he is rarely ever sober. Jeannette and her siblings often do not see Rex for long periods of time and perceive him as unreliable and unapproachable. Due to his alcoholism, Rex Walls is unable to be a reliable father to his children. This distance even progresses into the adulthood of Jeannette, Brian, Lori, and Maureen; emotionally they miss an integral role in adolescent development and are not nurtured properly, often experiencing great disappointment at young ages.

In addition to the effects alcoholism has on his family emotionally, Rex Walls’ alcoholism also affects the family financially. When he loses his job as an electrician, he blames the mob claiming that “the best place to gather information was at the bars the mobsters owned” (Walls 112). While he spends his days drinking, the lack of income has an enormous impact on the children’s lives; they often must ration what they eat and even resort to stealing from classmates and searching the garbage. The family is also forced to live in poor conditions. On Little Hobart Street, the Walls’ house is decrepit and does not have basic appliances, including heating. In the winter months, Jeannette and her siblings find coal left over in the streets and burn it to keep warm, but the fire is not sufficient. “This house doesn’t have a lick of insulation,” Brian says, “all the heat’s going right through the roof” (Walls 176). The lack of heat coupled with the inadequate housing results in freezing nights in the Walls household so intense that a pet lizard of Brian’s even freezes to death one night. Rex Walls’ addiction not only prevents him from making money but also causes him to spend it. When Jeannette forms a tight budget to feed the family, Rex takes two days worth of food for beer and cigarettes. His situation forces them to starve and live in harsh conditions, but it also teaches them independence and self-sustainability. Nevertheless, Rex’s alcoholism has an enormous impact on the Walls’ lives that is both harmful and avoidable.

In addition to impacting characters in The Glass Castle, emotionally and financially, Rex Walls’ alcoholism also affects the family psychologically. Under the influence, Rex acts irrationally and is often very violent. For example, on Christmas, the family celebrates by going to church, decorating, and buying gifts for each other. However Rex Walls gets drunk and ruins the experience first by interrupting church with crude comments and then by burning the Christmas tree. Jeannette writes, “when Dad went crazy, we all had our own ways of shutting down and closing off,” (Walls 114). This moment clearly demonstrates how alcoholism can affect a child’s psychological health, as this was a major turning point in which Jeannette loses trust in her father. Another example of when Rex goes “crazy” is when he relapses and fights Jeannette’s mother, even pulling out a knife and throwing furniture and silverware. This moment is extremely frightening, leaving the Jeannette, Brian and Lori scarred. These instants are traumatizing and bring fear and embarrassment to Jeannette and her siblings that will be remembered forever.

In Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle, alcoholism plays a major role in the Walls family and impacts each member greatly, especially Jeannette, Brian, and Lori. Emotionally, his alcoholism prevents him from being present in his children’s lives. Financially, it prevents him from providing for his family, resulting in poverty and starvation. Furthermore, his violent and erratic behavior while intoxicated frightens members of the Walls family and brings embarrassment and trauma to Jeannette and her siblings. Rex Walls’ alcohol addition brings about many issues and has a great impact on the lives of those around him. In addition to eventually being what kills him in the end, Rex’s heavy consumption of alcohol plays a major role in the Walls family and greatly affects them emotionally, financially, and psychologically.

Throwing Stones-Resilience and Forgiveness in The Glass Castle

Despite being faced with adverse conditions while growing up, humankind possesses resilience and the capacity to accept and forgive those responsible. In The Glass Castle (2005) by Jeannette Walls, Walls demonstrates a child’s ability to develop resilience in the face of trouble, early autonomy, and finally forgiveness for all the hurt inflicted. Jeannette opts not to live a bitter life holding grudges against her parents, although they are the responsible ones for her childhood sorrows. Jeannette explains her formative years so that the reader gets a vivid picture of both sides (her siblings and her parents). Three major obstacles face Jeannette as she grows: alcoholism, parental neglect, and empty promises. However, her resilience has taught her to overcome these barriers. Ironically it is the same adversity that has reinforced in her the determination to live and not be like her parents. A classic bildungsroman novel, the book spans Jeannette’s childhood to adulthood where Jeannette’s grows in a dysfunctional family and successfully grasps the concepts of resilience and forgiveness. Resilience is a quality which builds hardness, obduracy and fortitude. On the other hand, forgiveness is more associated with softness, tenderness, and vulnerability. Blending both hard and soft characters is indispensable for a well-balanced life for she learns the skills needed to survive in a tough world and to love and cherish a family that has not cared properly for her in her decisive years.

An Early Childhood Development survey on international resilience interviewed 589 children from the ages of 0-6 and 9-11. “The findings suggest that every country in the study is drawing on a common set of resilience factors to promote resilience in their children. Adults and older children use more resilience promoting supports, inner strengths and interpersonal skills than younger children” (Grotberg 2010). In the same study, after examining the toll of adversity on children especially parental rejection, children develop such traits as autonomy and self-reliance. However, two groups of children emerge. The resilient children learn to adapt to this adversity by either fighting or changing according to circumstances, whereas the non-resilient children break under the fiery trial and develop depression. Adversity comes in numerous forms for the child: divorce, natural disasters, war, trauma, poverty, abuse, disease etc. The Health Canada report (August 2005) finds that resilience is more often genetic, but is augmented with certain social-family experiences. This absence of parental guidance allows more opportunities to promote intellectual development since the children have more time to dedicate to study (the uninhibited time periods permit more freedom to study and promote the development of problem-solving competencies. Hence, although the parents are neglectful, they actually develop resilience to withstand their negative impact the kids could possibly experience by developing coping skills. Resilience requires some opposing force in order to develop it; in this case parental abandonment triggers and builds this self-defense instinct. Resilience is crucial to development and survival since, resilience is the necessary quality which fortifies the potential to face graver danger with more possibilities to triumph over adversity.

Alcoholism and vagabondage are elements which the Walls children must confront in their parents and in the end, Jeanette learns parental acceptance. “Dad was driving and smoking with one hand and holding a brown bottle of beer in the next” (Walls 2005). Here Jeannette describes her life on a dangerous journey with her father, Rex. Throughout the book, Jeannette shares instances of Rex’s powerlessness to control his vicious alcohol dependency. He knows that his alcoholism is robbing the family money and the quality of life they deserve; but he cannot and will not stop. Being exposed to parental alcoholism affects his children in several ways. Lori, one of Jeannette’s sister’s finds work in New York as a bartender, as children they played games such as shoot the beer cans, and as an income substitute the Walls children would collect beer bottles and redeem them for cash. Father’s alcoholism involves the family in several spits. In the end, Rex ultimately dies for his chronic alcoholism, suffering a major heart attack (Walls 2005). Jeannette forgives her father and loves him completely in spite of himself. Acceptance comes in the face of knowing objectionable habits and personal downfalls. At the hospital bed, Jeannette sympathetically clutches her father’s hands in his final moments and has a strong urge to check him out of the hospital, for he hated hospitals-just to make him happy for one last time. Jeannette never judges and despises her father although he is alcoholic. On her last visit to him before he dies, Jeannette passes him a beer and a vodka while he is in bed. Like an indulgent parent, Jeannette wants to make her father happy. On the part of her mother, Jeannette accepts her for she is, unashamed to have dinner with her at a restaurant, although her clothes are in tatters and is reduced to a common vagabond.

Jeannette feels the palpable absence of her parents in The Glass Castle and in the rare occasions that they are present, she still feels a void of intimacy and care. The first instance of parental neglect happens at the tender age of three when she suffers from burns while cooking. Jeannette’s parents listlessly raise them, abandon them to their own childish devices, and leave them to fend for themselves at quite an early age. As a toddler, Jeannette has to cook in order to eat. When the kitchen accident occurs, she has to be hospitalized. Because Rex her father hates hospitals, he checks her out of the hospital without her receiving all the care that she needs. Nevertheless, Jeannette rewards the past parental neglect with kind, dutiful attention. Jeannette chooses not to neglect her parents when they need her. Forgiving them of past hurts, she stands by their side, at home, at the hospital bed and at the funeral, showing unconditional love. She fosters a valiant spirit of forgiveness even not neglecting her tramp mother and looking out for her.

The Walls parents expose their children to unnecessary danger. Jeannette confesses that “by the time I was four, I was pretty good with Dad’s pistol, a big, black, six-shot revolver” (Walls 2005). The parents, in neglectful error, have the family handgun exposed and in the children’s reach. When a bullying neighbor squirts them with a water gun, the kids take the handgun and shoot seriously wounding him. The children cultivate a heightened sense of looking out for danger themselves and taking precautions to protect or defend themselves. Had the Walls parents been overprotective, coddling their children and keeping them under their wing, the children would not have been able to take care of themselves in adversity. Due to parental negligence Jeannette and her siblings must scrape an existence. She recalls that “one afternoon when Brian and I had come home to an empty fridge, we went out to the alley behind the house, looking for bottles to redeem” (Walls 2005). This statement shows two elements: poverty and proactive self-preserving provision. Money was always scarce in the Walls family. Her father, the breadwinner, who works as a miner, would fritter his meager earnings on beer and women. In the face of this horrific abandonment, the siblings demonstrate resilience by seeking their own nourishment and care. The house arrangement at night (the time where danger is most active) gives a microcosmic picture of the Walls children’s reality. Jeannette attests to the fact that “at night Mom and Dad left the front door and the back door and all the windows open” (Walls 2005). This open vulnerability incarnates parental negligence where the children are exposed to danger without any parental intervention. The time when Jeannette is almost raped by a vagabond who steals inside the family’s home Jeannette simply states that “Dad was out that night and when Mom slept, she was dead to the world” (Walls 2005). The parents’ irresponsibility frequently endangers the children but resilient like hard leather, with continued adversity, the Walls children become tougher and empowered to weather more difficult circumstances in the future.

The itinerant lifestyle causes the family to be unstable and more fragmented. “Dad was fed up with civilization. He and Mom decided we should move back to the desert and resume our hunt for gold” (Walls 2005). This uncertain, fantastical lifestyle of roaming robs Jeannette of the contentment, permanence, constancy, and consistency which she longs for as a child. Frequent wandering causes Jeannette to feel alienated at school with very few friends. Irresponsibility can also measured by an unsettled existence. One of the reasons why Jeannette calls her autobiographic narrative “The Glass Castle” is because in the midst of excessive movement, she desires a stable haven where she could finally call home.

In The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls portrays her autobiography, based upon empty promises. Ironically, the story derives its title from Rex Walls who promises his children a glass castle where they would live blissfully happy and untouched by trouble. Of course this promise does not materialize; however, it remained as a salient image in her mind. A glass castle is known for its fragility, exclusivity, transparency, defense, and fantasy. Walls constructs the glass castle symbolism as an image representing the empty promises of the family and the Walls’ hope for the future. Just like the walls form part of any building, the family, surnamed the Walls, unwittingly contributes to this magnificent edifice. Walls recalls that “when Dad wasn’t telling us the amazing things that he had already done, he was telling us of the wondrous things he was going to do. Like build the Glass Castle. All of Dad’s engineering skills and mathematical genius were coming together in one special project” (Walls 2005). This promise of a permanent, luxurious home faraway in the desert beyond the cares of civilization etches itself in the mind of the children. They believe in their father and they have faith in the plan’s fulfillment. As an innocent child, Jeannette’s gullibility set her up for a hard disappointment. In order to build the glass castle Rex Walls tells his children that he needs to find gold. Nevertheless, this pie-in-the-sky tale spurs hope within his children that things will get better. As they shift nomadically from place to place, Rex Walls allows his children to draw, sketch, and modify his plans for the glass castle. They continue to hope in him despite his vices that cost them such grief. In the closing scenes of the novel, when Jeannette and her father Rex reunites, Rex says remorsefully, “Never did build that glass castle” (Walls 2005); yet, in a true heart of forgiveness and kind dismissal, Jeannette responds, “No, but we did have fun planning it” (Walls 2005). Resilience has taught her that although grand promises fail, sometimes the fun, optimism, and hope which the glass castle inspired are worth more than the glass castle itself. Jeannette has matured as a young woman. She is now much more realistic and forbearing. At that same meeting she even apologizes for not inviting Rex, in a moment of anger, to her graduation. By this act, Jeannette shows herself ready for reconciliation and a stronger, loving relationship with her father.

In conclusion, the novel emerges as a bitter sweet one. Assembled at the family dinner for thanksgiving, after the Mr. Walls’ death, the Walls family comes together to celebrate. It is irony that the only thanksgiving celebration that Jeannette recollects is the one where she has organized it herself, something her parents never took the time to do in her youth. Walls crowns the book’s ending chapter, “Thanksgiving” to show the pinnacle of her success of resilience and forgiveness. She endures a difficult, tumultuous life – a life that the average American kid does not have to pass through: alcoholism, parental neglect, and broken promises. She has many reasons to harbor recriminations, however, she chooses to pardon and move on.

Works Cited

Grotberg, Edith. “A Guide to Promoting Resilience in Children: Strengthening the Human Spirit,” Early Childhood Development: Practice and Reflections, Bernard Van Leer Foundation

. Retrieved 29 Apr 2010.

Walls, Jeannette. The Glass Castle. Scribner, Simon and Schuster Inc, New York, 2005.

The Effect of Parenting Style on Childhood Development: A Reading of The Glass Castle

Many people have varying opinions on parenting, usually motivated by deeply personal beliefs. These differing outlooks on raising children develops children themselves into different people with very specific values instilled in them by their parents. The impact of childhood on their development is undoubtedly substantial, but its complete effects are rarely understood; studies by Cornell and Louisiana State University established that parenting style can lead children towards certain characteristics and values later on in life (“The Influence of Parenting Styles on Children’s Cognitive Development”). The memoir The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls recounts the story of Walls’s childhood and development under her parents. What makes her childhood unique is her upbringing in a poor family under her unusual parents that necessitated her gaining maturity much earlier than usual children. However, her parents still instilled in her a passion for learning and that combined with her maturity to enable her later success in life as a writer.

The reason that people are who they are is due in large part to the influence of their parents, and the style of their parenting. Jeannette Walls’s parents were extremely lax with their parenting, and she and her siblings were free to do as they wished for much of their childhood. This is first evident as Jeannette makes herself a hotdog, thereby causing herself to catch on fire. This freedom allows Lori, Jeannette, Brian, and Maureen to experience more independence as well as gain more responsibility for their actions. The children’s independence is displayed when Brian gets into a fight in Welch, but does not discuss the matter with his dad since he “didn’t want to sound like a whiner” (Walls, 140) since his parents had left him to be independent. Their father, Rex, once again emphasizes independence as he throws Jeannette into the water so that she knows “if you don’t want to sink you better learn how to swim” (Walls, 66). However, the maturity gained through the children’s freedom allows them to eventually realize the responsibility and childlike behavior of their parents as they begin to resent them and desire to move out.

A large reason for the permissive attitude of the parents was not only their selfish nature, but also the fact that they desired the best for their children. Although they were extremely poor, Walls’s parents always made sure that they had an adequate house to live in; they first lived in the trailer, then in Battle Mountain, the large house in Phoenix, Welsh, and with Rex’s parents in West Virginia. They also ensured that their children always received an education, as learning was of paramount importance to them. Rex’s involvement of the children in the design of his great Glass Castle, as well as how “after dinner the whole family stretched out on the benches and the floor of the depot and read, with the dictionary in the middle of the room so we kids could look up words we didn’t know” (Walls, 56), indicates the importance of knowledge and education to Jeannette’s parents. A parental emphasis on the importance of education allows Jeannette and her siblings to develop into bright, insightful young people who can take advantage of their eventual maturity to become successful individuals later on in life.

Another aspect of the parenting style of Jeannette’s parents was their belief that the way they lived and parented was the correct and proper way to raise a child, and they did not appreciate anyone else interfering in the development of their children. When Jeannette is taken to the hospital for her burns, her mom becomes resentful of the amenities the hospital provides, as well as the nurse giving her daughter gum; she says, “it was a disgusting low-class habit, and the nurse should have consulted her” (Walls, 12), as she is “your mother, and I should have a say in how you’re raised” (Walls, 12). This episode illustrates the Walls parents’ belief that the way they raise their children is faultless. They do not want their children to believe they are being raised in a family that cannot completely provide for them. Although they may have an unconventional parenting style, they are trying their best, and this effort develops Jeannette into a successful woman as she leaves her family for New York City.

The effect of parenting style on Jeannette Walls’s development is thorough, as it instills in her the values of independence and education, along with a maturity that develops her into a successful adult. Her unusual upbringing enabled her to see that she desired more from her life, and she pursued her aspirations to become a famous writer. While The Glass Castle presents one perspective on raising children, there are many other methods that contribute to different results in similarly successful people.

The Glass Prison

In the memoir The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, a father, Rex Walls, keeps his family from amassing substantial wealth. Rex buys hard drinks whenever the family begins to earn money. When he comes home he unleashes his anger onto his family by destroying the few things the family owns. Yet while sober, he helps his family tremendously and loves them greatly. The good attributes of Rex and his leadership make his place in the family indestructible, but cannot overpower the problems with his personality. The Glass Castle thus depicts an irremovable father who unjustly and imprisons his family through irresponsible drinking.

Rex Walls’s inability to lead his own life and take responsibility causes him to fail at fulfilling the needs of his family. As a poor man, Rex often lacks the financial ability to drink hard alcohol due to his lack of funds. The lack of drunkenness makes Rex accomplish productive tasks which eventually bring him money. In this state of increased wealth, Rex chooses to squander his earnings on alcohol due to a deeper problem in his life. In his youth, Rex’s mother molested him. This trauma scarred his entire life and forces him to try to hide this problem and act like it never happened, rather than face this issue head-on. For this reason, he never completely stops drinking despite many attempts. Due to his choice to not deal with his problems as a youth, Rex lives in a cycle of poverty and wealth synchronized with sobriety and drunkenness. Rex’s drunkenness carries along his family as well, forcing the entire family to become poor again whenever they gain enough money for Rex to go to the bar. Rex fails at fulfilling the role of a father by irresponsibly controlling the family’s wealth and property, thus leading to faulty leadership of the family. Rex’s deep, unsolved problems force Rex into drunkenness and in turn make him unable to fulfill his role as a father.

Due to Rex’s drunkenness, his wife becomes stuck in a circle of depression and ignorant optimism. She sees through Rex’s elaborate stories that justify his use of money to research and build new inventions as simply another way to gain money to drink. She knows of the poverty she lives in, and sometimes works to provide for the family. She detects Rex’s external problem of drinking, and reads books to attempt to help stop this problem. This hopeful attempt to permanently change Rex never succeeds, and after enough trial her hope of change breaks. She sees how there will never be any positive or upward movement, and that she will forever live in horrible conditions for the rest of her life. Thereafter, she spends some mornings in bed instead of teaching at the school, and eventually quits her job to spend her time alone painting while her children scavenge food to survive. To try to solve her issue of depression, Rose Mary (Rex’s wife) adopts a heavily optimistic lifestyle. She attempts to always look on the bright side and forget about her hopelessness rather than deal with it. Rose Mary decides to not acknowledge the horrible house she lives in and instead naively believes that she exists in a wonderful life, not a life of deprivation and abuse. Rex’s addiction to alcohol pushes Rose Mary into hopelessness terrible enough to bring her to find solace in the creation of a false reality in her mind, a way to make things look better than they actually are.

Yet Rex’s authority cannot be removed because his sobriety allows for him to prove himself as a father for brief moments, before he becomes drunk and ruins the hope of his family. While sober, Rex recites scientific facts to his children, gives them a future to look forward to (a glass castle) and generates an income for his family. He effectively leads the family. While this happens part of the time, he also drinks whenever he earns a substantial amount of money from his labor, and the family loses hopes of moving into a more comfortable life. Rose Mary and her children see Rex as a necessary evil in their lives. It would be impossible to live without him, and with him their lives become harsh, violent, and poor. The combination of virtue and vice in Rex makes him a person the family should do without to survive better, but cannot do without, to that Rex’s family stays imprisoned in the cycle of poverty and an abusive father.

Walls’s memoir tells of a father who destroys and provides for his family with the end result being one of poverty and sadness. Rex abuses his family so he can drown out the problems of his youth. His family needs to get rid of him, but cannot because of their need of him. This story warns of the destruction an irresponsible parent can bring on a family; for the sake of their loved ones, people should deal with their problems rather than ignore them. The Glass Castle, ultimately, examines the devastating effects that can be caused by a father with deep personal problems.

Adventures First, Explanations Take Such a Dreadful Time

William Yeats said, “I am of a healthy and long lived race, and our minds improve with age.” It’s true that as individuals face the world, they can only gain wisdom from exposure. For a young Jeannette Walls, it’s none other than her troubling life and great number of powerful experiences that mold her outlooks on the world. In her memoir The Glass Castle, she and her family constantly face hopeless challenges like starvation, homelessness, and addiction. From the desert to New York, Jeannette’s attitudes towards her family’s idealistic poverty and nomadic homelessness change over time from naive youthfulness to reflective acceptance.

For the Walls, coping with extreme poverty, haphazard relocation, and virtual homelessness is pretending that their life is an “incredibly fun adventure” (Walls 85), and for young Jeannette, the mere concept of “adventure” is more than enough to eliminate many of her worries about their uncertain lifestyle. Describing one desert night, she recounts, “…we slept under the stars…Dad said that was part of his plan…I told Lori how lucky we were to be sleeping out under the sky like Indians. ‘We could live like this forever,’ I said. ‘I think we’re going to,’ she said” (18). Jeannette is not stopping to think about how they don’t have pillows, money, or even a place to sleep at night; instead, she perpetuates the serene image of sleeping under the stars and connecting with nature. Her strong bond with her father is apparent, seeing as she fully believes that their misfortune is all “planned.” She is still so dependent on family that she is blind to the facade of adventure that masks the reality of hardship. Her use of the word “lucky” illustrates that she isn’t merely searching for a bright side to the situation; this is a real adventure for Jeannette, or at least she has thoroughly convinced herself so. Conversely, while Jeannette gazes at the stars, Lori offers the stark contrast to her young sister’s starry-eyed wonder. Older than Jeannette, Lori is recognizing that homelessness is not something to be romanticized.

Though adolescent years are always awkward transitions from dependence to independence, Jeannette’s transition is driven by the contradiction between her love for her family and her developing embarrassment towards the family’s lifestyle and choices. One day, after a disturbing encounter with a welfare officer, she narrates, “At least when Ernie and his gang came around yelling that we were trash, we could fight them off with rocks. But if the child-welfare man got it into his head that we were an unfit family, we’d have no way to drive him off” (194). Jeannette’s words serve as a metaphor that perfectly embodies her struggle. She describes her retaliation towards Ernie as juvenile and rugged, fighting with rocks; she is a rough-and-tumble, vengeful girl responding immaturely to bullies. This fearless air greatly contrasts her helplessness in facing the welfare man. For her, he symbolizes government and adulthood, in the sense that she must learn to deal with things she doesn’t particularly like. As age brings responsibility, it also brings wisdom, and she realizes that she’s also becoming more embarrassed by her family’s social standing and grows conscious of their image. In other instances, Jeannette is deeply upset by a woman’s use of “poor,” in reference to her pitiful hitchhiking. She even feels the need to research the option of welfare and encourage her own obstinate mother to get a job, or go on welfare. In each example, Jeannette is confused by the contrast between the allegiance to family that drove her childhood and the new awareness of the fact that in the real world, the lifestyle she’s used to doesn’t quite cut it.

By the time she reach New York, although her parents still possess some signature Walls optimism, Jeannette is mature and fully understands that vagrancy is quite the opposite of an honorable adventure. When given the opportunity to confront people degrading her family, she says, “that would have meant explaining who I really was, and I wasn’t about to do that…I was tired of taking on people who ridiculed us for the way we lived, I just didn’t have it in me to argue Mom and Dad’s case to the world” (256). After a life of ignorance for bliss and facades to disguise famine, Jeanette is coming full-circle in self-awareness with the same bluntness and severity she always had in her wit from a young age: her whole upbringing has practically been a lie. She portrays guilt, yet it’s overridden by twenty-some years of exhaustion and suffering for the sake of “adventure.” Jeannette’s uses of phrases like “didn’t have it in me” and “tired” only display that she considers defending her parents to be almost physically (and surely mentally) exhausting, and who wouldn’t be tired after carrying much of the burden of a heavily burdened family from childhood into adulthood? In addition, she’s not even able to reveal the truth about her past, showing just how embarrassed she feels thinking about the depths to which her family has sunk just to exist. While she still loves her mom and dad, Jeannette is finally fully grasping what independence, survival, and self-preservation entail.

A constant that remains throughout the story is Jeannette’s naivety and non-accusatory view of most things, as if the story is told through the mind of an optimistic girl in a hopeless world. However, whether due to her nature or to the way in which she was raised, Jeannette shows at a young age remarkable traits of wisdom and understanding, if only through unadulterated affection. “Unadulterated” in itself is an interesting concept, as if her affection is never tainted by the clutches of adulthood, or as if adulthood only contaminates pure thoughts and emotions with the burden of knowing “too much.” While Jeannette watches her family with growing pity as time passes, simultaneously her life clarifies as she, in adulthood, can comprehend the full picture. Ultimately, even if Jeannette decides that she can’t fully trust the teachings of an untrustworthy family, there is at least one piece of advice from her mother Rose Mary Walls that evidently holds true: What doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger. Through hungry nights, physical abuse, and emotional turmoil, what doesn’t kill Jeannette Walls her only makes her wiser, and stronger.

Mother-Son Relationship in The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle is a memoir written by Jeannette Walls that elaborates her upbringing particularly her experience with her sisters, brother, and parents. In a sincere but loving manner, Walls reveals the irresponsibility and selfishness of her parents which resulted in Walls and her siblings enduring a lot and defying all odds to attain their goals and remain afloat. Many themes are revealed in the memoir, but one primary theme that this analysis will exude relates to that of the relationship between mother and son. Brian is an only son in the family, and thus by examining the relationship he had with his mother through the interactions, conversations and how the mother treated him, the mother-son relationship will be clear. Although in normal circumstances an only son would be given special attention by the mother, Brian’s experience is different, and his mother seemed too occupied with other things to provide Brian with any special attention.

The relationship between Brian and Rosemary is one that is revealed to be characterized by resentment from Brian towards the mother. Such resentment emanated from the way Rosemary would treat Brian in a non-emotional manner. Since Rosemary does not show any compassion and sympathy to her children, it is not surprising that Brian does not care about her feelings and he thinks that she is overdramatic. For example, the mother’s drama is seen, as Walls highlights Brian typically started with an impersonation of mom carrying on and sobbing (pg.207) Brian is categorical about his mother’s disappointment and is honest about the situation when he chooses to distance himself from the relationship with the mother creating a chasm that seems unbridgeable. This worsened situation was a result of the neglect that Brian experienced when he desperately needed his mother’s support in addressing his difficulties. In one instance, Brian is hurt and expected his mother to take him to the hospital. Surprisingly, the mother’s response was far from anything that Brian was expecting. She suggested that she would not take Brian to the hospital given that the logical thing that should happen is ‘one kid at the hospital at a time is enough’ (pg. 13). The thing that followed was Rosemary striving to bandage Brian with a dirty white bandage. Rosemary appears confident as she narrates what happened to Brian. She asserts that Brian fell off the couch and his head split open on the floor but taking him to the hospital was not one of the options (pg13). Rosemary is not moved with the unconditional love and affection of a mother who possibly made Brian wonder what was the importance of having a mother if things were even worse with a mother than they would be if she was not there. It is with this persuasion that Brian even as an adult chose to live his life distanced from the mother.

Where The Glass Castle is concerned, the relationship between a mother and a son is also depicted as one characterized by some love which was buried in selfishness and irresponsibility. For instance, Walls elaborates how the mother toughened up by helping him and the other siblings by showing them Which plants were edible and which ones were toxic, she was able to find water when no one could, and she knew how little of it you really needed. She taught us that you would wash yourself clean with just a cup of water (pg. 21). The fact that Brian would also wash himself clean with just a cup of water prepared him to be a gentleman who would survive under any condition in the face of the earth. That is a mother’s love in its entirety, teaching her children to survive regardless of the prevailing conditions. Those survival tactics were central to Brian’s survival as much as he would not acknowledge it. Furthermore, being able to do so much with so little was an incredible lesson that would extend to all areas of Brian’s life.

Brian’s relationship with Rosemary is seen as a dramatic one given that mama was not predictable on the answers she would give and even her arguments. Although some of her arguments were true and solid, she overstretched their application beyond the context of a family relationship as an escapism route. For instance, Walls notes something unusual about her mother’s claim surrounding cooking and food. She notes, ‘Why to spend the afternoon making a meal that will be gone in an hour,’ she would ask us, ‘when the same amount of time can do a painting that will last forever’ (pg. 56). While it is true that the food Brian and his siblings would take could only last an hour, and that paintings would last a lifetime, food was needed. In fact, she also needed the energy from food to be able to make the art that would last forever. The irony is clear, and irresponsibility is also apparent. Notably, the painting would last longer than food but not forever as Rosemary would purport. Apparently, instead of Rosemary being an icon of total commitment to Brian and sacrifice all that is within her power for her son’s wellbeing, she seems to do the exact opposite. It is revealed in the text that Brian had seizures when he was small which later stopped. However, in that time that Brian required the mother most, she neglected him and let him be, something that most mother would not do. That neglect would cost Brian and make his life one characterized by insurmountable difficulty.

The fact that Rosemary did not attend to Brian stemmed from her persuasion on how parents should treat their children and toughen them up. Walls asserts this belief by stating what her mother’s ideology was Mom always said that people worried too much about their children. ‘Suffering when you are gone is good’ she said. It immunized your body and your soul, and that is why she ignored us as kids when we cried (pg. 28). It is possible that Rosemary would make such statements as words of knowledge and wisdom to her children given that she would not be able to provide them a comfortable life because of her lifestyle. She saw her words as handy in Brian’s survival in the desert. Although Brian was not always persuaded about her mother’s persuasion, he would not object it but silently listened to her mother’s words which do not seem to amount to much. In one such instance of silence, Walls states She told us to forgive her the same way we always forgive dad, for his drinking. None of us said a thing (pg. 174). Brian’s relationship with the mother seems mechanical, one that exists because it must, but lacks the spice and joy of a loving relationship that would read trust, compassion, and love. Silence remains central in this relationship. The mother appears harsh when Brian to talk out his mind. In some instance, she stated ‘You cannot talk to me like that, she said. I am your mother’ (pg.219). Thus, the control and assertion of her authority took center stage in the relationship.

The relationship between Brian and Rosemary is the basis of the mother-son relationship. It appears to be distant, strained and one characterized with resentment. Brian feels unloved given that his mother’s passion and pride in painting superseded her responsibility as a mother. Instead of receiving unconditional love when he was suffering and bleeding, all he got was neglect and poor treatment. In the long run, bridging the chasm in their relationship is challenging, and Brian opts to live his life as distant as he could. Notably, motherly responsibilities are primary to a good relationship between son and mother as The Glass Castle reveals.

The Glass Castle Symbol: Fire

“I wondered if the fire had been out to get me. I wondered if all fire was related… I didn’t have the answers to those questions, but what I did know was that I lived in a world that at any moment could erupt into fire” (34).

Throughout the story, it is made more and more apparent that fire plays a persistent role in Jeannette’s life. One of her most memorable incidents involving fire was at the very beginning of the book when she lit herself on fire at the young age of three. This resulted in severe third-degree burns, and consequently, Jeannette was admitted to the hospital. Ever since lighting herself on fire, Jeannette has had a certain fascination for this element. Just a few days after leaving the hospital, she related, “Dad also thought I should face down my enemy, and he showed me how to pass my finger through a candle flame. I did it over and over…testing to see how much my finger could endure without actually getting burned” (Walls, 15). Opposed to living in fear of the source of her burns, Jeannette becomes obsessed with controlling the fire. She touches it with the knowledge that she can pull away at any point because she has power over the situation. By being able to maintain control, Jeannette loses her fear of fire and is rather enthralled by the flames. However, Jeannette’s enthusiasm for the fire wanes due to an even more dangerous encounter with it. Due to her love of fire, she attempts to burn toilet paper and flushes it down the toilet for fun, but she accidentally sets her motel building on fire, endangering herself and her siblings. After escaping the building, Jeanette observes, “I wonder[ed] if the fire has been out to get me…I lived in a world that at any moment could erupt into fire” (Walls, 34). At first Jeannette’s interest in fire is innocent, but the night in her motel room Jeannette gets much closer to the flames than she ever intends. Earlier in the story, when her father shows her how to put her finger through the flames, he is encouraging this kind of behavior, and the result is Jeannette is almost burned to death. At this point, Jeannette realizes that unpredictability may be alluring, but it also has the very likely potential to damage her.

Jeannette’s relationship with fire metaphorically represents her complicated relationship with her father. She once loved her father for being erratic and different, but she comes to realize that she needs stability to live a safe life. She spends her early childhood believing in her father, and in the end, she is the one that gets burned by his actions. Earlier in the text, Lori asks Jeannette, “Do you like always moving around?” Jeannette’s response is simply, “Of course I do!” (Walls, 29). Because Jeannette is only four years old at the time, she is very easily influenced by her peculiar surroundings. Consequently, she worships her father’s strange antics, including their nomadic lifestyle. At first her father’s unpredictability is exciting to Jeannette, but only because she experiences the disorienting events in small doses, such as allowing her to drown multiple times as a tactic to teach her how to swim for the first time. Though this event may seem drastic, it is minor in comparison to some of his actions later on in Jeannette’s life, especially when they hit rock bottom and were forced to move to West Virginia. Eventually, her father breaks her trust and destroys her life through his alcoholism and selfishness. Her life erupts into flames and Jeannette is traumatized by her experiences with her father, just like she is traumatized by the fire in her motel room. The impact that Jeannette’s father has on her is made apparent when she starts a life that is no longer dependent on her father. When Jeannette meets the man she eventually marries, she thinks, “…I’d always been terrified I’d fall for a hard-drinking, hell-raising charismatic scoundrel like you, Dad, but I wound up with a man who was exactly the opposite” (Walls, 268). After experiencing what it is like to spend life with somebody as erratic as her father, Jeannette ends up desperate for stability. Fire symbolizes unpredictability and when Jeannette moves on from obsessing over fire, she is no longer putting herself in a dangerous situation. Likewise, when Jeannette moves on from trusting her father, she is no longer subjecting herself to constant abuse.