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.
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