The Glass Castle: Alcoholism as a Plague of Society
The novel The Glass Castle is a memoir by author Jeannette Walls. Walls creates an image of her life, describing in detail the good and the bad she experienced throughout the states she traveled to. As a young girl, Walls was exposed to a low class lifestyle where she experienced hardships throughout her youth. The novel treks her life, bouncing from home to home, vehicles to warehouses. Being very poor, Walls and her family lived in the lowest of conditions. Eventually they saw some light when they moved to Phoenix where they lived in their grandmother’s house that was willed to them after her death. The Walls stayed together, staying loyal to each other and continued to make the best of any and every situation they were dealt with. Walls and her siblings experienced it all, but kept their spirits high and motivation strong as they followed their parents’ every step. The Walls children were in a horrible situation, dealing with alcoholism, hunger and homelessness, which was tough but never fully defeated them, which showed great determination from them all.
One big issue within the novel was alcoholism, which was quickly introduced early on. Jeannette’s father, Rex, was an alcoholic that plagued the family with his constant drinking. His addiction to alcohol was so fierce that when Rex tried to combat his own drinking problems by stopping he went into a full body shock. He was ‘tied to the bed with ropes and belts’ (Walls, 117) as a way to prevent him from drinking. This cleanse that he tried worked, until he had an outrage when he came home drunk again. This resorted to him attacking Rose Mary, Jeannette’s mother. Rex was an out of control drunk that even ruined Christmas because of the persona he turns into while under the influence.
This brings us to the issue of alcoholism itself. Alcoholism and substance abuse is a known and common issue within the United States. ‘Alcoholism is the most severe form of alcohol abuse and involves the inability to manage drinking habits’ (Galbicsek 1). The issues of abuse lead to broken families, broken individuals, poverty and even death. As stated on the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, ‘an estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually’ (Alcohol 1). This number shows that alcohol effects a huge number of people a year. May it go noticed or unnoticed, this is something that almost every family will experience once in their life. Jeannette and her family took on these problems and lived with them, always looking at the positives and finding ways to cope with their father’s bad habit.
The disaster that alcoholism caused to the Walls family was not the only issue they had at hand. As a family, they experienced a lot. One issue they could not get away from was homelessness. Jeannette and her family moved consistently, place to place, city to city. They moved so much that Jeannette and her siblings completely lost count of how many times they called somewhere ‘home’ even if it were for one week or one month. The novel starts with an older, grown up Jeannette in New York City. She is sitting in the car and spots her mom outside, digging through a dumpster. This is the reader’s first introduction to the homelessness. It is a huge problem that the Walls family deals with and one that we all in the United States see on a daily basis. According to National Coalition for the Homeless, in 2016 ‘there were 40.6 million people in poverty’ (Homelessness 1). These numbers can come from numerous amounts of situations and reasons. You see veterans, males, females, individuals that are older and younger living on the street or in their vehicles and they all have stories.
The problems behind homelessness can stem from a lack of support systems, assistance, loss of jobs and the jump of living costs for certain states. The Walls fell victim to a few of these unfortunate reasons. Rex, Jeannette’s father, was in and out of jobs, as he never had a stable enough job to keep the family with a roof over their heads for a long enough time. Their time in Phoenix was their best, as they were able to afford items and food until that came to an end. With a loss of jobs consistently and no steady income, the Walls family moved to a place they can call home until that town or city could not provide them with what they needed to have. This cycle did show a sense of dedication to the children, as their parents never tended to give up and stop trying until later in the novel when they grew older. The places the family lived in proved they were very poor. Their half of a house on 93 Little Hobart was a dump. There were leaks in the roof, holes in the ground and no type of water system throughout the house. The town and neighborhood they lived in was just as beat down and in poverty as well, but the Walls were still the laughing stock of Welch. Yes, the house was a roof over their head but they were still very below the poverty line. They could afford rent only in the double digits, which details the situation that the family was unfortunately in. Homelessness was real with the Walls family and the children withstood the teasing, bullying, hate and dirty looks that came with living at 93 Little Hobart. For example, the children were told, “Garbage! You live in garbage’ cause you are garbage’ (Walls 165). Instead of Jeannette and her siblings sitting there and doing nothing about it, they fought back and took revenge over the words that were said. They kept a strong base about their situations and consistently held their ground through the unfortunate times.
The topics of alcoholism and homelessness are crucial within the novel The Glass Castle. The Walls family had experienced and went through a lot, which showed that they lived a very tough life. These factors contributed highly with the situations the family was dealt with. They had to live with their father’s addiction, which also contributed to their issues of homelessness. Rex was spending so much money on booze and bars that at times the Walls were left with no food. Homelessness has many factors and the starvation that was brought about the family was huge. These two issues are brought to the reader to show an inside look if one has not ever been offered to them. Some people live wealthy, some people do not. Jeannette Walls shares her story of success, but in order for her success to come, she dealt with unfortunate circumstances. The novel shows the reader that no matter the circumstances that you come across in life, if it be homelessness, alcoholism, starvation or illness, you can always make your successes. You have to keep trying and pushing in life to get what you want. Push to make yourself happy.
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