The pure tenacity that seeps from the pages of Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle is mesmerizing enough in its own right to merit the praise that has been heaped upon the memoir; these pages expose their readers to the scorching heat of deserts’ sundance-yellow sands and the blackened clothing and miners’ pails of a soot-and-work boots America, before finally getting lost in the metropolis that is New York. As the novel ends, Walls describes a Thanksgiving dinner, saying that the candles on the table “danced along the border between turbulence and order,” taunting the readers to determine for themselves the barbarity of her childhood. Life with your father,” as Rose Mary Walls put it, “was never boring” (288).
This type of philosophy, however, was often imposed at a dear price to the children. From a hopelessly naive mother who was seldom mentally present, to an alcoholic father oftentimes nowhere to be seen, Maureen, Bryan, Lori, and Jeannette were frequently left to fend for themselves. To the truest meaning of the word, the Walls’ parenting style epitomizes neglect, the effects of which are mitigated only by the precociousness and solidarity exhibited by their children.
If one is to castigate the Walls parents for neglect, a comprehensive definition must first be established for these claims of abuse to be attributed to. Neglect can thus be described as “a crime consisting of acts of omissions (Legal-Dictionary),” of acts that potentially endanger the health and life of a child, and of acts that fail to take the steps crucial to the proper nurturing of a child. Although noticeably vague, Rex and Rose still unequivocally incriminate themselves many times over under its delineation. For one, the pride that the Walls parents harbor prevents them from ever seeking help.
They refuse to become what they call a “charity case,” claiming that they could “take care of our own” (159). Their irrational failure—their complete inability—of not being able to align their behaviors with actions so desperately being called upon by reality stems from the fact that, to them, reaching out would be the equivalent of raising the white flag. The Walls parents are both addicts. While Rex’s love affair with alcohol may be a little more pronounced, Rose’s shortcoming is far more insidious, perhaps making it all the more destructive.
She is a self-described “excitement addict,” and addicts—whether to alcohol or excitement—need their fix, constantly drowning out the world around them, ready to lie, manipulate, and shift blame at a moment’s notice in hopes of being able to maintain their lifestyles. In fact, the fault for constantly moving should fall on Rose’s shoulders as well. Her addiction is to adventure, but this fault is sometimes masked by pragmatism. It is interesting that Jeannette describes having to move as the anniversary of her father losing his job, but does not seem to tack the same sort of accountability onto her mother.
Therefore, it is “pragmatic” to move after her father cannot gain employment, and this keeps Rose’s flaw out of the limelight far more often than it should. When confronted with the real possibility of getting a job, for example, Rose simply retorts, “Van Gogh didn’t sell any paintings, either…I’m an artist! ” (71). This allows her, more, it encourages her, to consume resources endlessly without any expectations of producing being placed upon her. Further, she simply does not see a reason to change. “You want to help me change my life? ” Mom asked. “I’m fine. You’re the one who needs help.
Your values are all confused” (5). Their father is no better, as an alcoholic who drinks away the family earnings—on the rare occasion that there are any. A fascinating connection that can be made here is to another memoir: Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes. Frank find himself in a predicament quite similar to the scenario Jeannette is in, namely, that his father is an alcoholic, leaving his family to suffer as a consequence of his actions. Their situation, as seen in the following quote, provides a brief insight into their lives and the sorrows they have gone through: “I know when Dad does the bad thing.
I know when he drinks the dole money and Mam is desperate and has to beg . . . but I don’t want to back away from him and run to Mam. How can I do that when I’m up with him early every morning with the whole world asleep? ” (Ch. 8). Although his father might mean well, and often attempts to reinforce the familial bonds that exist between his children, he ultimately fails as a parent. In Frank’s case, at least, his mother donned the responsibility of acting as head of the household. Here, the despair extends to both elders. “When teachers gave us bags of clothes from church drives,” says Jeannette, “Mom made us take them back” (159).
Some may, however, argue that the Walls parents are not engaging in negligence by any means, but rather instilling into their children the critical skill of being able to traverse life independently, teaching them how to live without leaning on others for support. One can say, for instance, that it is unfair to retroactively judge the Walls’ based on today’s standards for neglect, that there were neither laws established nor detailed studies that then existed to document its effects. This is highlighted in the memoir by the government’s lax response to the possibility of child neglect.
The lack of persistence by child protective services—only once showing up at the Walls residence and leaving without conversing with any adults—can be seen as a testament to the infancy of anti-abuse measures in the United States. Nonetheless, there is a stark difference between an occasional lack of supervision and neglect. The Glass Castle is a stark rebuttal to an overabundance of safety precautions in society, and Rose’s approach to life can be summarized as follows: “Why spend the afternoon making a meal that will be gone in an hour…when in the same amount of time, I can do a painting that will last forever? (56).
This declaration evokes images of Jeannette scavenging for food at school, with Brian’s well-being and hunger at the forefront of her worries. The parents fail to lend themselves effectively to ameliorating the majority of tribulations that arise in their household and, under these conditions, it is indescribably beneficial that the Walls children can rely and look out for one another. Their mother, however, cannot so much as be forced to feign a facade of guilt.
Even when Rose does get a job, she will droll on about how she is always working to take care of others, while never taking any time for herself. Moreover, Rose could not successfully manage the responsibilities that were placed upon her during her stints as a teacher. Even then, the children worked as a team to ensure that she would not be dismissed, contributing by grading homework, compiling lesson plans, and dusting her classroom.
Under the habitual lying of her parents, Jeannette starts to fall subject to their fallacies, with her brain doing just what the human mind tends to do best when faced with uncomfortable situations—buffering her from seeing the truth by finding good in whatever incident she manages to find herself in. Even Jeannette, initially her dad’s biggest supporter, grows somewhat disillusioned with her parents’ promises and eventually concedes that the absence of food on the table was due to the failure of her parents to provide. She was keeping [the ring], she explained, to replace the wedding ring her mother had given her, the one Dad had pawned shortly after they got married. “But Mom,” I said, “that ring could get us a lot of food. ”
“That’s true,” Mom said, “but it could also improve my self-esteem. And at times like these, self-esteem is even more vital than food” (186). As for her father, if he were only able to hold a job a fraction as well as he could hold his liquor, “the skedaddle” would not have to be the headliner of Rex Walls’ “greatest hits. First, the obvious medical neglect through which his children suffer, such as when Jeannette is quite viciously thrown out of a moving car and has pebbles yanked from her face by a pair of her father’s needle-nosed pliers, or when Lori is bitten by a scorpion, would be enough to implicate any parent of negligence.
But in addition to that, in a world where honesty is the one thing that the Walls can afford, Jeannette is not even given that; the lies constantly spewed to her by her father slowly wean her off of the great respect she holds for him, with one prime example being his birthday promise to her. This time it will [stop]…It’s his present to me,” (118) Jeannette so confidently boasts to Lori, simultaneously showing the faith that she displays in him. Still, reality slowly crawls out of the shadows to reveal that nothing will change. In fact, it was during a relatively recent ABCNews interview that reporters pleaded to Jeannette Walls to recall one thing that stood from her childhood that she would alter.
Ms. Walls responded simply, and without hesitation, “That my father didn’t drink. ” All of the aforementioned turmoil makes The Class Castle a story of “What-ifs. What if Rex was able to cease drinking? What if Rose had just been able to keep that one job? Or, what if, as Jeannette had once suggested, Rose had really left her husband? The Walls siblings understand better than anyone else that their lives were not those of luxury. Their childhoods were, for the most part, brutal and unforgiving, constantly leading them from one struggle from the next. Escaping from one mining town, they would often find themselves in the middle of another, and begin chipping away at their fortunes there.
It’s never quite possible to wholly escape your past, as evidenced by how Jeanette eventually undertakes a job reporting gossip for MSNBC, thus turning the tables on her past and giving her control over others—for once. As opposed to the past, where others had indiscriminately spread rumors about her—one of the most stinging aspects of her childhood—she now wields the power to control the narrative. In the infancy of the Walls’ adventure, they encounter a Joshua tree spiraling into itself, guarding the border between mountain and desert.
When Jeannette looks at the tree, she sees “torture,” a creature “so beaten down by the whipping wind” (35). Later, when innocent believing broad-minded open-minded what it could be, as opposed to what it is. Mom frowned at me. “You’d be destroying what makes it special,” she said. “It’s the Joshua tree’s struggle that gives it its beauty” (38). The fact that she holds the tree in such high regard is no coincidence, as it only supports her viewpoint that it is because of its idiosyncrasies that the tree has put on a gorgeous coat.
Their independence was the only thing that they had, when everything else was taken away from them, and they were simply not willing to give that up. Mining symbolism but a close scrutiny of/by searching deeper one slowly unearths/uncovers the true marvels/one begins to Itinerant Uncontestable harbinger Great, brutal culling Chagrin Yields some bitter fruits, perversion/distortion “After all,” Mom said, “I am your mother, and I should have a say in how you’re raised. ”