Jeannette Walls is an author of many books, one of which being her memoir The Glass Castle. After years keeping her story a secret, in 2005 Jeannette’s husband inspired her to write her sad story for the world to see. Through the 288 pages, Jeanette illustrates her story of a life as nomads constantly on the move, with a passive mother and a drunken father. The stories she shares show the side of an abusive childhood that we rarely have the opportunity to understand. The glass castle is shattered in the reader’s face, and its pieces rebuild their broken perspective.
The glass castle starts off in the present with Jeanette taking a taxi home and seeing her mother picking through a New York city dumpster. Jeanette returns to her middle class apartment alone proceeding to take her mother out to chinese and discuss why her parents continue living the way they do. That conversation leads into the rest of the book in which she describes her childhood from the time she was three. Jeanette grew up with an older sister Laurie, a younger brother Brian, and later on a baby sister Maureen. Their mother and father both love their children and raised them to be intellects.
All three of the kids were at higher reading and comprehending levels than any of their classmates. The kids loved their parents, but they didn’t love everything they did. Rose Mary, their mother, was a catholic who believed in free reign of her children and let them raise themselves. The father Rex Walls was a drunk who chased his dream of striking rich with gold. He was constantly losing his job or having to move for reasons Jeanette never knew. There were many times the family had no food or money, and fights were common.
At one point in her story, Jeanette writes of the time she and her siblings ate butter because that was the only food they had. The conversation between Jeanette and her mother over their hunger plays an emotional key in how the reader experiences the characters. “Mom wasn’t making any sense to me. I wondered if she had been looking forward to eating the margarine hersel. And that made me wonder if she was the one who’d stolen the can of corn the night before, which got me a little mad. “It was the only thing to eat in the whole house,” I said. Raising my voice, I added, “I was hungry'” (Walls 69).
Margarine is fantastic on toast or popcorn, but a spoon full of it would put anyone into a gagging fit- almost anyone. Most western cultured citizens have never experienced the true hunger pangs that poverty brings and what it can drive people to do. The Walls were starving and the butter consumption brought out the conflict of poverty as well as poor parenting of their mother stealing food from her children to the readers. The previous passage about eating margarine shows more of the books conflict over poverty with a sneak peak into the awful parenting the Wall children endured.
Rex, Jeanette’s father, was an alcoholic whom Jeanette loved and admired with all her heart when she was a child. Later in the book we see the same habits of her father, more of a good side from her mother, and less pride in her father from Jeanette. On page 123, Walls writes a horrific account of domestic abuse “Rosemary, where the goddamn hell are you, you stinking bitch? ” he yelled. “Where is that whore hiding? ” He found mom in the bathroom crouched in the tub… They fought their way into the dining room, and he knocked her to the floor…. She grabbed a butcher knife…
He picked up a knife too… He wrestled her to the floor. ” All four of their children were there the entire time trying to get their father to stop. At the end of the fight, the mom was hugging him and they were laughing. Even though throughout the book there are plenty of examples of poor parenting, stories such as this give us as readers a backstory as to why Rose mary is the way she is. Jeanette lived this conflict through her whole life and wants us to feel the empathy she felt towards her rag doll mother. This painting of their broken household, also paints a picture of the whole book so far.
The main theme the reader can see Jeanette striving for is broken. Just because things are broken doesn’t mean we throw them away or love them any less. In the beginning of the book jeanette talks about of a Tinker bell dolls she used to have and was her favorite. One day she was playing with fire and melted the dolls perfectly painted face into mush, ut instead of throwing her away leanette continued to love Tinkerbell (Walls 16). As a reader, at that point, you would never make the connection between tinkerbell and the theme of brokenness.
Jeanette burning tinker bell is like the walls family, no matter how burnt they were and how much it hurt to burn it’s hard to let go of the things that used to be your favorite. Emotion has been a driving force through this entire book. The theme of brokenness is perfectly portrayed through the emotional scenes of the burning of the family. Walls draws the readers in with accounts of things most people have never seen. From the strange ideals when raising children to the awful abuse. The emotions that grabs the reader’s mind overpower almost all weakness this book could have.
One thing that I dislike about this book is how slow paced it is. On the first page Jeanette is three years old and half way through the book on page 130 she has only aged six years. There are so many dramatic scenes that its hard to care about how slow growing the story is. Broken families are everywhere in the world, many of them like the walls we do not see until the children have grown up. The Glass castle is a memoir that perfectly explores the life a child of a parent with addiction and mental issues lives, Jeannette Walls lived this life, it is not just a story she wrote from imagination and chose to publish.
When stories seem so horrific we think it could never be real, at least not near us. The truth of the matter is that just like the Walls there are millions of families living this way. Jeanettes account provides readers with an understanding of why it is so hard for abused women to leave, people to get mental help that they need, and abused children to understand that everyone else is not raised the same way. The glass castle is shattered in the reader’s face, and its pieces rebuild their broken perspective.