The Glass Castle Summary

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle is a memoir written by Jeannette Walls. Her family is clearly dysfunctional, but the memoir conveys her message without condemning either of the Walls parents. Jeannette Walls writes not to place blame, but to find out how her childhood experiences helped shape the woman she became. She uses humor frequently, which gives the book a light tone. Readers may want to dislike these parents, but Wall's descriptions and tone make it impossible.

Here begins Jeannette's story of parents whose values and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their reprieve. The family is constantly low on cash and food, and move often to escape debtors and other trouble Rex Walls get into. For the first half of the book, the family lives in various mining towns where her father chases gold with his invention-the prospector-and the dream of the "glass castle." Rex is a charismatic, smart man who, when sober, proved a good father in many regards. He was able to share his imagination, teaching the children physics, geology, and how to live fearlessly, while learning from the mistakes that were made along the way. Rose Mary paints and writes; she can't stand the responsibility of caring for and worrying about her family. Cooking and cleaning were low on her list of priorities. Her mindset was, why spend hour cooking something that will be gone in fifteen minutes when she could create art that could last forever. Jeannette spends many years of her youth growing up in the desert and she is fascinated by it. Her earliest memory is being on fire. At the age of three she was making herself hot dogs when her dress caught fire. In teaching their children to be self-sufficient the kids are often in danger of hurting themselves. Although the nurses are visibly bothered by what happened, Jeannette finds it to be no big deal. She tells the nurse that making hot dogs is easy. In the desert, Jeannette starts a rock collection and explores the land with her brother Brian. They find life adventurous, in part, because Rex and Rose Mary make it seem this way. When they have to take off in the middle of the night to escape debtors, they tell the children they are going on another adventure. Life in the desert ends when Rex's alcoholism worsens and the family runs out of funds. Rose Mary pushes the family to relocate to Welch, West Virginia, the town where Rex grew up, with the hope of getting help from his family. Ironically, much of Rex's issues stem from childhood abuse which is one reason he did not want to return to his hometown.

Life in Welch, West Virginia is completely different than the life the Walls led in the desert. This brings new challenges to the Walls family such as cold weather. From the moment they arrive, the siblings want to leave Welch and return to the desert. As Jeannette and Lori grow older and become more exposed to the world around them, the sisters realize they must move away from their parents in order to achieve stable, happy lives. Rex does everything he can to escape the reality of his life and the hard times he has dealt with, such as his baby daughter's death and the probable sexual abuse inflicted by his own mother. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the family becomes more dysfunctional, Jeannette and her siblings fend for themselves, supporting one another as they endure their parents' betrayals and disappointments. Lori, Jeannette, and Brian decide to save for New York City, and begin pooling their money to move out of Welch.

Eventually the siblings all end up in New York; even Maureen, who Lori petitions to bring to the city. For a time everyone is settled and living independently until Rex and Rose Mary show up in Manhattan. After getting chased out of a couple apartments, the Rex and Rose Mary end up homeless. Despite their efforts, the children are unable to help their parents financially. Consequently, Rose Mary and Rex become squatters in abandoned apartments. Rex soon dies after having a heart attack.

By the novel's end, Jeannette has reconciled her past with her present. She no longer feels the need to hide behind lies. Walls depicts her parents with deep affection and generosity rather than anger or bitterness. It is a story of beating the odds, but also a moving story of unconditional love in a family that despite all of its flaws gave her the resolve and the fierce heart to make a life for herself outside of the family unit. Although her parents choose to live poverty, she is able to escape it. Through all this, she never loses sight of who she is or how she came to be the woman she is now.

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Literature Summaries

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