The Glass Castle Summary

Jeanette Walls

The Glass Castle

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The Glass Castle Summary

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In The Glass Castle author Jeanette Walls recounts the events of her childhood and adolescence, during which she was constantly on the move with her family through different towns in the Western U.S. The Walls rarely settle down for more than a few months at a time, and never remain in a single place for more than a couple of years. In each locale where the family settles, financial meltdown is never far behind, and the family is forced to relocate in order to evade responsibility for the debts that have accumulated. While there are periods of relative stability for Jeanette’s family, it never lasts long.

Jeanette’s parents Rex and Rose Mary both struggle with inner demons. For Rex, the struggle is with alcoholism which often interferes with his ability to hold a steady job, and thus to support his family. For Rose Mary, the struggle is to balance her ambitions as an artist with the practical needs of her family. Unfortunately, Rose Mary is repeatedly drawn away from the steady work as a teacher, for which she is qualified, because she views taking such work as a betrayal of her true calling in life. But while Jeanette is keenly aware of her parents’ shortcomings, and of all the attendant difficulties she experienced growing up as a result, she is not bitter. In fact, much of Jeanette’s narrative portrays Rex and Rose Mary in positively endearing terms. For example, Jeanette recalls Rex taking her and her siblings Lori and Brian out to the desert one night around Christmastime when they were young. As was usually the case, money was tight then, and Rex could not afford proper Christmas gifts for his children. So, Rex told each of his children to gaze up at the sky and select the star they liked the best; the star each selected would be his or hers from then on. It is moments like these that illustrate the good-hearted nature of Jeanette’s parents that unfortunately were all too often overpowered by other aspects of their personalities. It is perhaps one of Jeanette’s most impressive accomplishments in writing the Glass Castle that she is able to provide a narrative that faithfully reflects the complexity of her emotions towards her parents, along with the rest of the family.

When Jeanette was six the family settled for a time in Battle Mountain, Nevada taking residence in a railway station which has been converted into a dwelling. It is the first time in Jeanette’s life that the family would remain in the same place for longer than a few months. The relatively stable arrangement is sustained as Rex has taken a job with a mining company, providing him with a regular paycheck. When Rex lost his job, however, life for the Walls would begin to unravel. After incidents occur that attracted the attention of child protective services, the Walls would take to the road once again.

From Nevada, it was on to Phoenix, Arizona, home to Grandma Smith, Jeanette’s maternal grandmother. Unfortunately, Grandma Smith would pass away before the Walls arrive. The good news, however, was that she had left her house, along with a tidy sum of money, to Rose Mary. But this windfall could only carry the Walls along for so long. After burning through Rose Mary’s inheritance, and failing to keep up with maintenance to the house, the family needed to press forward.

The next significant place where the Walls lived was in Welch, West Virginia There there family would move in with Rex’s parents. There Rex’s mother is caught in the act of molesting Jeanette’s brother Brian – a discovery which Jeanette believes sheds some light on what must be behind Rex’s alcoholism. After a hostile confrontation between Jeanette’s sister, Lori, and Rex’s mother, the Walls were no longer welcome to stay with Rex’s parents.

The Walls final abode was a ramshackle house lacking basic amenities such as indoor plumbing. While they are living there, Rex’s alcoholism worsens, and the children plead for Rose Mary to file for divorce, which would make her eligible for welfare benefits to cover necessities for the children. But Rose Mary refuses, and the children decide to take their fate into their own hands. They construct a plan to make money doing small jobs that they will pool together and use to start a new life in New York. The plan succeeds and Jeanette studies to become a journalist, a job she does to this day.

While traveling in a taxi, Jeanette by chance catches sight of her mother on the street digging through the garbage. Later, Jeanette and he sister Lori track Rose Mary down and offer to assist her in finding a place to live. She refuses. This incident with Rose Mary provides a nice encapsulation of the type of person that she was throughout the time Jeanette was growing up — and for that matter, the type of person Rex was. Each struggled with his or her own inner personal conflicts that would plague them throughout their lives, yet at the same time both evinced a determination to continually try to make things work for their family. Although they may have failed in this regard, their struggle is perhaps the most captivating aspect of the story Jeanette weaves.