Analysis of Jeanette Walls' memoir The Glass Castle | Teen Ink

Analysis of Jeanette Walls' memoir The Glass Castle

November 17, 2022
By Mstaiano GOLD, South Setauket, New York
Mstaiano GOLD, South Setauket, New York
12 articles 7 photos 3 comments

Favorite Quote:
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎‎ θ
I have ‎ ∫ [f(x)]dx ‎ friends
‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎‎ ‎ θ

There is generally a sense of maturity or immaturity accompanying each member of a functional family, which is usually demonstrated in the fact that naive children need to be raised and taught by responsible adults. In most cases, guardians and children have polar roles because parents are expected to make sacrifices for their children’s happiness and allow them to grow at a moderate pace with few responsibilities until they come of age. Dysfunctional families, however, may demonstrate non-polar familial roles, in which the behavior of the parents is so immature that the children must take on the burden of leading the family and raising themselves. In The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls tells the story of her childhood in a family influenced by abuse and irresponsibility rooted from her mother's selfishness and father's alcohol addiction, in which chaos and hate are confused with normalcy and love. As a result, the sense of responsibility traditionally found in parents and guardians shifts over to Jeannette in her parents' stead, thus forcing her into rapid maturity and intertwining the roles of parent and child.

Jeannette is raised under the guidance of immoral parental figures, including her mother whose behavior during Jeannette’s childhood is abnormally immature for her age. As Jeannette grows into a teenager, she and her mother have slight arguments regarding their family’s financial situation, “‘Why do I always have to be the one who earns the money?’ Mom asked. ‘You have a job. You can earn money. Lori can earn money, too. I’ve got more important things to do” (Walls 218). Her mother’s prioritization of her own desires before those of her family demonstrates her self-centered personality, and the fact that she does not give a second thought to intensifying the burden of work onto her children in order to escape her responsibilities only magnifies that selfishness. 

The mother has two important jobs in her life, which are to be a dependable parent at home and teacher at work. Each of these prove to be too ambitious of an undertaking for her as she fails to fulfill her job as a role model when she whines about not wanting to go to school because she is sick.

 “She folded her arms across her chest and stared us down. ‘I’m not going to school,’ she said. 

‘Why not?’ I asked.

‘I’m sick.’

‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.

‘My mucus is yellow,’ Mom said

‘If everyone who had yellow mucus stayed home, the schools would be pretty empty’ I told her.

Mom’s head snapped up. ‘You can’t talk to me like that,’ she said. ‘I’m your mother’” (219). The mother expects her daughter to succeed academically and financially while tolerating toxic emotional pressure on a daily basis, yet is incapable of accomplishing her duties after catching a slight cold, which Jeannette herself doubts the existence of. Her mother consciously attempts to manipulate her daughter into doing what she wants, acting like a child to sway Jeannette to stop troubling her but reaffirming her title as mother to prevent her from challenging her laziness. The mother’s indolence completely reverses the expectations of the adult and child, with Jeannette taking her mother’s place as a leader of the household. 

Not only is Jeannette’s mother’s submission to the sin of sloth affecting her upbringing, but her father’s succumbing to gluttony also serves as a catalyst for how she understands relationships. For the entirety of her life her father has been addicted to alcohol and returns home from bars in episodes of sheer rage, loudly insults his wife and hunts her down throughout the house, “He found Mom in the bathroom, crouched in the tub. As she darted past him, he grabbed her dress, and she started flailing. They fought their way into the dining room, and he knocked her to the floor” (122). Her father’s violent treatment towards her mother illustrates the level of toxicity that encompasses the family like a destructive fire that approaches almost out of nowhere. The father then forces his wife to say that she loves him despite being an alcoholic and the after she reluctantly agrees with him in order to end the fight, the two make up and all of their suffering immediately melts away, “Dad kept asking her again and again, and when she finally said yes, the fight disappeared from both of them. Vanished as if it never existed. Dad started laughing and hugging Mom, who was laughing and hugging him. It was as if they were so happy they hadn’t killed each other that they had fallen in love all over again” (122). The dynamic between Jeanette’s mother and father is built upon corrupted reliance, which causes them to unknowingly promote terror in the form of compassion. The polarity of the emotions they feel towards each other regularly manifests a connection between the extremely contrasting ideas of how the parents want to feel and how they truly feel, as if bridging the gap between heaven and hell. As a child, Jeannette’s morals and values are strongly derived from her experiences and observations at home and are largely focused on interactions between her family members, so the dysfunctionality of her parents’ relationship sets a terrifying example of how she could treat loved ones as an adult. 

The level of affection a child receives often serves as an indicator of how much more likely they are to succeed as an adult. Jeanette’s father is almost unable to convey true endearment towards his daughter and utilizes the time he spends with Jeanette as teaching moments in which he replaces personal family bonding activities with life lessons. At a young age her father teaches her how to swim by gaining enough of her trust to swiftly and easily toss her out into the isolated waters, believing that those who are frequently exposed to obstacles will succeed while those who depend on others are destined to fail. Her father simply explains “If you don’t want to sink, you better figure out how to swim” (66). He obviously accepts the theory that strong individuals topple weak individuals, and that society is centered around the survival of the fittest. While his displays of affection towards his young daughter contrast with what is expected of traditional father figures, his unnecessarily extreme way of teaching Jeanette eventually drives her into success and her ability to swim is triggered. Clark Streggano, a man who was raised in an abusive household, noticed that his parents’ means of preparing him for the future were slightly similar, explaining “Although my parents unintentionally trained me for adulthood, their mistreatment of me is probably what helped me understand true struggle, which allowed me to rise up and become a better person almost in spite of them” (Streggano 1). Streggano’s understanding of his childhood indicates that it is his parents’ lack of love that lets him flourish. He also confirms “All of my parents’ love was given to my sister, so there was none left for me; but our lives are so different right now because while I have a high-paying job and great family, she’s two-times divorced and living in our parents’ basement” (Streggano 2). Despite the amount of attention received by his sister decades ago, she is currently nowhere close to the level of success as him, which supports the idea that the less tenderness one is surrounded with in youth, the more likely they are to experience triumph with age.

Conclusively, Jeanette’s responsible character is formed by her parents’ detached and sadistic lifestyles that deprive her of the nurture one is supposed to receive throughout their childhood. Her mother’s lack of effort to properly guide her into adulthood makes it necessary for Jeanette to mature independently and rapidly in order to endure her dangerous living environment. Furthermore, the excess in abusive episodes being displayed by her father fosters a collection of disturbing memories that contribute to Jeannette’s resilient disposition. While neither of her parents are ideal role models, their treatment of their daughter serves as a catalyst for her ability to mature and succeed.


Works Cited

Streggano, Clark. “Familial Effects Interview”. In-person Interview. 2 December. 2020

Walls, Jeanette. The Glass Castle : a Memoir. New York [etc.], Scribner, 2007.

Similar Articles


This article has 0 comments.