A. Jeannette Walls, in her memoir The Glass Castle, demonstrates Erikson’s eight stages of development. Through the carefully recounted stories of her childhood and adolescence, we are able to trace her development from one stage to the next. While Walls struggles through some of the early developmental stages, she inevitably succeeds and has positive outcomes through adulthood. The memoir itself is not only the proof that she is successful and productive in middle adulthood, but the memoir may also have been part of her healing process. Writing is often a release and in writing her memoir and remembering her history, she may have been able to come to terms with her sad past. The memoir embodies both the proof that she has successfully graduated through Erickson’s stages of development while also being the reason that she is able to do so.
Erikson posited that there are eight stages of psychosocial development that a human being goes through during his or her lifetime. A person is faced with a crisis or challenge in each stage and how one deals with or masters that crisis determines how fully developed a person they become. Each stage builds on the previous stages and if one does not master the stage, and then it may cause problems later in life.
Erikson’s first stage is infancy and the crisis is trust versus mistrust. The Child’s relationship to the parents are essential, particularly that of the child and the mother. The infant develops of sense of certainty and predictability about the mother’s presence and actions. The child is attached to the mother and often displays anxiety or rage if separated from the parent. If an individual does not develop, learn, or understand trust in them-selves, others, or the world, then they may lose hope, a key quality gained from the mastering of this stage. When Jeannette is a toddler, she tumbles out of her parents’ car as her father was taking a sharp turn. She sat, injured, and waited for her parents to return. She waited for what seemed like a long time before I decided that Mom and Dad might not come back for me. Although she is passed the stage of infancy, it is clear that she did not develop trust in her parents and hence did not master Erikson’s first stage. She questions if they will even notice her absence, come back to get her and make sure she is okay. While her father claims he would never have left her, it is apparent that Jeannette developed an inherent distrust in her parents by even questioning their return. This distrust is never completely erased as she grows up, but she learns to cope with it and is still able to trust in herself, others, and the world around her.
Toddler is Erikson’s second stage and the crisis is autonomy versus doubt and shame. During this stage, a toddler learns that he or she is a separate entity from the parent and can exercise an independent will and a way to develop an identity away from the parent. For the child to successfully master this stage, a parent needs to properly balance encouragement and support with boundaries and without being too demanding. Jeannette exhibits a sense of autonomy when she cooks hotdogs for her family at a young age. While Jeannette displays her independence in this situation, her parents’ lack of guidance and boundaries is the reason she is injured by the fire from the stove. This experience, however, does not induce shame or doubt in Jeannette. Instead, she maintains her strong will.
Early childhood is Erikson’s third developmental stage and involves the crisis of initiative versus guilt. During this stage, a child begins planning and developing a sense of judgment. The child participates in risk-taking activities and guilt may result if the child cannot achieve the intended goal. A sense of guilt may also result in the child for not establishing initiative or successfully completing a task. Jeannette, as illustrated in the hotdog scene, demonstrates initiative. In...