August 17, 2012 The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
The Glass Castle is a startling memoir of Jeanette Walls’ unorthodox childhood. She wrote her memoir as if she were the age she was in the time being described. Jeanette’s misadventures are portrayed as exciting and whimsical, when in fact she and her family faced extreme poverty and hunger on almost a daily basis. This style of story telling is sad because it is obvious she tells it this way because that was how her parents explained life to her and her siblings, attempting to trick them into believing their poor parenting was acceptable.
Jeanette’s father was an intelligent yet extremely irresponsible man. Reading his lies and explanations made me mad that a parent would let their children go without life essentials because they would rather spend a night in a bar. I find his character the most irritating because he is portrayed as extremely smart and brimming with potential, but rather than settle down and work his way up in a stable job he wastes the family’s money on selfish desires and imaginary inventions. He has plans to invent a gold-seeking machine, which was his excuse for making the family run to dozens of shanty-towns in the Arizona desert. Once this magical machine, named the Prospector, found gold, he would build the family a beautiful, self-sustaining house made of Glass in the desert; The Glass Castle.
The saddest part in the first section of this book was when Jeanette’s father discovers that his children have no lunches for school because there is no food in the house. He surprises Jeanette and her brother Brian during lunch with a large bag of groceries. He says, “Have I ever let you down?” but as he walks away Brian whispers, “Yes.” Throughout Jeanette’s childhood Brian has always been her playmate and confidant, even though he is younger than her it is obvious that she looks up to him. Brian and their older sister, Lori, are starting to realize that their lives aren’t the amazing adventures that their parents are describing, and are beginning to resent them. Jeannette is her father’s favorite, and she struggles to stifle the similar thoughts arising in her mind as a child.
As the years go by Jeannette’s father becomes less and less functioning, his drunken rages become more frequent and his appearances around their home become infrequent. Once, he sits her down and tells her, “ I swear, honey, there are times when I think you’re the only one around who still has faith in me, I don’t know what I’d do if you ever lost it.” But as she listens to this Jeannette is already struggling to maintain that faith as her fun loving father is replaced with the stealing, angry drunk that he later becomes. Meanwhile Jeannette’s mother is anything but an angel. When they move to Welch, West Virginia the children find her smuggling a family sized Hershey’s bar in bed while they are sitting around ignoring the fact that they have no dinner. She cries that she’s an addict like their father and they should forgive her like they forgive him. The irony of this is that by now none of the children view their dad in the idolizing way they had as children, and see him only every few days as he drunkenly stumbles through their house. The children begin to attempt to earn money for themselves, but living in the dirt-poor town of Welch and being the poorest and the dirtiest family, they struggle to find anyone willing to pay much for their efforts. Finally, realizing that they need help, Jeannette begs her mother to leave her Dad. This is extremely important because Jeannette was always the one who kept faith and support in her father, and doing so shows that she now has none left. Her mother refuses, but allows Jeannette to push her into taking a teaching job once more. The money still evaporates faster than it trickles in.