The Glass Castle, A Memoir

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27th Apr 2017 English Literature Reference this

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Its the Joshua trees struggle that gives it its beauty. This prominent line from The Glass Castle, a memoir written by American writer and journalist, Jeannette Walls, clearly portrays the hardships the Walls family went through. Those adversities are what make the family so distinctive and eccentric. Their individuality is defined by their dysfunctional upbringing. The struggles that Jeannette and her siblings went through in their infancy assisted in forming them into beautiful individuals from the inside. And that, to her mother, Rosemary Walls, was far more significant than having the sheltered, ordinary life that Jeannette desired for herself. The memoir itself articulates the enthralling story of growing up with no perpetual residence; with parents who chose to live their life that way because they repudiated to conform to society’s philosophies of responsibility and upbringing; leaving her, along with her siblings, to fend for themselves for even the utmost rudimentary essentials, such as nourishment and shelter. Jeannette conveys her story in a forthright manner that is not alluded with rage or self-pity, contradicting occasions that frequently surprise one with her almost ingenuous exhibition of the facts. Certain ideologies indicated by the main character that seemingly are not parallel with physical reality, restrict one from believing in them and thus, makes one question the validity of the experiences. Throughout the memoir, one can see that many of the situations Jeannette finds herself in are heart wrenching and apocryphal. Many of these events consist of unscrupulous parenting, several junctures of abuse, and poverty.

Unscrupulous parenting is the reason behind many of the dangerous and life-threatening situations Jeannette, as well as her siblings, find themselves in. Towards the beginning of the memoir, Jeannette is seen cooking hot dogs at the age of three. The circumstance where a parent allows an infant to operate a stove and give them the approval to do so is highly improbable. Jeannette describes her earliest memory as,

I stood up and started stirring the hot dogs again, I felt a blaze of heat on my right side…I watched the yellow-white flames make a ragged brown line up the pink fabric of my skirt and climb my stomach…I smelled the burning and heard a horrible crackling as the fire singed my hair and eyelashes (Walls 9).

By allowing Jeannette to surround herself with dangerous appliances unsupervised, results in her being severely injured and being rushed to the hospital. This situation in itself is atrocious and depicts the neglect presented by her parents. The role of being a parent means caring for your children and having their safety be the very first priority. Rex and Rosemary Walls fail to fulfill this role when they,

Rented a great big U-Haul truck. Mom explained that since only she and Dad could fit in the front of the U-Haul, Lori, Brian, Maureen, and I were in for a treat: We got to ride in the back. It would be fun, she said, a real adventure…Suddenly, with a bang, we hit a huge pothole and the back doors on the U-Haul flew open (Walls 48).

The event makes one question whether the Walls’ were the finest individuals to be raising children. Leaving their three young children, Lori, Jeannette, and Brain in the back of a truck does not solidify their credibility as parents or their way of parenting. It is equivocal that parents who are fully capable of ensuring the safety of their children would place their kids in that form of endangerment. It is apparent that Rex and Rosemary care for their children; however, their need to escape the contemporary world is resulting in their children having to suffer the consequences it presents. Mr. and Mrs. Walls uphold self-sufficiency to a very high degree. In the memoir, many incidents of serious nature are brushed off as if they are not severe. An instance of this is when Rex Walls is teaching Jeannette how to swim:

“Sink or swim!” he called out. For the second time, I sank. The water once more filled my nose and lungs. I kicked and flailed and thrashed my way to the surface, gasping for air, and reached out to dad. But he pulled back, and I didn’t feel his hands around me until I’d sunk one more time (Walls 66).

The Walls endorse self-sufficiency so greatly that they are alacritous to philander with death. On each occasion where the Walls valued self-sufficiency over the wellbeing of their children, had things not gone the way they did, Jeannette’s life could have been outrageously destroyed. The aforementioned scenarios all prove contextual evidence of unscrupulous parenting to the extent that they seem questionably unrealistic.

Abusive propensities are noticeable throughout the memoir; vacillating from physical, sexual, all the way down to emotional. Many of these circumstances raise inquiries towards whether Jeannette will grow up and have the aptitude to lead a regular life, considering any type of abuse is notorious for having a lasting and unfathomable effect on any being who has experienced it. On the many horrendous occurrences that Jeannette has been abused, she seems to have taken it with a form of ordinariness which is unrealistic. One of the first cases of abuse is seen when the Walls move to Welch. Jeannette is asked to “brush it off” which is extremely implausible. The abuse took place when Jeannette was seated with her uncle, Stanley,

I felt Stanley’s hand creeping onto my thigh…so I knocked his hand away without saying anything. A few minutes later, the hand came creeping back. I looked down and saw that Uncle Stanley’s pants were unzipped and he was playing with himself…I hurried out to Mom. “Mom, Uncle Stanley is behaving inappropriately,” I said. ‘Oh, you’re probably just imagining it,’ she said” (Walls 183-184).

It is appalling that no attention is paid when Jeannette attempts to seek protection and assistance after having to experience such disgusting behaviour. Furthermore, Jeannette was placed in a position that could have resulted in her being taken advantage of. Rex Walls persuades her to go to a bar with him in hopes of receiving some money by using her as the source,

Dad and I took seats at the bar. Dad ordered Buds for himself and me, even though I told him I wanted a Sprite. A man came over and sat…he shouted at Dad “I’m going to take your girl upstairs.” “Sure.” Dad said. “Just don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” (Walls 211-212).

After utilizing Jeannette to propel money from a man in the bar, Rex expresses no concern or remorse about allowing a stranger to be alone with Jeannette. This leaves Jeannette with a sense of disloyalty and betrayal from Rex. Another instance where Jeanette was faced with abuse is when her father, Rex, was furious after hearing Jeannette’s opinion of her mother and her actions. Due to this, he beat Jeannette several times with a belt,

Dad dropped his hand. He pulled his belt out of the loops on his work pants and wrapped it a couple of times around his knuckles… there were six stinging blows on the backs of my thighs, each accompanied by a whistle of air. I could feel the welts rising even before I straightened up (Walls 220).

Jeannette suffered the consequences of stating her opinion by being physically abused in a manner that could have resulted in serious injuries. All these events illustrate the repulsive behaviour Jeannette had to tolerate by people she trusted and considered family. What makes these events quixotic is how easily they were ignored and taken lightly. Individuals (no matter how tough and stable), who suffer from abuse, whether it be physical, emotional, and/or sexual, have an exceptionally difficult time getting over their past and leading a normal life. In the memoir, Jeannette is able to live a normal adulthood despite having to experience the different forms of abuse that she did. That in itself is an unlikely scenario.

Poverty is a major struggle in the memoir. It is the reason behind many of the disputes that the Walls family faces. A majority of Jeannette’s experiences that revolve around poverty though awfully tragic, are particularly impractical. Due to Jeannette’s penurious lifestyle, she describes despicable actions that should not be endured by a child. The Walls family was not in possession of a refrigerator, which in turn, demolished the only food they had, “Mom bought us a whole canned ham…I went to saw myself a slab at dinnertime and found it crawling with little white worms” (Walls 172). The indication that the only source of sustenance had become rotten and one had to resort to eating something crawling with worms is both catastrophic and repulsive to the magnitude that it becomes unrealistic and a threat to one’s health-especially a child’s. Similarly, as a result of having a shortage of money and resources, Jeannette and her siblings often went hungry and did not have any source of nourishment to help them get through their day. Due to this, the children found themselves, “rooting in the garbage at school for food” (Walls 197). The fact that the Walls children had to resort to searching through trash cans is abysmal. It is tragic that their parents are not able to provide them with basic needs in order for them to be healthy and survive. Towards the end of the memoir, both Rex and Rosemary Walls spend a few years of their life homeless. Rosemary Walls insists, “Being homeless is an adventure” (Walls, 255). Rosemary attempts to rationalize the problematic life a vagrant being leads by indicating that it has the potential of being an exhilarating life, regardless of the continuous privations. This reasoning comes off as suspiciously fictitious for the reason that ordinary people would make an effort of bettering their lives instead of simply surrendering and considering themselves homeless. Most people view being homeless as the last and final option. Viewing it as an adventure not only makes one interrogate the sanity of an individual, but the reasons behind their thoughts and intentions. As a result, Rosemary’s reasoning comes off as erroneous.

Through suffering complications such as unscrupulous parenting, various junctures of abuse, and poverty, Jeannette Walls’ preceding experiences in her memoir, The Glass Castle, seem to be exceedingly unrealistic and fictitious. The copious amounts of disquieting and malicious manifestations in her memoir makes one question the validity of the events in the memoir. Some may find that the occasions Jeannette describes appear to be authentic to a certain degree as they are written in a memoir and told with such detail and passion. Nonetheless, if these indistinguishable endeavors were expressed by an ordinary being, one might simply repudiate them as embellished accounts of an avant-garde life.

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