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The Glass Castle is a 2005 memoir by Jeannette Walls detailing her harsh but passion-filled childhood. Jeannette felt a deep yet seemingly irrational bond with her dysfunctional family: her father Rex Walls, her mother Rose Mary Walls, her brother Brian, and her two sisters Lori and Maureen. Her father was a dreamer and an intelligent person who loved to teach his children about the Austrian physicist Ernst Mach, basic aerodynamics, and Chuck Yeager, but was a terrible alcoholic, who would smash the windows of their house sometimes in drunken rage, and once lit their only Christmas tree on fire. Her mother was an artist and a writer with a teaching degree but she had many mood swings toward her children and husband and had a much more childlike attitude than her children, who, by force of necessity, had matured quickly while she remained stubbornly childish. She was also incredibly egocentric, and Jeannette describes a time in her life when food for the Walls family was scarce, and the children barely ate a meal a day, yet their mother was gaining weight. They soon discovered that she was secretly eating candybars, and when it was discovered, she acted like a child, saying that it was hers, and she didn't want to share it. Rex was always a bright man and had taught his children everything they knew, but his drinking was perhaps the greatest problem of the family. Rose Mary could not stand the responsibility of providing for her family, so the children had to take care of themselves. It seemed like their parents accepted the philosophy of laissez-faire for upbringing their children, and upheld the principle rigorously.

The family traveled everywhere they could from Arizona and California to Battle Mountain, Nevada and Welch, West Virginia. Jeannette never really had a place to call "home" and tried to make the most out of the places they stayed. School was also an issue when moving at various times and the children's education was scattered and incomplete, yet the children had innate brightness and managed to do best in the areas they wished to excel in.

The symbol of the Glass Castle was engendered by Rex Walls. He promised his children that one day they would find gold and become rich. He would then use that money and create the most amazing place that they could call home, all created from glass. This dream was never fulfilled, even though Rex drew elaborate blueprints, and it became yet another promise that Rex Walls had broken to his family.

Jeannette, meanwhile, suffered from many things, ranging from embarrassment of her family's situation (using markers to color her skin to camoflauge holes in her clothes) to the downright horrific (her father allowing a man at a bar to take her alone to a room).

Fortunately, Jeannette's future was brighter than her childhood. She eventually saved enough money (even after her father stole all the money she had been gathering once) to help her sister, Lori, move to New York City at the age of seventeen, and later, Jeannette moved there as well, staying in Lori's apartment for a while. She soon married and became a journalist, later getting a college degree to upgrade to a larger magazine. Brian had also gotten married and had children. Lori became an artist like her mother and lived her idea of a perfect life. Rex and Rose Mary Walls came and joined their children in New York City, and lived in the streets as homeless people, a situation that horrified Jeannette, who was both embarrassed by her parents, wondering what to tell people who asked about her parents, and ashamed, for living in a nice apartment while her parents had nothing. But her mother looked at being homeless as "an adventure" instead of something degrading. And these very original characters are what make this memoir different from many others. "Jeannette Walls".  </ref> and her later successful writing career.

The memoir stayed on New York Times Best Seller list for 100 weeks[1] and is now under development as a film by Paramount.[2] By late 2007, The Glass Castle had sold over 1.5 million copies, had been translated into 16 languages, and received the Christopher Award, the American Library Association's Alex Award (2006) and the Books for Better Living Award.[3]

Main Characters

Jeannette Walls is the second-oldest daughter in a family of four children. She is the narrator of the story, which is told in the first person from her point of view. Jeannette feels as though she is the only member of her family who has complete, unwavering faith in her father. She respects him, and thinks of him as a brilliant, heroic, and devoted father—that is, when he is sober. Throughout the book, she begins to question her faith and his abilities as he is drunk more often and appears less and less to take care of his children and wife.

Rex Walls is the alcoholic father of Jeannette and her siblings Lori, Brian, and Maureen. He was once in the Air Force, where he was known for his spirit of adventure and refusal to abide by the rules. These are both evident as Jeannette describes the nomadic nature of her parents: roaming from town to town at the end of each month to avoid bill collectors, “roughing it” (that is, carrying as few belongings as possible), and their obvious love of nature and the outdoors. Rex is described as being quite handsome. From the beginning, he always showed love towards his children and although violent while drunk, he did not become physical with them. As the children grow older, Rex seems to be away from home more often, draining the family’s resources that his young adolescent son and daughters work for. When the children confront him about this abandonment, he becomes offended because he used to pride himself on being able to protect and care for his family. He is embarrassed about disappointing them. Despite multiple attempts to become sober, Rex always returned to the bottle.

Rose Mary Walls is Jeannette’s mother, an artist, free spirit and self-described “excitement addict”. She is often trying to convince her children that they should appreciate the suffering that they endure, and that a rough life has made them better people. She does not contribute to the family income until her children beg her to teach at the school they attend. Rose Mary appears to be lazy, but it becomes clear that it comes out of being depressed and feeling defeated by her husband.


  • Walls, Jeannette. The Glass Castle. New York: Scribner, 2005. Print.

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