In “The Glass Castle” we see many different possibilities pertaining to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. We see the father, Rex and one of the daughters, Maureen, who fall victim to Maslow. Then there’s Jeanette and the mother, Rose Mary who have both seemed to achieve self-actualization regardless of their hardships. Traditionally, Maslow’s Hierarchy is thought to be achieved by working up from the bottom of the pyramid to get to the top. However, in “The Glass Castle” this is not particularly true. All the characters mentioned in this essay lacked safety and security, love and belonging, and psychological needs at some point during the novel. How they handled this though varies. “The Glass Castle” gives you a different view on this topic altogether. We see that whether or not Maslow’s Hierarchy is achieved, depends solely on the individual themselves.
The character we most clearly see represent Maslow is the father, Rex Walls. Throughout the book we see Rex battle alcohol addiction and struggle to provide for his family. When the family moves to Welch we learn that Rex was probably abused as a child which leads us to believe this is the source of his alcohol addiction. Since Rex never achieved the safety, and love and belonging chunks of Maslow, he was never able to reach his full potential. He always spoke of dreams, but never had determination to back them up. “But since we couldn’t afford to pay the town’s trash-collection fee, our garbage was really piling up. One day Dad told us to dump it in the hole. “But that’s for the Glass Castle,” I said. “It’s a temporary measure,” Dad told me.” (Walls 155). By seeing his dreams fall through, we can assume Rex never achieved self-actualization. Rex is never able to let his demons from his past go, causing him to never reach his full potential.
Another character we see never reach their full potential, is Maureen. Like her father Maureen is not able to let go of her past. Maureen was often neglected as a child, lacking the love and belonging needs of Maslow. “Afterward, I called Brian. “Do you think Maureen’s on drugs?” I asked. “If she’s not, she should be,” he said. “She’s gone nuts.” (Walls 275) Not soon after, the mother kicks Maureen out, and Maureen ends up stabbing her. Maureen is sent to a mental institution for a year then takes off to California.
Unlike her father and sister Jeanette shows us that it is capable to reach your full potential regardless of what you have gone through. Even through the hardships of her childhood Jeanette is set on moving to New York with Lori and becoming a reporter. By putting her past aside she is able to achieve this and finally reaches her full potential. “I still went into the office in the city once a week, but this was where John and I lived and worked, our home—the first house I’d ever owned. Mom and Lori admired the wide planked floorboards, the big fireplaces, and the ceiling beams made from locust posts, with gouge marks from the ax that had felled them.” Unlike any of the houses she lived in as a child, her current home goes above and beyond. If you compare Jeannette to her sister Maureen it’s clear that becoming all that you can be depends solely on yourself. Maureen went through the same experiences as Jeanette, yet Jeanette is the one who decides to do something with her life, while Maureen continues to let her life be the same as it always was.
The last character we see achieve self-actualization is the mother, Rose Mary. Throughout the book Rose Mary is constantly picking out positive from the negative. In the beginning of the book we learn that Jeanette tries to help her mother since her mother is homeless on the streets of New York, but her mother denies it. “I’d tried to help them countless times, but dad would insist they didn’t need anything, and mom would ask for something silly, like a perfume atomizer or a membership in a health club. They said they were living the way they wanted to.”(Walls 4) Rose Mary seems to be comfortable with her lifestyle and is still content with it at the end of the book. “After we sat down for dinner, mom told us her good news. She had been a squatter for almost fifteen years, the city had finally decided to sell the apartments to her and the squatters for one dollar apiece.”(Walls 288) Even though Rose Mary isn’t living in luxury, she is happy. And to be happy with where you’re at in life is basically achieving self-actualization.
Throughout the four examples I provided it’s clear that you are the writer to your own destiny. It’s about personal strength. The stronger a person you are, the more determined you are to make something of yourself. Unfortunately for Maureen’s’ case, she was too reliant on other people to be able to depend on herself. She was never able to break away and do something with her life, the same goes for her father. Rex did at least try to make his children’s’ life better than his own as a child, but he let his alcohol addiction get in the way of giving his kids, and himself the best life possible. Jeanette and Rose Mary however both managed to become happy, regardless. The Walls family most certainly did not have a perfect life, and they’ve been through more than some of us could possibly imagine, but the majority of them turned out pretty well, and that itself is a huge achievement.
To me personally, it seems determination is the key to following Maslow’s Hierarchy. To move up the pyramid you need to be determined, without determination you settle for what little you get, just like Maureen and Rex. The determination to be happy and the determination to do better for yourself is what will make the dream of self-actualization become possible. This however, depends on the person you are, and the outlook you have on life.