By analyzing their characteristics, character development, and finding the irony in The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls, readers are able to better understand how the story unfolds. Jeannette is the main character in The Glass Castle and starts the book in the present tense with an encounter between herself and her mother, Rose Mary. Jeannette saw her mother on the side of the street digging through the dumpster for anything that she could find valuable. When Jeannette saw Rose Mary, she became “overcome with panic that she’d see [her] and call out [her] name” (Walls 3). Jeannette’s reaction could cause readers to assume that she worries about what other people think of her and that she is narcissistic. However, when Jeannette returns to her apartment she looks around.
As she does this, she says that she “could never enjoy the room without worrying about [her] [mom] and [dad] huddled on a sidewalk grate somewhere” (Walls 4). Originally, Jeannette avoided her own mother, Rose Mary, and this gives readers a negative look on Jeannette; however, because she later reflected and felt guilt, readers can now infer that she is kind. Readers later learn that Jeannette acted more as a parent than a child for much of her life because of her parents’ immaturity. This may explain why Jeannette avoided her mother. When the family was low on money Jeanette offered to “work out a budget and stick to it” in order to help the family out; however, Rose Mary refused to give Jeannette the money, and their way of living continued to suffer (Walls 198). With several events in Jeanette’s life similar to this, readers can understand why she would want to avoid her mother on the street.
The main characters in The Glass Castle all have similarities and differences. Rex Walls is an untrusting alcoholic, his wife, Rose Mary is an aspiring artist, and their kids are simply trying to get through childhood. Rose Mary tends to be soft-spoken; although she has strong opinions, she rarely voices them. She lived much of her life with Rex, and although he had been an alcoholic for many years, she did not say anything about his awful, damaging habit until it was too late. She asked him, “Do you think I like living like this? Do you” (Walls 69)? By this time, the family was already short on money and there was not much that she could do to fix the problem. Rose Mary was forced “into getting a teaching degree so she would have a job to fall back on just in case her dreams of becoming an artist didn’t pan out” (Walls 73). If she was more sure of herself and outspoken, she would not have allowed herself to be forced into anything. She simply would have pursued her passion. Because Rose Mary was so unsure of herself for so much of her life, she also lacked the ability to ask for help. Her own problems overwhelmed her and cause her to shut down rather than doing something to fix them.
When she worked as a teacher, Lori had to help “Mom with her lesson plans” (Walls 74). Rose Mary was a pushover that frequently gave up on herself because she did not have enough self-confidence. Rex and Rose Mary Walls make many questionable decisions that cause readers to wonder why they would do something so consequential. Many of these decisions seem ironic to most people. For example, when Rex drank alcohol, he became “an angry-eyed stranger who threw around furniture and threatened to beat up Mom or anyone else who got in his way” (Walls 23). With Rex behaving like this and being such a horrible person, readers may find it ironic that he ended up with such a perfect daughter, Jeannette. Rose Mary gave birth to Jeannette and while she was telling Jeannette the story of how it went, she said that Jeannette was the “longest, boniest thing the nurses had ever seen” (Walls 27). The ironic thing about this is that Rex Walls allowed his wife to have a baby with doctors even though he believed they were “heads-up-their-asses med-school quacks” (Walls 13).
Jeannette’s family was unique in their own way. They lived a tough lifestyle because of unwise decisions made by their parents. After analyzing the Walls’ characteristics, character development, and identifying the irony in The Glass Castle, readers now understand how hard work can get them through anything.
- Walls, Jeanette. The Glass Castle. New York City: Scribner, 2005