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Jeannette ties the story of her coming of age to her complicated feelings for her parents, showing her growth through their evolving relationship. More so than her siblings, Jeannette worships her parents and believes that they have her best interests at heart. As she begins to lose faith in them, Jeannette spares their feelings by picking up the slack herself, getting a job and managing finances without actively challenging their authority. She doesn’t truly give up on them until her Dad whips her for actively calling Mom and Dad out on their negligence. From here on, she stops trying to save her family unit and works to save herself and her siblings. During her college years in New York, her hero worship of her parents transforms into anger and shame, both toward them and herself. She enacts this shame by marrying Eric, a wealthy man whom she primarily loves for being nothing like Dad. By Part V, Jeannette’s anger has subsided into acceptance. Her choice to marry John, who admires her scars, demonstrates that she can now appreciate the difficulties she went through.
Throughout the memoir, Jeannette avoids drawing any straightforward conclusions about her childhood, reflecting the complicated way her parents both hurt and helped her. The undue suffering caused by her parents’ recklessness produced the very qualities Jeannette needed to move to New York City and create a thriving journalism career out of nothing. Her happiness at the end, along with her continued relationship with her mother, shows that she considers her past to be like her scars: reflective of real pain but now only a sign that she survived. Jeannette’s understated narrative style also shows an inability to completely judge her parents. She recounts events as they happen, trying to capture how she felt about them at the time with very few moments of adult self-reflection. By not interjecting her adult perspective, she allows her childhood to speak for itself, neither actively condemning nor defending her parents. She instead leaves judgement up to the reader, suggesting that she cannot bring herself to do so.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Glass Castle!