What is the glass castle?

The glass castle is one of Rex’s biggest dreams, and a future plan that he and Jeannette share and bond over. Rex is a self-taught engineering genius. His abilities with math, physics, and engineering are incredible, especially considering his lack of formal education. Rex dreams of making something unique and impressive, so he draws up architectural blueprints of the glass castle, a house he’s designed to be made entirely out of glass. Rex foresees that he’ll build the house in the desert, his favorite landscape, where the constant sunlight will allow them to live entirely self-sufficiently through solar power. Every time the family is forced to move to a new town, Rex brings the blueprints with him, promising his children that once he finds a way to strike it rich, he’ll start work on the glass castle for him.

As the children age, it becomes increasingly clear to them that their father will never build the glass castle. The glass castle becomes a metaphor for the life that the Walls family leads. At first, their free-spirited life, like the glass castle, is a wonderful and adventurous idea, but it becomes increasingly disappointing as time goes on. The glass castle represents both Rex’s many failures and broken promises, but it also illustrates the potential that Rex had and everything he planned and wanted to do for his family. The tragedy of the glass castle is that Rex might actually have succeeded in building it – and in raising a loving, healthy family there – if he hadn’t succumbed to substance abuse and untreated trauma.

How does Jeannette get her scars?

At the age of three, Jeannette cooks hot dogs on the stove without adult supervision. She’s wearing a tutu, and it catches fire. Jeannette is frozen in fear and is unable to call out to her mother until the fire has eaten away much of her clothes and severely burned her skin. Her mother puts the fire out by wrapping her in a blanket and takes her immediately to the hospital, but Jeannette’s burns are so bad that they require skin grafts. She retains a large, scarred patch of skin on her abdomen for the rest of her life. When Jeannette is in high school, boys find her scars unattractive, but later, her husband John calls them “textured,” and says he finds textured things more interesting than smooth things. She has found a partner who accepts all of her, including her physical and emotional scars.

Why does the Walls family keep moving from place to place?

In Jeannette’s early childhood, the Walls family moves frequently throughout the southwestern United States. While Rex and Rose Mary sincerely enjoy adventuring and being on the move, they’re often forced to change locations due to getting in trouble with the law or struggling to keep a job. For instance, their first move happens because they don’t pay their bills. Bill collectors come after them, so they pick up and escape to a new state. Furthermore, while Rex is easily able to land a job due to his intelligence and charisma, he always ends up quitting or being fired, sometimes exhausting all the available job opportunities in the small, poverty-stricken towns the Walls family settle in. The family seems to have found their groove in Phoenix after Rose Mary’s mother leaves her a house, but Rex’s alcoholism and Rose Mary’s resistance to working eventually cause their money to run out. Welch becomes the longest stay the Walls children have experienced, but unfortunately, that’s not a good thing. The misery of the mining town exacerbates the family’s problems, and they feel stuck. In their final move, each family member eventually ends up in New York City, where most of the children stay throughout their young adulthood, and where Rex eventually dies. The Walls family only manages to stay put for so long because, by the time they’ve moved to New York, the children rather than the parents have taken control of their situation.

Did Erma Walls sexually abuse Rex Walls?

When Jeannette catches Erma sexually molesting Brian, she attempts to tell her father what occurred, but he’s unusually resistant to listening or understanding. His behavior leads her to wonder if he perhaps suffered similar abuse at Erma’s hands. Later in the story, Uncle Stanley, Erma’s other son, molests Jeannette by touching her thigh while masturbating. The amount of sexual abuse that occurs during the Walls family’s time in Welch implies that the abuse may be a cyclical occurrence in the family. Erma’s molestation of Brian shows that she is an abuser, and Uncle Stanley’s molestation of Jeannette suggests the possibility that he may have learned this behavior from experiencing it at Erma’s hands during his own childhood. If Stanley was molested, it’s not only possible but likely that Rex was molested as well. Considering Erma’s incredibly difficult childhood, it wouldn’t be surprising if she had also been a victim of abuse before perpetuating the cycle. While it’s never confirmed if Rex suffered sexual abuse by his own mother, it could explain his reluctance to return to Welch and his inability to accept or empathize with what happened to Brian.

What happens to Maureen?

Maureen is often separated from the rest of her siblings, mostly due to her age. While Lori, Jeannette, and Brian are each only a few years apart, Maureen is far younger, and therefore isn’t often included in their group. Her childhood is marked by imaginary friends, showcasing her loneliness and isolation. When the family arrives in Welch, Maureen makes real friends and spends much of her time staying at the houses of wealthier people, furthering the divide between her and her siblings. When Maureen is 12, the siblings, now established in New York, invite her to live with them and she happily comes. Unfortunately, Rex and Rose Mary move to New York shortly after, and Maureen never truly escapes her parents’ influence. She, Lori, Rex, and Rose Mary live together in Lori’s cramped apartment, and Maureen is once again sucked into her parents’ toxic dynamic.

In her young adulthood, Maureen lives with her parents in sketchy and unstable shelters. Her beauty enables her to turn to men to pay for her necessities, but these transactional relationships are unhealthy and short-lived. She sinks into drug abuse and eventually is arrested for stabbing Rose Mary after being kicked out of the apartment they’re squatting in. Her arrest leads to a stint in a rehabilitation facility, after which Maureen cuts ties with the entire family and moves to California, which, since her childhood, has been a state that represents comfort, beauty, and opportunity. At the end of the novel, a reconciliation between Maureen and the family is hinted at, but much of her adult life is spent entirely distanced from the rest of the Walls, a necessity for Maureen to preserve her mental health.