Summary: Part II (Phoenix), continued

As the Wallses drive to Phoenix, Jeannette looks forward to staying with Grandma Smith. Jeannette appreciates the structure and regular meals her grandmother provides. On the way, however, Mom reveals that Grandma Smith died months previously, and they are going to live in a property she inherited from the estate. Mom doesn’t understand why Jeannette is upset.

Mom inherited a 14-bedroom adobe property and a large sum of money, which she mostly spends on art supplies. Dad gets a steady job and joins an electricians’ union. He buys the children bicycles. The school buys Lori glasses, and she becomes obsessed with drawing all the details she is finally able to see. In school, the administration places the children in gifted classes.

Despite their material comfort, the Walls’ house is infested with termites. The house also lacks air conditioning, so they leave the doors and windows open at night. One night, a neighbor walks up to Jeannette’s room and molests her. Dad runs outside with Brian and Jeannette to chase down the offender, an activity they call Pervert Hunting. However, Mom and Dad still insist on keeping the doors and windows open at night.

After about a year in Phoenix, Dad starts drinking more and causing scenes in public. He shouts during Mass, and, once, breaks into the cheetah’s cage at the Phoenix Zoo. He loses his job around this time, and money is tight, but when Christmas comes Mom and the kids are able to buy a tree and small presents for everyone. On Christmas Day, Dad drinks so much that he shouts blasphemous curses during Christmas Mass, and when they get home, he lights the Christmas tree on fire, destroying all the presents.

For her tenth birthday, Jeannette asks Dad to stop drinking as her birthday present. Dad ties himself to his bed to detox, and is sober and healthy after a couple weeks. Though Brian and Lori are skeptical of their father’s commitment to sobriety, Jeannette believes that he will stay sober because it was his birthday present to her.

The family plans an exciting extended trip to the Grand Canyon, but the car breaks down on the way, and they are forced to walk home. And older woman picks them up and gives them a ride home, more than once referring to them as poor people. Jeannette retorts that they are not poor. Dad disappears as soon as they get home, and returns blackout drunk the next morning, dragging Mom from her hiding spot and tackling her to the ground. The kids hit Dad and try to make him stop, but he pins Mom down and makes her admit that she loves him. She eventually succumbs and the two embrace.

Mom receives a check from the oil company that leases some property she inherited from Grandma Smith, and buys a car for $1000. She plans to move the family to West Virginia, where she hopes Dad’s family will be able to help them. Dad opposes the idea at first, but ultimately agrees to go with them.

Analysis: Part II (Phoenix), continued

Jeannette’s time in Phoenix increases her doubt in her parents. Before the Walls family moved to Phoenix, Dad swore that the only thing preventing him from building the Glass Castle was a lack of capital, yet when Mom’s grand inheritance arrives and Dad gets a good union job, all discussion of the Prospector and the Glass Castle disappears. Dad’s lack of follow-through on his beautiful dream demonstrates a streak of laziness or perhaps implies that he never truly intended to build the castle at all. Furthermore, Mom and Dad’s unwillingness to work leads them to allow the house to fall into disarray, allowing termites to fester until they become a danger. The family’s inability to maintain stability even when given financial resources demonstrates that Mom and Dad are ultimately incapable of long-term planning and investment. When Jeannette asks Dad to quit drinking as her tenth birthday present, she discovers that not even love is proof against disappointment. To his credit, Dad makes an earnest attempt to quit, emphasizing that he does truly love Jeannette. Unfortunately, alcoholism makes no concessions for love, making this another lesson in her parents’ fallibility.

The Pervert Hunting incident demonstrates how Mom and Dad actively teach their children to avoid setting boundaries to keep themselves safe. Jeannette explicitly compares the activity to her childhood Demon Hunting adventures with Dad in Blythe. Dad used Demon Hunting to teach Jeannette that the best way to deal with an enemy was to show them no fear, an aggressive, reactionary approach to handling adversity. Whereas facing an imaginary demon with pluck and anger may teach courage, chasing down real intruders could put Jeannette in greater danger. Even though the neighborhood prowlers are a very real threat to Jeannette’s safety, Mom and Dad refuse to close the doors and windows at night, or to provide any practical solutions beyond vigilante “hunting.” Their belief that locking the door would mean giving into fear creates a definition of courage that equates protecting oneself as cowardly. This paradigm echoes their reaction to Jeannette setting herself on fire: better to be brave and put oneself in danger than to be a safe coward.

Jeannette’s reaction to Dad breaking into the cheetah cage shows why it is difficult for her to let go of her hero worship of him. Because Dad portrays himself as having exceptional intelligence that makes him above the rules, Jeannette believes that following Dad’s teachings makes her exceptional too. She demonstrates how seductive she finds this view of the world in her reaction to the spectators at the zoo. When Jeannette notices the onlookers gossip about her father’s drunkenness and her dirty appearance, she makes no note of any fear they might have had for the Walls children’s safety. Since we can assume that at least some of the spectators worried about children in a cheetah cage, Jeannette’s omission of these comments seems deliberate. By focusing only on the cosmetic comments, Jeannette can easily dismiss the onlookers in much the same way that she dismissed children who didn’t get stars for Christmas. Just as the children who got material gifts missed out on getting stars, these onlookers with their shallow conformity don’t get the exciting experience of a cheetah licking them.