The Glass Castle

  • Study Guide
Summary

Part II: The Desert (Phoenix), continued

Summary Part II: The Desert (Phoenix), continued

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.