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Dad buys a very small, precariously built house on Little Hobart Street. Mom admonishes the kids to notice the positives about the house, but it has no heat or indoor plumbing. They usually can’t afford to have the electricity turned on. Nevertheless, the house sits on a lot of land, and Dad promises to soon start construction on the Glass Castle.
Dad is rarely home despite not having a job in Welch. He says he is investigating the United Miners Workers labor union, though Jeannette doesn’t quite believe him. In order to help Dad get started on the Glass Castle, Brian and Jeannette dig a large hole in the ground for the foundation. Over time, however, the family starts filling the pit with garbage because they can’t afford the garbage collection fee. Jeannette tries to improve the front of their home by painting it yellow, but a cold snap comes in and freezes the can of paint before she can finish.
Most of the Walls’ neighbors on Little Hobart Street live on welfare. The Hall family, for example, has six middle-aged kids with severe mental disabilities. The oldest, Kenny Hall, has a crush on Jeannette, and the other neighborhood kids torment him for it. The Pastor family, helmed by the town’s sex worker, Ginnie Sue Pastor, has nine children. Curious, Jeannette befriends Ginnie Sue’s daughter, Kathy, and goes to their house for dinner. Jeannette notices that the Pastor kids look remarkably different from one another. She impresses the Pastors with her ability to pick the meat from a chicken and with stories about Las Vegas and Phoenix. Jeannette enjoys her evening with the Pastors and concludes that sex work, at least, puts food on the table.
Violence is also very common in Welch. The Walls children regularly fight gangs of other kids who make fun of them for being so poor. One day, a classmate named Ernie Goad throws a rock through their window and makes fun of them for living in garbage. To retaliate, Brian and Jeannette fashion a catapult from a mattress and fire dozens of rocks down the mountain at dangerous speeds. When Ernie and his friends run away terrified, Jeannette and Brian celebrate in the street.
One night, Dad comes home drunk with several injuries, and Jeannette has to give him sutures by hand. After that, Dad starts disappearing for days at a time, claiming that he is developing the technology to burn coal more efficiently. Jeannette no longer believes him. Mom still occasionally receives lease money from her land in Texas, but it is hardly enough to survive. The family eats poorly and irregularly, sometimes having to resort to cat food or ham with maggots.
Brian and Jeannette begin foraging for food around their house, stealing from people’s farms, and dumpster diving in order to survive. Their classmates make fun of them for being skinny and not having lunch at school. Maureen survives by making friends and going to their homes for dinner. Once, the kids catch Mom eating a Hershey bar under the blanket. Brian takes it from her and splits it into four pieces for the kids.
This section signals the end of many things, including the Glass Castle and Jeannette’s confidence in Dad. Jeannette and Brian's attempt to help Dad build the Glass Castle by digging the foundation represents a last chance for Dad to follow through on his promises. When the family starts filling this hole with garbage because they can’t afford the city’s garbage collection fee, Jeannette can no longer ignore the emptiness and worthlessness of Dad’s promises. Jeannette and her siblings follow the trend of earlier sections and band closer together, with the exception of Maureen. Jeannette and Brian resort to stealing and digging through the trash for food, which they share. We can compare Jeannette’s response to this great disappointment to the lessons she learned from Dad’s swimming lesson in the Hot Pot. As with the Hot Pot, Jeannette has realized that she can’t afford to rely on Dad, but this reliance results not in gratitude toward Dad but anger and frustration.
The contrast between the other poor families in Welch and the Walls family emphasizes that Mom and Dad’s selfishness lies at the root of their problems. Dad’s fanciful stories of exposing union corruption echoes his earlier tales of heroics, but he can no longer charm his starving children. Mom’s platitudes about seeing the positive in the house serve to hide her responsibility for the family’s situation. By encouraging her children to think positively, Mom implies the children’s attitude causes their misery, not their desperate situation. This rhetoric allows her to ignore the severity of the family’s problems and avoid putting in the work to solve them. Jeannette’s observation of her neighbors makes her parents’ culpability even clearer. Although some of Walls’ neighbors face even greater challenges and poverty, they still manage to put food on the table and not live in filth. Jeannette’s observation that Ginnie Sue Pastor feeds her children responds directly to her mom’s judgement of the women at the Green Lantern. Mom may view herself as better than a sex worker, but her philosophy and art doesn’t make money. Throughout this section, Jeannette comes to the painful realization that her parents have chosen to starve their family.
As Jeannette grows older, we see her enact the positive lessons she’s learned from her parents while rejecting their hurtful patterns. For example, Jeannette reveals herself to be uniquely compassionate and open-minded, like Mom teaches her to be. When some neighborhood girls try to recruit Jeannette into the Junior KKK, she declines. As Jeannette describes how often they fought other children in Welch, she considers the larger contributing factors that led to a culture a violence, including union uprisings, dangerous labor laws, multi-generational trauma, an assessment that is both astute and free of judgment. Her description here demonstrates Mom’s belief that one must always consider the suffering of others before they react or judge. However, Jeannette rejects her Mom’s belief that true compassion involves never setting boundaries. When other kids torment Kenny Hall, their mentally disabled, middle-aged neighbor, Jeannette shows him kindness, but she firmly tells him she doesn’t date older men when he asks her out. Just as Jeannette and Lori’s defense of Brian shows an end to accepting generational trauma, Jeannette here puts an end to her mother’s toxic socialization around boundaries.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Glass Castle!