The Glass Castle

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Summary

Part III: Welch (Little Hobart Street), continued

Summary Part III: Welch (Little Hobart Street), continued

Analysis: Part III (Little Hobart Street), continued

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.