Growing up in a Dysfunctional Family and its Emotional Side in “The Glass Castle”

Check out more papers on The Glass Castle

Jeanette Walls' memoir The Glass Castle delves into the emotional side of growing up in a deeply dysfunctional family in the lowest bracket of poverty in America. Her memoir begins at her earliest memories of her childhood at around age three in the South Western desert region of the United States and continues through her teen years in the poorest region of Appalachia in a small town called Welch, West Virginia and finally to her young adult years in New York City and uncountable places her family was forced to move in between. Through her own personal stories, she illustrates the struggles of growing up in starvation level poverty while having an alcoholic father and eccentric, irresponsible mother and also how her family, though dysfunctional, manages to survive by maintaining and inexhaustible level of optimism and unconditional love for one another. Walls tells her detailed account of these events in her life, writing with an unsentimental but somewhat nostalgic tone, a strong use of the literary device Pathos, and simple but descriptive syntax and prose diction to match her childlike perspective and cultural background.

In The Glass Castle, Walls seems to tell her story accurately as it happened, not seeming to be emotionally invested in or sentimental about any particular memory her self. The tone is only somewhat nostalgic as she describes her more favorable parts of childhood, but doesn't go into any further details about her feelings or thoughts about them, only using details to describe the setting and events themselves. However, throughout the memoir there is strong use of Pathos, Walls' rough and disturbing and impoverished childhood evokes an emotional response from readers. Each memory from her childhood is descriptively recounted with great detail so they come alive and allow the reader to feel the emotional hardships that Walls went through.

Particularly Walls' recollections of her mother and father evoke an emotional response because they may relate to readers in a number of different ways as alcoholism, violence, poverty are common in society. Other readers may relate to Jeannette's parents because of their unconditional love towards their children. Walls' father, Rex Walls, was an alcoholic and his alcoholism and bad temper were the main reasons that the Walls family was constantly on the move and that they were often short on money for basic necessities such as food, shelter and clothing. While a good teacher to Jeanette and a charismatic man with imaginative dreams, he was violent and angry when drunk, which he was often, and his goals were often unattainable and his promises empty. As a young child, Jeannette believed in all of her father's stories and plans but as she grew older she began to realize her father would never fulfill his goals simply because they were unrealistic. Jeannette recalls one of her father's plans that, as expected, fell through. "When Dad wasn't telling us about all the amazing things he had already done, hewas telling us about the wondrous things he was going to do. Like build the Glass Castle. All of Dad's engineering skills and mathematical genius were coming together in one special project: a great big house he was going to build for us in the desert... It would have a glass ceiling and thick glass walls and even a glass staircase...All we had to do was find gold, Dad said, and we were on the verge of that. Once he finished the Prospector and we'd struck it rich, he'd start work on our Glass Castle".

It wasn't until Jeannette was leaving Welch for New York that she finally realized that her father would never fulfill his dreams. "I stared at the plans. “Dad," I said, “you'll never build the Glass Castle". This was not only Jeannette stating this fact to her father, it was her finally admitting to herself that her father wasn't ever going to come through for her the way that he promised and that she would have to do things on her own. However, though her father was drunk most of the time his main goal was still to provide for his family and always put them first.

When Walls is in her young adult years and is enrolled in Barnard College, she finds herself short of a thousand dollars in tuition. Even though her father is homeless on the streets of New York City, he makes almost a thousand dollars playing gambling and insists on using it to pay for Jeanette's remaining tuition, saying "since when is it wrong for a father to take care of his little girl." This shows that he still sees himself responsible for his children and had the intention of being a good father. For readers this sparks different emotional responses. At first they may be appalled and horrified or even angry towards Walls' father's violent behavior and alcoholism and in ability to follow through on his promises. However the may begin to feel more  sentimental as they see that he had good intentions and loved his children unconditionally.

Walls' mother was an eccentric painter who had a free spirited personality and never ending optimism and a dream of becoming rich after her art career took off. However this optimism could have been seen as somewhat delusional as it was often her mother's way of escaping from the realty of their poverty and a way to avoid solving the family's many problems, which were mostly as a result of their poverty. She did not want to take responsibility for the life she had created and did not act as Jeanette believed a mother should. She recalled that mother once said, “Why do I always have to be the one who earns the money... You have a job. You can earn money. Lori can earn money, too. I've got more important things to do" This shows Walls' mother refusing to accept her responsibilities as a mother and instead passing them on to her children. This is an example of Pathos because this would likely bring forth emotions and reactions from readers as the role of an ideal mother as a good supporter and caretaker is embedded in society. Jeannette's mother clearly doesn't fit that ideal image, so her irresponsible behavior and refusal to adopt a motherly role may come as a shock to readers.

Sometimes her optimism would falter and she would become upset or discouraged then do nothing at all, refusing to get out of bed which possibly indicated that Jeannette's mother wasn't as content with the life she was living as she wanted her children to believe she was. However, overall, her mother's optimism at times did hold the family together in tough times and she had her own ways of teaching her children mostly by encouraging them to think positively and pursue their goals. Walls' also remembers her mother positive sayings such as "Life is a drama full of tragedy and comedy," mom told me. "You should learn to enjoy the comic episodes a little more". In a was the Walls children's parents were the motivating force for them to finally escape poverty and leave behind the negative aspects of their rough lives.

Walls' memoir doesn't only provide a story about her own personal life, but gives readers a glimpse into a life of extreme poverty in America. The Walls also recalls her memories of her neighbors in Appalachia who she claimed were poorer and had worse lives than even her family had. "The family who had it the toughest on Little Hobart Street, I would say, was the Pastors. The mother, Ginnie Sue Pastor, was the town whore. Ginnie Sue Pastor was thirty-three years old and had eight daughters and one son. Their names all ended in Y. Her husband, Clarence Pastor, had black lung and sat on the front porch of their huge sagging house all day long, but he never smiled or waved at passerby. Just sat there like he was frozen. Everyone in town said he'd been impotent for years and none of the Pastor kids was his".

The reader has to acknowledge that The Glass Castle is not a fictional novel; it is Jeanette Walls' true story memoir. The events and people that she recounted were real and that people in the United States really live the way Walls' described. This is an example of good use of Pathos. It brings forth strong reactions and emotions from readers as they think about the real-life horrors that exist in the poorest parts of America that they may not have realized existed or had never wanted to think about before. Readers may have feelings of sympathy towards the people living in poverty that arise after reading Walls' memoir and also feelings of guilt because they have material luxuries that families like the Walls or the Pastors could never have and take basic needs such as food and shelter for granted. It may even make readers reconsider how grateful they are for the lives they have.

In Jeannette Walls' memoir, she also chose to use prose diction and fairly straightforward, clear but descriptive syntax. Her choice of prose, simple diction reflects the child's perspective from which the story is told and also the mostly unsentimental tone that Walls feels towards her memories of her childhood. The diction also exhibits the vernacular of the cultural regions in which Walls grew up. For example, Walls' father “...called people “pardner" or "goomba" and the principle of Walls' new school in Welch pronounces 'what's eight times seven?' like "...something that sounded like "Wuts et tahm sebm"? By choosing to use West Virginia pronunciations and slang in her dialogue, Walls makes her memoir more realistic for readers by recreating conversations exactly the way the people she encountered would have spoken them. This is a use of Pathos because it makes the reader feel that the events Walls' accounted are accurate which may evoke a stronger emotional response.

Her clear and straightforward, simple syntax also reflects her childlike perspective as she recounts events in her life but also further establishes the unsentimental tone of the memoir. She states facts of her memories matter-of-factly as they happened to her, using description to exemplify the details of events, not going deeply into her emotions about any of her memories. However, the straightforward syntax and prose diction that Walls used does not take away from the emotional side of her story. Walls simply let her story tell its self, not feeling the need to add extra complexities to enhance it and keeping her perspective childlike. For example when she reminisces about her experience in the hospital receiving burn treatment when she was three years old, Walls goes into detail about the setting and events occurring, but not her emotions, keeping her sentence structure short and simple while still using adjectives to add details.

"The hospital was clean and shiny. Everything was white—the walls and sheets and nurses' uniforms-or silver-the beds and trays and medical instruments. Everyone spoke in polite, calm voices. It was so hushed you could hear the nurses' rubber-soled shoes squeaking all the way down the hall. I wasn't used to quiet and order, and I liked it.

I also liked that I had my own room, since in the trailer I shared one with my brother and sister. My hospital room even had its very own television set up on the wall. We didn't have a TV at home so I watched it a lot. Red Buttons and Lucille Ball were my favorites”. This descriptive but simple syntax and diction characterizes Walls' childlike perspective because it is how a three year old would likely have told the story from their own point of view and also establishes her tone as she tells her story with unsentimental prose while still evoking emotions and reactions from readers with Pathos. Jeanette Walls, writing with strong use of the literary device Pathos, prose diction ad simple but descriptive syntax is able to convey an unsentimental but somewhat nostalgic tone and evoke strong emotional response from readers through telling her own personal stories and memories in The Glass Castle.

Did you like this example?

Cite this page

Growing Up in a Dysfunctional Family and Its Emotional Side in "The Glass Castle". (2022, Sep 29). Retrieved May 18, 2024 , from

Save time with Studydriver!

Get in touch with our top writers for a non-plagiarized essays written to satisfy your needs

Get custom essay

Stuck on ideas? Struggling with a concept?

A professional writer will make a clear, mistake-free paper for you!

Get help with your assignment
Leave your email and we will send a sample to you.
Stop wasting your time searching for samples!
You can find a skilled professional who can write any paper for you.
Get unique paper

I'm Amy :)

I can help you save hours on your homework. Let's start by finding a writer.

Find Writer