The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Lecture by Dr. Tracy Floreani on September 15, 2015 in Walker Center, Room 151, on the Oklahoma City University campus from 7:00 to 9:00 PM
This memoir epitomizes our concept of the dysfunctional family and by so doing, sets the stage for the theme Hope Amidst Hardship in a personal way. Written by journalist and author Jeannette Walls, we’re privy to some of the neglect, alcoholism, hunger, shame, and deprivation that Walls and her three siblings endured growing up.
Central to the story is an alcoholic, unemployed father whose genius combines with a quirky and dangerous zest for life. His constant wanderlust and dreamy ambition creates a family tradition, ‘the skedaddle’, in which the family abandons whatever life they have and drive to the next unknown stop. The college-educated, artist mother views her children as an obstacle to her never-realized art career. She believes that suffering when you are young is good for you. Despite the realization that she should leave her husband she never does, choosing her own desires over her children’s welfare.
The children experience real hunger, homelessness, raised hopes that are consistently dashed, bullying, brushes with sexual and physical abuse, and love that is conditional. Like all children of abusive parents, Walls and her siblings at first do not realize that the life they lead is not the norm. They learn resilience and survive together often working as a team to deny their father drinking money or convince their mother to be responsible.
At first, hope is exhibited through childish dreams. The father promises to build the family a glass castle. The children begin to dig the foundation, a hole in the backyard that eventually becomes the family’s garbage pit. The hope of a Christmas with a tree and presents is dashed by the father’s drunken cruelty. Eventually hope is directed toward escape and odd jobs lead to a stash of money, only to be stolen for drink by the father. Escaping to New York City, the siblings eventually support themselves only to live with the shame that their parents choose their free-spirited lifestyles even when it means homelessness.