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Free Study Guide for The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

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SECTION FIVE (Pages 26-28)


In spite of the fact that Dad likes to tell stories about himself, the family knows very little about his parents or where he was born. They know he came from Welch, West Virginia, and that his father worked as a clerk for the railroad in this little coal town. Dad had left Welch at the age of seventeen, joined the Air Force, and became a pilot. He met their mother at Fish Creek Canyon where he and his buddies were trying to get up the nerve to dive off the cliff into the lake forty feet below. Mom showed up wearing a white bathing suit and red lipstick, and Dad thought she looked like a movie star. She told the men that diving off the cliff was no big deal and that she had been doing it since she was a little girl. She then performed a perfect swan dive off the cliff at which Dad jumped in after her. He told her he was going to marry her, and six months later, he did. The kids all think that is the most romantic story, but Mom doesn’t find it romantic at all. She tells them that he wouldn’t take no for an answer, and she wanted to get away from her mother. She says, “I had no idea your father would be even worse.”

After they were married, Dad left the Air Force to make his fortune. Lori was born soon after, and another little girl, Mary Charlene, was born after her. Mary Charlene died one night when she was nine months old, and Mom calls it crib death. Jeannette was born two years later to replace this baby, and Brian was born when Jeannette was one. He was called a blue baby and had seizures for nearly the entire first year of his life. Then, he turned into a tough guy who never whined or cried.

Mom always says that people worry too much about their children. She believes that suffering when you’re young is good for you and that’s why she just let her children cry. She sees fussing over them when they’re crying as positive reinforcement for negative behavior. She also never seems very upset about Mary Charlene’s death. She refers to this little girl as a child who was imperfect, and so God took her back. Dad, however, has never gotten over this child’s death. He had found her dead body, and when Mom came running, he was screaming like a wounded animal. After that, he had trouble holding down jobs and began drinking. At one point, he even sold her diamond ring, paid for by her mother. Whenever they had a fight, she brought up the ring, so to keep her quiet, he began to promise he’d find gold so he could buy her a new ring and build the Glass Castle.


In exploring her father and her mother’s background together, Jeannette reveals for us one of the reasons why Rex Walls may have become the eccentric individual he was: the death of his little girl, Mary Charlene. This may also have been a reason why her mother was so blasé about raising children. Perhaps she was too hurt by the loss of this child to allow herself to cling too much to any of the other three. Or maybe she was just too self-absorbed.

SECTION SIX (Pages 29-31)


This chapter opens with the kids sitting in a new car called the Green Caboose, because the Blue Goose had died. Mom and Dad have gone into a bar for “a little nip” and left the kids there alone. The girls are talking about whether they like moving around so much. Jeannette says she does and Lori says she does, too, but the reader is left with the impression that maybe she doesn’t enjoy it all that much. They count eleven places where they have lived, places where they unpacked all their things, before they lose track. They can’t remember the names of most of the towns or they what the houses looked like. Mostly Jeannette remembers the insides of cars. Jeannette wonders what would happen if they didn’t move around a lot to which Lori responds, “We’d get caught.”

Mom and Dad come out of the bar and bring each of the kids a beef jerky and a candy bar. Then they set off again with Dad driving and holding a brown bottle of beer with one hand. He takes a sharp turn, the door flies open, and Jeannette falls out of the car. She rolls along an embankment and comes to stop with the breath knocked out of her. She eventually pulls herself back up the embankment and sits down to wait for the return of her parents. She waits for what seems like such a long time and supposes that it is possible that Mom and Dad won’t come back for her. They might decide that she is like Quixote, the cat: a burden and a bother they can do without. So she gets up and begins walking back to the houses of the little town they had just left. Then, she becomes afraid that they might not find her there and returns to the spot where she fell out of the car.

Jeannette is in the process of scraping dried blood off her leg when she sees the Green Caboose returning. Dad jumps out, kneels down and tries to give her a hug. However, Jeannette pulls away, explaining that she thought they were going to leave her behind. Dad explains that they would have been there sooner, but Brian was crying so hard trying to tell them what happened that they didn’t know she was gone. Dad then begins to clean up her face, telling her, “Damn, honey, you busted your snot locker pretty good.” Jeannette has never heard a nose referred to in this way, and she begins to laugh really hard. She gets back in the car telling everyone in her family what Dad had said, and they all continue on, laughing together.


The story of Jeannette’s fall from the car is a metaphor of her parents’ benign abuse of their children, while at the same time, it’s an affirmation of their love for them. Concerned parents would have counted noses, would have realized something was wrong when the door of the car flew open, and would have looked in the back seat when Brian was crying too hard to talk. However, it took them just a little too long to realize Jeannette was gone. On the other side of the analysis of their behavior, the very fact that they eventually sped back to find her, the way Dad reassures Jeannette that they would never have left her behind, and the way they all laugh together over Dad’s silly description of a nose reaffirms that in spite of their inability to provide their children with more stability, they love them very much.


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Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on The Glass Castle". . 09 May 2017