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Free Study Guide for The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

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THE GLASS CASTLE LITERATURE NOTES BY JEANETTE WALLS

PART TWO - THE DESERT

SECTION SEVEN (Pages 32-34)

Summary

The Walls family lives in Las Vegas for about a month in a motel room with only two narrow beds. Dad thinks he has a sure-fire system for beating the house at the casino. At the end of the day, he comes in with pockets full of money, buying the kids cowboy hats and fringed vests and treating them to steak dinners in an air-conditioned restaurant. He and Mom try the system again at the blackjack tables a few days later, but come back quickly so the family can “skedaddle.” The dealers had figured out that they were playing with a system.

Dad’s afraid of the Mafia following them, and Mom thinks that everyone should live near the Pacific Ocean at least once in their lives, so off they go to San Francisco. They end up in the Tenderloin District, which is one of the worst of the city to live in. Mom likes it, because it has character. She and Dad go out looking for investment money for the Prospector. While they are gone, Jeannette finds a box of matches. She spends hours lighting them and then putting them out in the toilet. A few days later, she awakes to the smell and heat of fire. She tries to wake Lori and Brian, but can’t find her voice. Just then, Dad bursts in, calling their names, and wraps Jeannette in a blanket while leading Lori and Brian out of the motel. He takes them to the bar across the street and goes back to help fight the fire. The waitress gets Lori and Brian Cokes and even brings Jeannette a Shirley Temple when she asks for one. Jeannette stands there and watches the fire department put out the fire. She begins to wonder if fire is out to get her. She had been burned cooking hotdogs, had played with fire several times, and now nearly died in a motel fire. She knows she lives in a world that could erupt in fire at any moment. It is the sort of knowledge that will keep her on her toes.

After the fire, the family lives for a few days on the beach, sleeping in the car, until a kind policeman moves them on. It is illegal to sleep there, but he doesn’t arrest them. Dad calls him the Gestapo anyway and says he is fed up with civilization. They decide to return to the desert, because he just can’t take the cities.


Notes

The idea that Jeannette has to be on her toes, because fire is out to get her is metaphorical for the traps and obstacles she faces in a life that is made so unstable by her careless parents. The fire would be no threat to her if they guarded her like parents should.


SECTION EIGHT (Pages 35-38)

Summary

The family leaves San Francisco and heads for the Mojave Desert. Along the way, Mom makes Dad stop to look at a tree that catches her fancy. It is a Joshua tree and a very old one at that. It exists in a state of permanent “windblownness,” leaning over so far that it seems ready to topple over. Jeannette thinks it’s ugly, reminding her of how adults tell you not to make faces or your face will freeze that way. Mom, however, wants to paint it and when Dad sees a small town up ahead, they decide to stay. They rent a house from a mining company, and the creatures moving around at night - coyotes, Gila monsters, and snakes - keep Jeannette awake. One night, she’s convinced that there’s something under the bed, so Dad comes in and convinces her he knows that the creature is one he knows and calls Demon. Dad gets his hunting knife and together they go looking for Demon. They find nothing, and Dad ends up telling her the story of how he fought off Demon when he was terrorizing a town. He tells Jeannette, “That’s the thing to remember about all monsters: they love to frighten people, but the minute you stare them down, they turn tail and run.”

Jeannette comes to realize that the only animals that can survive in this little town of Midland were lipless, scaly creatures such as Gila monsters and scorpions and people like them. Their dog, Juju, is bitten by a rattlesnake and dies, but they take in cats to save them from the creatures of the desert. Eventually, the cats reproduce so quickly that Dad puts a whole bunch of the kittens into a burlap bag and takes them to a pond to drown them. Jeannette doesn’t understand why they rescued them in the first place if they were only going to drown them. Mom says, “We gave them a little extra time on the planet. They should be grateful for that.”

Mom becomes pregnant, and everyone hopes it will be a boy for Brian. Dad plans to move them to Blythe before she gives birth, because it’s a bigger town with better medical facilities. In the meantime, Mom sculpts and paints, especially dozens of variations of the Joshua tree. Jeannette sees a sapling growing near them and wants to transplant it near the house where she can water it and make it grow nice and straight. Mom just frowns at her and says, “You’d be destroying what makes it special. It’s the Joshua Tree’s struggle that gives it beauty.”

Notes

The two greatest metaphors expressed in this chapter are the desert and its creatures and the Joshua tree. The family is like the desert in that it survives in the worst conditions and it bends like the tree against all the hazards of life.

There is also the irony that Dad teaches Jeannette how to stand up against the monsters and not show them fear while he becomes a monster himself by destroying the kittens he no longer wants to care for.

 

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