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Free Study Guide for The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

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The family heads for Grandma Smith’s big white house with the green shutters and eucalyptus trees. The first thing she always notices when the family arrives is how tangled Jeannette’s hair is and can never believe how lazy her mother is. She had become a teacher, because she didn’t trust anyone to educate her children. She had very strong opinions about the way things should be done, and she and Mom had fought with each other from the beginning. In spite of all her seeming shortcomings, Jeannette loves Grandma Smith, and Grandma says Jeannette is her favorite grandchild. She believes that Jeannette is going to grow up to be someone special.

Now as they are driving towards Phoenix, Jeannette asks if they are going to stay with Grandma Smith. Mom tells her no, because Grandma is dead. Jeannette is appalled and begins hitting her mother on the shoulders, hard, and asking why she hadn’t told them that their grandmother had died. Mom’s answer, “There didn’t seem to be any point.” Grandma had died of leukemia, but Mom thinks it was radioactive poisoning. She goes on to tell the children, “There’s no reason to grieve. We’ve all got to go someday, and Grandma had a life that was longer and fuller than most. And now we have a place to live.” Grandma had owned two houses that she gave to Rose Mary and her brother, Jim. Mom had chosen the adobe one near the Phoenix business district so she could start an art studio. She’d also inherited some money so she could give up teaching and buy all the art supplies she wanted. She laughs and says, “So the trouble you kids got into with Billy Deel was actually a blessing in disguise.”


How absolutely typical Rose Mary Walls behaves in this section. Her mother has died, but to Rose Mary, who had had only a contentious relationship with her, her loss is actually quite exciting. Grandma had left a house and money, and now Rose Mary can do what her mother always despised - practice her art. Jeannette’s sense of loss, however, is more palpable: she feels betrayed that her mother hadn’t told them Grandma was dead and her feelings are transferred into a physical attack on Mom. Grandma had recognized what made Jeannette special while her own mother couldn’t be bothered to even learn.



The new house is large enough for two families. Jeannette counts fourteen rooms, all filled with furniture and things that Mom had inherited from Grandma Smith. In the front yard is a palm tree that Jeannette particularly loves, because it makes her think she has arrived at an oasis. The people living on the same street are mostly Mexicans and Indians who go to the Catholic school at St. Mary’s Church. However, Mom wants the kids to go to a public school called Emerson. Because they are not on the bus route, they have to walk to school, but none of them minds at all. The school is in a fancy neighborhood with a playground surrounded by lush grass. Once each of the three reads aloud for their teachers, they are moved into the gifted reading groups. Brian hates it, because all the other kids in his group are older, but Jeannette and Lori are secretively thrilled to be special. When Dad hears that they’re “special” he tells them not to make fun, because he’s always told them that. Brian then says, “If we’re so special, why don’t you . . .“ Unfortunately, he can’t bring himself to finish what he wants to say.

When the school nurse discovers Lori has eye problems, she insists that she cannot stay at Emerson unless Mom and Dad allow the school to buy her glasses. They are ugly things with very thick lenses, but Lori is amazed at how little she has been able to see. That now explains why she never wanted to go exploring with Brian and Jeannette. Not long after she gets her glasses, Lori decides she wants to be an artist like Mom.

As soon as they are settled into the house, Mom throws herself into her art career. She erects a sign outside and begins buying supplies, including a thorough art reference library that is composed of pictures cut out of magazines and pasted into their own binders. The girls spend hours completing the binders. Mom is also hard at work on her writing. She has purchased several typewriters so she always has back-up machines. She writes novels, poetry, plays, short stories and a book of pithy sayings entitled R. M. Walls’ Philosophy of Life. Her favorite saying in the book is, “Life is a bowl of cherries, with a few nuts thrown in.”

Dad joins the electrical union, and he very quickly lands a job. As a surprise to the kids, he brings home brand new bicycles, something they have never owned before. He also apologizes to Jeannette for not counting her rock collection as one item and so making her leave all but one behind. The kids ride their bikes everywhere, including the Civic Center where there is a library. They are there so often that the librarians recognize them and help them finding books they’d like. Then, they pedal all the way home, down the middle of the sidewalk, just as if they own the place. It is an exhilarating freedom.

The family also installs their first telephone and buys a big record player in a wooden cabinet. It prompts Mom to buy all kinds of music albums at thrift shops, and she and Dad dance to everything from polkas to German marching bands. They buy an electric washing machine as well, but Mom still refuses to kill the flies that enter the house. Unfortunately, they are soon overwhelmed by roaches, and, because Mom won’t allow chemicals in the house, they get up at night with their “roach killers,” their shoes, and beat them to death. To add to the beginning of new troubles, the house is termite-infested. As a result, whenever they hit a soft spot in the floor, they crash through it. Dad repairs the holes by drinking a beer and using the metal can as a patch.


This section is not only an introduction to the new house, but it is also an examination of how the family is once again slowly falling apart. First, they spend too much money and second they don’t make the repairs or keep conditions livable within it. On the other hand, the children know a freedom that is even greater than that which their parents gave them through neglect. They have their bikes and they can go anywhere with them.


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