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Free Study Guide for The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

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SECTION THREE (Pages 255-257)


Mom and Dad seem content with their homelessness, and once or twice a month, they all get together at Lori’s. There, they tell the kids how they’ve been “learning the ropes” about being homeless such as soup kitchens, church kitchens, and public libraries with good bathrooms. They sleep outside on park benches and move on when they’re asked to. Jeannette insists that can’t just live like that, but Mom says that being homeless is an adventure. Once the weather begins to cool, they spend more and more time in the library. When asked what she’s going to do when winter comes, Mom just says that winter is her favorite season.

Jeannette feels ambivalent about her parents. Part of her wants to help them while part of her just wants to wash her hands of them. She has always been generous, helping the homeless with handouts of change, until one day a friend at Barnard tells her not to give them money, because they are all scam artists. Jeannette knows she should stand up for her parents, but she knows what scam artists they have been all her life, and it makes her think twice about her feelings once again. The truth is she just doesn’t have it in her to argue her parents’ case before the world anymore. These same ambivalent feelings rear their ugly feelings once again in her political science class with her favorite Professor Fuchs. One day the professor discusses homelessness, and Jeannette gives an answer that seems to promote the idea that the homeless sometimes get the lives they want. The professor is outraged and asks Jeannette, “What do you know about the hardships and obstacles that the underclass faces?” Rather than stand up for her parents, Jeannette just says, “You have a point.”


This section is filled with the ironies of living like the Walls do and looking at their lives with their own eyes. When you hear Mom talk about being homeless in a cold winter as her favorite season and living homeless at all as an adventure, you must begin to wonder if Jeannette isn’t right when she says in her political science class that sometimes the homeless get the lives they want.

SECTION FOUR (Pages 258-259)


January is so cold that chunks of ice as big as cars float in the Hudson. On such cold nights, Mom and Dad sleep in shelters or churches neither of which is an easy place to secure a place to sleep. Dad hates the shelters, but accepts them and even sends Mom and Tinkle the dog to Lori’s if they’re forced to accept shelter and there’s only one space left.

For a while, Jeannette feels very guilty about staying in college while Mom and Dad are on the streets. More than that, she feels incredibly selfish. However, Lori points out that dropping out will break Dad’s heart since he is immensely proud of his Ivy League daughter. Besides, Brian points out all the options their parents have: move back to West Virginia or Phoenix, sell Mom’s antique Indian jewelry, sell the two carat diamond ring the kids had found, or sell the property in Phoenix or Texas. However, Mom rejects all those options. She says that she’s saving those things for a rainy day, and when Jeannette says now it’s pouring, Mom just refers to it as a drizzle. She seems to have an answer for all of Jeannette’s questions so Jeannette changes the subject to movies.


Once again events and conversations seem to point out that Jeannette is right when she says that sometimes the homeless get the lives they want.

SECTION FIVE (Pages 260-261)


Mom and Dad survive the winter, but to Jeannette, they look dirtier, more bruised, and their hair more matted. Furthermore, Dad develops TB. He tells them not to be worried and asks if they have ever known their old dad to get himself in a situation he couldn’t get out of. A part of Jeannette wants to believe this, thinking he’s still invincible like the character of himself that he used to insert into all his stories. When she finally sees him at the hospital, he looks pale and gaunt, but has aged very little. He introduces her to other patients on the TB ward, and then he shows her all the books he has been reading. He has stopped drinking since he entered the hospital and has been contemplating ideas of mortality and the nature of the cosmos. He has become most interested in Mitchell Feigenbaum, who says that in chaos theory, disorder actually conforms to a rational pattern, which implies the existence of a divine creator. Ironically, he says that if this is all true, he may have to re-think his atheistic creed. Jeannette asks him to promise he won’t leave the hospital until he gets better. Dad just bursts into laughter.


Dad’s illness perhaps has him contemplating his own mortality, especially given how difficult the winter has been for him and Mom.


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