Free Study Guide for The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

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The protagonist of a story is the main character who traditionally undergoes some sort of change. He or she must usually overcome some opposing force. In this story, the protagonist is Jeannette Walls who tells her readers all about her life in an abusive, dysfunctional family. We learn through her that nothing in the dynamic of family relationships is ever just black and white.


The antagonist of a story is the force that provides an obstacle for the protagonist. The antagonist does not always have to be a single character or even a character at all. There are numerous antagonists in the story who impact on Jeannette in minor ways, but the greatest antagonists are her parents. They love their children, but they neglect them and sometimes actively and knowingly hurt them. Jeannette spends her entire life trying to understand them.


The climax of a plot is the major turning point that allows the protagonist to resolve the conflict. The climax occurs when Maureen becomes mentally incompetent and the family argues over who’s to blame.


The outcome is the final resolution of the story or the denouement. Maureen leaves for California, Dad dies, and the remaining family members see little of each until five years after Dad’s death. They meet at Jeannette’s country home and reconnect for a Thanksgiving feast where they learn that there is no room for recriminations.


A successful journalist, Jeannette Walls, relates the horrific childhood she experienced being raised by alcoholic, manipulative, and selfish parents. Her parents are extremely dysfunctional and yet very vibrant people who force their children to learn how to take care of themselves by feeding, clothing, and protecting each other.



The first and most important theme is: forgiveness. Jeannette spends her whole life forgiving her parents over and over for the choices they made that adversely impacted their children. In the face of no food in their stomachs, leaking roofs over their heads, no heat, and ratty clothes plus stealing their money and sometimes their souls, Rex and Rose Mary didn’t deserve forgiveness. However, Jeannette and her brother and sisters always find a way to welcome their parents back into their hearts.

Sometimes the most mature and responsible people in a family are the children, not the parents

Another theme tells us that sometimes the most mature and responsible people in a family are the children, not the parents. The Walls children learn to fend for themselves and protect each other while living with two adults who either drink too much or leave them to raise themselves.

Fearlessness and Loyalty

A third theme is that fearlessness and loyalty. Jeannette and her siblings learn very early in their lives that they must have courage to face the adversity their parents have forced on them and yet to believe that no matter how great the adversity, they must always be loyalty to every family member. For family is everything.

Lost Dreams

The last theme involves lost dreams. We all have ideas we want to come true or to achieve before we die. The Glass Castle designed by Dad is the best example of dreams lost and mourned. All Jeannette’s life he has promised her he will discover and build a glass home for the family. Of course, it is a pipe dream that never has any chance of being fulfilled. A weak character like Dad never come to terms with their lost dreams, while individuals like Jeannette who have the strength learn to replace the impossible dreams with the contentment.


The mood is usually very troubling as we see Jeannette and her siblings struggle to survive. However, it mostly uplifting and inspiring as we see them triumph over all the roadblocks their parents place before them.


Jeanette Walls - The Glass Castle Free Study Guide/Notes/Summary
Jeanette Walls

Jeanette Walls - BIOGRAPHY

Jeannette Walls was born in Phoenix, Arizona. Her parents moved the family around the southwest before settling for a time in Welch, West Virginia. It was in West Virginia, as she entered her teens, that she was often mistreated. At age 17 she moved to New York City. With the help of part-time jobs, she eventually entered Columbia University’s Barnard College, where she graduated with honors.

She had come to love journalism while working on her high school newspaper so she tried working as a gopher for New York Magazine while she attended college. She eventually moved to the business section and ended up a news reporter for USA Today. Her first gossip column was written once again at New York Magazine. She moved on to Esquire Magazine’s gossip column and worked at MSNBC as an online columnist and television segment reporter for eight years (leaving in 2007), before deciding to turn her full attention to writing books. She now lives in Virginia and is married to another writer, John Taylor.

Awards for The Glass Castle include:

Winner of a Christopher Award
Winner of a “Books for a Better Life” Award
A New York Times Notable Book 2005
Readers Prize 2006
American Library Association Alex Award
New York Times
Bestseller Number One
“Booksense Reading Group” Pick


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