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Literature / The Glass Castle

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The Glass Castle is a 2005 memoir written by Jeannette Walls detailing her childhood being raised by her dysfunctional parents, Rex and Rose Mary, alongside her siblings, Lori, Brian, and Maureen. The Walls family lives in perpetual poverty due to Rex's alcoholism and Rose's refusal to get a job, with the children often practically caring for one another.

A film adaptation was released in August of 2017.

The Glass Castle contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: While both parents for the most part avoided physically harming their children out of anger at their full capacities, Rex caused quite a bit of commotion every time he came home drunk and destroyed the house. Rose Mary also found herself in slumps every now and then in Welch, which occasionally constituted to her throwing things at her children. Also their methods of parenting go beyond being extremely questionable, and as stated above, the children ended up taking care of themselves throughout their childhood far more than their parents did.
    • Though it is not shown, it is suggested that Rex's mother Erma sexually abused him as a child, but Erma still showed love towards her son and was desolated whenever he would not be around, and Rex still loved her.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Rex nicknames Jeannette "Mountain Goat."
  • The Alcoholic: Rex becomes this supposedly after the death of his infant daughter Mary. The effects of his alcoholism prove disastrous for his family.
  • Allergic to Routine: Deconstructed. Rex and Rose Mary are anti-authoritarian, hate regular schedules and get bored easily. However, it leads to the Walls vagabond lifestyle and neither can hold down a steady job to adequately provide for their children.
  • All Men Are Perverts: At least seven males had sexually molested Jeannette, all of them older than her.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Lori and Jeanette don't have many friends for being poor, smelly, skinny, and all-around more intelligent than the other children around their various homes. In Welch they're also made fun of for their artistic skills/tastes while everyone else at their school is concerned mainly with sports.
    • Until Welch, they also never stayed in one place long enough for the kids to make any close friends outside of each other.
  • The Alleged Car: Because of their limited cash, the Walls family often winds up buying cars that break down soon after. One is a car called the 'Piggy Bank Special' that Rose Mary finds through a radio show. She isn't allowed to test drive before going home. So the family ends up driving from Phoenix to West Virginia in a car that breaks down repeatedly on the way, has a hood that keeps popping up and has one of the windows stuck open.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Jeannette's mom, Rose Mary. She probably has some sort of Bipolar Disorder going on because on some weeks she's very jovial and giddy, but by the next week she won't even get out of bed while sobbing hysterically. Then, once again, her depression then turns into happiness and vice versa. She also shows plenty of signs of being The Sociopath.
  • Attempted Rape: Billy, Jeannette's self-proclaimed boyfriend, attempts this on her. She's nine at the time.
  • Axes at School: In Battle Mountain, Rose Mary is able to get a teaching job mainly because there aren't many people with teaching education in town. She also got it because the previous teacher for the class, Miss Page, was fired because she was caught carrying a rifle down the school hall. She explained that she just wanted to motivate her students to do their homework.
  • Big Applesauce: One by one, each kid moves to New York City upon reaching senior year (except Maureen, who moved out at age twelve). Then once after three years there, their parents move in, also.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: Doubles as Dysfunctional Family. There is no part in the book where the Walls family has really stability and security. And when they get a taste of it, it doesn't last long.
  • Blind Without 'Em: Lori and Rose Mary, although the former doesn't realize this until much later in life and the latter refuses to wear them anyways.
  • Braces of Orthodontic Overkill: After finding out about how expensive braces are, Jeannette makes her own homemade braces with rubber bands and coat hangers that she wraps around her head when she goes to bed.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Rex and Rose Mary are perfectly capable of getting decent jobs, but are too loaded down by their alcoholism and artistic desires to do so.
  • Broken Ace: Jeannette, Lori, and Rex.
  • Broken Pedestal: Jeannette's adoration for her father is slowly eroded throughout the book.
  • Brother–Sister Team: Jeannette and Brian are always protecting each other and fighting with others together, such as against the bullies and while living in New York.
  • Break the Cutie: Maureen after finishing high school in New York City,
  • Cool Big Sis: Brian sees this in his older sisters. Especially Jeannette.
  • Creepy Uncle: Uncle Stanley is one; after he attempts to molest her, Jeannette refuses to continue going to his house to bathe, even though she has no other access to running water.
  • Daddy's Girl: Played straight with Jeannette and Rex in the beginning, but then Deconstructed once she got older. Rex began using her love to his advantage by manipulating her into giving him money to buy beer and cigarettes because he knows that she won't say "no" to her father.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Lori eventually adapts this attitude. Her mother refers to it as a "sarcastic streak".
    • Brian does it under his breath, as well. Usually towards his dad.
  • Destructive Romance: Rex and Rose Mary. They bring out and reinforce each other's flaws and enable each other's self-destructive lifestyle. Rex cheats on Rose Mary and they fight when he's drunk. Both parents are aware of the problems but they're both too co-dependent to ever divorce. Their children suffer the consequences.
  • Don't Split Us Up: Jeannette fears this when she is approached by a government official asking to see one of her parents. She's more afraid of the government taking her and her siblings away and splitting them up into different families than she is of missing her abusive parents.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Even characters outside the main family seem a little messed up.
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: Maureen has an easy time making friends and attracting men than her sisters do since she is a natural blond with blue eyes.
  • Eyebrows Burned Off: Happens to Jeannette at the beginning when she catches on fire while trying to cook hot dogs; this is not, however, played for laughs, as she also ends up with severe burn injuries that require skin grafts.
    • Her sister, Lori, gets both her eyebrows and bangs seared off in a small explosion while trying to work with fire.
  • Force Feeding: Brian once tells Jeannette how one time, he tried to steal a jar of pickles from a house, but the homeowner caught him. Instead of calling the police, the man made Brian eat all the pickles on the spot as punishment.
  • Freak Out: Maureen attacks her mother with a knife when her mother tries to kick her out. Her mom explains to Jeannette that the reason she did that was because all Maureen ever wanted was to be loved.
  • Freudian Excuse: Rex became The Alcoholic after losing his third daughter when she was a baby and suffering years of sexual abuse by his mother as a kid.
    • His mother, Erma, herself has one: she was constantly ordered around by her relatives after becoming an orphan.
  • Funetik Aksent: The people of Welch often has this including the principal of Welch Elementary who asks Jeannette "Wuts et tahm sebm?"Translation  this trope gets her put in Special Needs when
she couldn't understand the Principal and he couldn't understand her
  • Jeanette herself gets this when she wore her homemade braces when meeting Rex in the middle of the night
  • Going Cold Turkey: Rex does this when Jeannette asks him to stop drinking as a birthday present to her. He goes as far as to tie himself to his bed and spends several days screaming and hallucinating. He does stop drinking for awhile, but before long he's hooked once again.
  • Hands-Off Parenting: Rex and Rose Mary practice this.
    • Parental Neglect: The kids end up taking care of themselves more than their parents do. A noteworthy example of this trope comes to mind in Welch when Jeannette is approached by a government official asking to see one of her parents, neither of which are home.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Ginnie Sue Pastor. She is the town whore in Welch and teaches Jeannette a great deal in one visit to her home about the realities of life and what you are willing to do to put food on the table.
  • I Am Not My Father: Played with. Jeannette, Lori and Brian deliberately choose their adult life (as a gossip columnist, illustrator, and policeman) to be as different from their parents and childhood as possible. However, Jeannette eventually acknowledges she and her father share similarities and is much healthier and happier after doing so.
    • Rex joined the airforce to leave his mother and his town only to end up an alcoholic, abusive parent and be forced to move in with Erma in Welch. It's at that point he seems to give up.
  • Imaginary Friend: Maureen had a couple of these during her younger years when she had no friends around her age to play with.
  • It's All About Me: Rose Mary is capable of mind-bending selfishness, buying treats for herself even when her children are starving. At one point, she convinces Rex to break his sobriety.
  • Jerkass: Quite a few come to mind, such as the women in Welch who make it known to a few members of the Walls family that they spray the areas where they were with Lysol. Erma also falls into this category, though she has a complicated story.
  • Little Brother Instinct: Brian will do whatever he can to protect his sisters. He even grows up to be a protector by becoming a police officer.
  • Lies to Children: Rex pretends the Feds are after them and Rose Mary makes excuses for their poor lifestyle. Most of the children (especially Lori and Brian) caught on quickly.
  • Lower-Class Lout: The Walls, though the children are able to move out of this as adults.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Rex manipulates his family to provide him with money to buy more beer and cigarettes.
  • Misery Lit: Unusual, in that she never describes her childhood as miserable or even damaging, refuses to vilify her parents, and is really more a memoir of total dysfunction than abuse. A notch above most?
  • Moral Myopia: Rex talks about preserving life and how nature must be respected. Yet at one point, he dangles his wife over a window.
  • Mundane Luxury: Lori and Jeannette move to a crime-ridden, blighted area in the Bronx but they have regular heat, water and electricity and minimum-wage service jobs. It's leagues better than Welch.
  • The One Who Made It Out: All four of the Walls children escape from Welch, thanks to Jeannette, whose successful negotiation for a New York bus ticket/travel money with a babysitting client got Lori out first. The rest were able to follow later.
    • Maureen is a downplayed example. She gets out of Welch but fares much worse than her siblings and struggles to build a life for herself. She is eventually arrested for trying to stab her mother and the ensuing argument rips apart the family for a time.
  • The Pollyanna: Played for drama with Rose Mary.
  • Parents as People: Rex and Rose Mary are definitely not ideal parents who put their selfish whims before their children, but Jeannette tries to remember that her times with them weren't always bad...even though cutting them out of her life is still the right decision.
  • Promotion to Parent: Since their parents are usually stuck in their own problems, Jeannette and Lori are the ones who act as the parents of the house once they get older.
  • Pyromaniac: Jeannette becomes obsessed with fire after her previously mentioned encounter, setting various things on fire, even her favorite toy, although she immediately regrets this, and she eventually grows out of it.
  • Racist Grandma: Erma Walls almost never goes outside because she's afraid of meeting eye-to-eye with "those niggers down the street."
  • Second Love: Jeannette divorces her first husband, Eric, because she thought he wasn't the right man for her. Later on she meets John, who shares plenty of the same interests and life experiences as she does.
  • Secret Message Wink: In one instance of shoplifting, Rose Mary is complaining in the background about a price, while winking along the side to Jeanette to let her know to cause a distraction.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Jeannette is worried that she'll marry a reckless guy like her father. Therefore, she only shows interest in nice, normal guys.
  • The Sociopath: Rose Mary. Whereas her husband has an excuse for his misgivings, she is just plain selfish, a liar, ignores responsibility and employment, is easily jealous of her children's accomplishments, and only finds excitement in her painting.
  • Staring Contest: Rex does this with a crocodile at the zoo. It blinks first.
  • Starving Artist: Rose Mary can't seem to sell her paintings and ends up using whatever money she has on expensive art supplies. Averted by her daughter, Lori, after she moved to New York City.
  • Sweet Tooth: Rose Mary confesses that she has this to her starving kids after secretly saving and eating giant chocolate bars for herself.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Jeannette's temporary best friend, Dinitia, gets pregnant.
    • Child by Rape: It's implied that Dinitia's mother's new boyfriend sexually molests her.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Sandwich: Jeannette doesn't get why kids in her school toss out all their perfectly good food which she would retrieve for herself to eat when girls threw their food away in the girl's bathroom.
  • Womanchild: Rose Mary. Jeannette mentions how much her mother cries like a five-year-old and how she doesn't act the way a mother should.
  • Yellow Eyes of Sneakiness: The one time Jeanette meets what is heavily implied to be Dinitia's mother's boyfriend (the one who molests her daughter), she describes him as having nicotine-yellow eyes.