The novel “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls is a memoir of her life growing up with a dysfunctional family and living in extreme poverty in rural West Virginia. Walls’ childhood was filled with frequent moves as her father could not keep a job and refused to pay taxes, causing the police to trail him for years. The focus of the story is on Walls’ inner turmoil as she deals with emotional abuse from her father, a neglectful mother, the struggles of poverty, the stress of growing up too quickly, and the process of learning how to forgive.
As Walls grew up, her father would move the family on an almost monthly basis. Her mother tended to allow the children to do as they pleased. Walls portrayed her parents as loving but harmful; they both thought that the children should be very independent at an early age. Independence and freedom were significant concerns of Walls’ parents, who stressed that the children should not follow the rules of authority figures. Eventually, her father turned to alcoholism which would lead the family further into poverty.
The Walls family rarely had enough food for all four children, who resorted to eating insubstantial meals such as butter, salt and pepper, and plain hot dogs. Eventually, the family moved to a small, rural town in West Virginia into a small building that was closer to a shack than a house. There, they became even more impoverished, while Walls and her siblings attempted to find a way out of the cycle of poverty. The ending of the book focuses on Walls as an adult, living a successful life in a big city, while trying to learn how to forgive.
The strongest theme throughout the book is forgiveness, as Walls’ mother says multiple times that one should always forgive, even one’s enemies. Walls also deals with the struggle of trying to forgive her parents, particularly her father, years later as an adult. Social class and wealth both act as major themes in the book as well, as Walls struggled with the judgment and discrimination over her family’s low income and living conditions. Hope also played a strong role in the novel. Walls’ family had lived through extremely hard times from poverty, emotional abuse, and hunger, but they still all had hope that there was something better in the future.