The Glass Castle Suggested Essays

Suggested Essay Questions

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  1. 1

    Discuss the role of fire in the novel.

    After Jeannette is burned the first time fire continues to appear in the work. It burns down a number of houses and harms some of the characters. Jeannette believes that the fires might all be connected. Jeannette describes fire as a sort of character itself.

  2. 2

    How does Jeannette characterize her parents? What is her tone towards them and their actions?

    Jeannette describes her parents' faults and shortcomings but she does not condemn them for their actions. Indeed, by the novel’s end she appears to have come to an understanding about their way of living. The goal of the work is not to insult or vilify her parents but, in a way, to honor them.

  3. 3

    Why does Jeannette choose to title the book The Glass Castle even though the structure is never built?

    The glass castle characterizes Rex Walls’ need to create a life of fantasy and adventure for his family in the absence of stability and practicality. Its construction is consistently delayed in the work, but that which it represents endures. Jeannette’s memoir is, in part, an erection of this fabled structure. In writing, she takes one step towards fulfilling her father’s promise.

  4. 4

    Explain the role of nature and the attitudes taken toward it in the memoir?

    Without the amenities of modern life, the Walls family is frequently in awe of the beauty of nature. Especially while living in the Midwest, nature becomes a sort of home for the Walls. Rose Mary Walls also instills within her children an appreciation for animals and nature by refusing to kill or harm it with modern technology.

  5. 5

    What about Jeannette’s experience is atypical of general ideas about American poverty? Why do you think Jeannette includes these examples?

    For much of the work, Jeannette and her family live in conditions characteristic of poverty. However, Jeannette’s experience also includes rigorous homeschooling from her parents and exposure to classic literature. Despite her conditions, she and her siblings are often placed in the gifted classes in school. In showing that her parents, though poor, were not unintelligent, Jeannette proposes an often undetailed view of America’s impoverished.

  6. 6

    Discuss the role of setting in the novel? How does the theme of the work change when the setting changes?

    Setting is clearly an important part of the work. Indeed, two sections of the novel are named after a particular environment. In addition, there is a clear shift in tone and plot when the Walls move from the desert to Welch, Virginia. Setting not only affects how the family must live but it also influences their hope for escaping poverty.

  7. 7

    Compare Jeannette’s relationship with Brian and Lori to that between her and Maureen. Why are there differences?

    Jeannette and her siblings depend on each other for survival. Jeannette and Brian pair together when faced by bullies from outside. Although Lori and Brian differ from Jeannette in their early loss of hope in Rex. Maureen exists as a sort of “black sheep” in the family. Not only does she not have red hair, but she seldom spends time with the family and instead relies on others to care for her. For this reason, Jeannette considers Maureen in need of more protection than the rest of her siblings.

  8. 8

    Describe the structure of the memoir. Why does Walls decide to frame her story with her adulthood before reflecting on her childhood?

    Jeannette begins her story by describing her motivation for writing it. Her mother’s urgings that she not hide from her past anymore prompt Jeannette to begin telling her story. Because shame once inhibited her from sharing her story, she begins by describing that which gave her the courage to write it down.

  9. 9

    Discuss Rose Mary Walls' role as a mother.

    Rose Mary Walls commonly seems focused on her aims alone. She loses or quits jobs in order to pursue her profitless career as an artist even at times when her family needs her salary for basic necessities. At times, Rose Mary behaves more like a child than her children, throwing tantrums, refusing to go to work, and creating excuses.

  10. 10

    Rex Walls frequently makes up fantastical stories to create a life of excitement out of his circumstances. Is this deceitful? In what ways can these stories be seen as an attempt to shield the family from the truth?

    Rex Walls tends to create fantastical explanations to keep his children from considering themselves lesser than others because of their lack of money. When the children are young, this seems harmless. He gives them stars for Christmas instead of gifts and makes life an adventure by telling them they are being chased. However, as the children grow older, Rex’s stories are used as a means to protect or excuse his behavior instead of as a means to shield his children from the reality of their condition.