The Glass Castle

Glass Castle Discussion Questions.

Part I: A Woman on the Street

1. Describe the incident at the opening of the book. How does Jeannette Walls react? What does her mother later say in reaction to her daughter’s view of the situation?

2. Why do you think Walls opens the book with this story?

3. What do you now want to find out?

4. What are your initial views of the mother and daughter?

5. Look at the closing two lines of the section. What purpose do they serve?

6. Look at the epigraph before the section. What do you suppose it means? We will return to the epigraph at the end of the book.

Part II: The Desert

Pages 9-28

1. Describe the hot dog incident. What do we learn about Jeannette from the incident?

2. What do we learn about the father, the mother, and the family?

3. How does the outside world view the family?

4. Describe the father (good and bad). What is a genius?

5. Describe the mother.

6. Describe the children.

7. Explain why the family keeps moving.

8. Describe the children’s education. What is important to the family?

9. How does Jeannette feel about her parents? Examples?

10. What stories does the father tell? Why? What can we tell from his stories?

11. Where does the book get its title? Explain.

12. Describe how the parents first met.

13. Describe the importance of the Mary Charlene story.

14. Figure out the birth order and ages of the children.

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1) On an evening in March Jeannette Walls is riding in a taxi headed to a party when she sees her mother digging through a trashcan. Walls has not seen her mother for months and she is struck by the reality that the woman who raised her presently appears no different to passersby than any other homeless person on the city streets. Indeed, many of those walking down the street pass the woman without acknowledging her existence. From the confines of the taxi car, Walls observes the familiar mannerisms of her mother and is reminded of the woman who played with her during childhood and read her Shakespeare stories, the woman who was now rummaging through a dumpster in the East Village.

However, Jeannette quickly curtails her reminiscence out of fear that someone will notice her. Only a few blocks away from the party, she fears that her fixation on the woman by the dumpster would arouse suspicion. To avoid being seen she lowers herself in her seat and tells the taxi driver to take her to her home on Park Avenue. She cannot risk being seen by any other attendees of the party lest they discover her ‘secret’, that she is the daughter of a homeless woman in New York. The driver turns around and Walls, like the strangers on the street, passes by her mother without saying anything to her.

When Walls returns to her apartment she feels ashamed for hiding from her mother. She is also stricken by guilt for having furniture, antiques, and jewelry when her parents do not even have a constant source of food or a permanent residence. But Walls tempers her guilt by recalling her previous attempts to help her parents. Walls remembers that any attempt to reach out in the past resulted in stubborn denials from her parents who did not even acknowledge that they needed help. When her offers were accepted, Jeannette’s mother often asked for extravagant and unnecessary items like membership to a fitness club. Nevertheless, Walls is so ashamed of her behavior that she decides to invite her mother to lunch at a Chinese restaurant. However, communicating the invite is no easy feat. Walls must first leave a message at another woman’s house (a friend of her mother’s) and wait a few days for her mother to get the message and respond.

As predicted, during lunch Jeannette’s mother first denies that she needs help from her daughter and then requests electrolysis treatment. Frustrated, Jeannette insists that her mother improve the quality of her life but her mother quickly refuses, accusing Jeannette of being the one in need of help since her “values are all confused”. She accuses Jeannette of having “confused” values once again after discovering what happened the night Jeannette hid in the taxi. She says that instead of hiding her past and being embarrassed, Jeannette ought to instead tell the truth.

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