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The good in life comes with the bad. In Walls’ book, The Glass Castle, the Walls family seems to go through much more of the bad. Rosemary often tries to raise spirits, saying how “life is a drama, full of tragedy and comedy. You should learn to enjoy the comic episodes a little more.” Rex and Rosemary have an incredible, childlike optimism, blocking their path to a better life. This foolishly inspiring mindset is reiterated throughout the memoir as their way of parenting. The children, despite the mindset of their parents, are able to thrive in an adult world from a very young age.
In their short childhood, the Walls children go through poverty, abuse, hunger and many uncomfortable living conditions. Despite all of these struggles, Rex and Rosemary teach them that everything will be OK; they need to look on the bright side. The glass castle symbolizes perfectly this optimism. Rex often lays out plans for the castle to his children, demonstrating his childlike imagination. The children gawk at Rex as if he is a genius among mere men. Young children can be easily influenced especially by their own parents. At this stage in life, the children represent nearly exact copies of Rex and his opinions and views. Not knowing any better, Jeanette gives her father complete support, both emotionally and financially. When Rex needs money for booze, Mountain goat caves in to his desires, handing over the food budget. Even when she is angry and disappointed in his behavior, such as when he took the piggy bank, her rage subsides quickly; when has Rex ever let her down? The children also sacrifice a normal life of friends and a stable household to follow in their parents’ dreams. Of course they do not have much say in the matter, but nonetheless, the family’s dysfunction deeply affects the children. They never complain because Rex raised them to accept hardships. Later in life, the children realize that Rex has lied to, cheated and tricked them.
As Jeanette and Lori become young adults, the childlike optimism they once had morphs as the result of endless disappointment into a realistic view of poverty and hardship. At the time Jeanette enters high school in Welch (and possibly earlier), she recognizes that the glass castle is an elaborate lie by her father in an attempt to get alcohol. The “research money” that the Walls invest has gone to nothing more than gambling and liquor. It becomes hard to focus on the positive when a father drinks his family into poverty. With no job and a starving household, Rex and Rosemary choose to, rather than solving the problem, focus on the benefits of living in a small shack. In contrast to applying for welfare, Rosemary prides herself in her independence. She would rather suffer on her own than succeed with the help of others, especially the government. Lori and Jeanette get jobs, make budgeting plans and conserve resources, all fruitlessly because their parents’ incapacity to mature. Rosemary’s five week trip expresses the kids’ maturity. Rex takes the food budget, ever so carefully planned by Jeanette, and spends it on alcohol and gambling. Jeanette and Lori in many ways have better parenting skills than Rex and Rosemary ever have. The greatest symbol of this maturity is the escape fund, made by Lori, Jeanette and Brian. They spend so long working for a better life, thinking about the future only to have their hopes and dreams crushed by their own father. Rex’s tragic past holds him back from success, forcing him to the sweet embrace of alcoholism. Rex’s addictive and short term nature can only enjoy the comic sections; he has no hope of escaping tragedy all together.
Ever since childhood, Lori and Jeanette have adapted under stress; they rise to the occasion when there parents cannot. The Walls children grow up quickly in the Big apple learning how to handle city life. Jeanette and lori have made lives for themselves, working and studying to further their careers. It seems that New York is the perfect place for these girls with such motivation and forethought. Rex and Rosemary join them shortly, yet make no effort to change. Their living moment to moment on the streets demonstrates their positive outlook and the short term nature of Rosmary’s point. Maureen unfortunately chooses to stay with Rex and Rosemanry, influenced more by her immature parents than the other three. She follows Rosemary’s philosophy for so long that she eventually cannot take it any more, cracking under stress and mental illness. Not to say that her lifestyle as a child makes her crazy as an adult, but it mush have made a difference, considering the success of her siblings. People can only go as far as they will themselves forward, and optimist means nothing without the drive to succeed.
A childlike sense of optimism can be great for morale but will only go so far when a situation is hopeless. The Walls family, through Rosemary’s comment, demonstrates that it takes more than just optimist to advance in the world. The themes presence throughout the memoir reinforces the struggles that Jeanette goes through as a child. The weakness of her parents, searching not for an improved life, only for small escapes takes its toll on Jeanette, but strengthened her to the point of success that she achieves in New York. The weakness of their parents worked to form Jeanette and Lori into the successful adults that exist now.
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