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A Prison Made of Glass in "The Glass Castle"

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In the memoir The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, a father, Rex Walls, keeps his family from amassing substantial wealth. Rex buys hard drinks whenever the family begins to earn money. When he comes home he unleashes his anger onto his family by destroying the few things the family owns. Yet while sober, he helps his family tremendously and loves them greatly. The good attributes of Rex and his leadership make his place in the family indestructible, but cannot overpower the problems with his personality. The Glass Castle thus depicts an irremovable father who unjustly and imprisons his family through irresponsible drinking.

Rex Walls’s inability to lead his own life and take responsibility causes him to fail at fulfilling the needs of his family. As a poor man, Rex often lacks the financial ability to drink hard alcohol due to his lack of funds. The lack of drunkenness makes Rex accomplish productive tasks which eventually bring him money. In this state of increased wealth, Rex chooses to squander his earnings on alcohol due to a deeper problem in his life. In his youth, Rex’s mother molested him. This trauma scarred his entire life and forces him to try to hide this problem and act like it never happened, rather than face this issue head-on. For this reason, he never completely stops drinking despite many attempts. Due to his choice to not deal with his problems as a youth, Rex lives in a cycle of poverty and wealth synchronized with sobriety and drunkenness. Rex’s drunkenness carries along his family as well, forcing the entire family to become poor again whenever they gain enough money for Rex to go to the bar. Rex fails at fulfilling the role of a father by irresponsibly controlling the family’s wealth and property, thus leading to faulty leadership of the family. Rex’s deep, unsolved problems force Rex into drunkenness and in turn make him unable to fulfill his role as a father.

Due to Rex’s drunkenness, his wife becomes stuck in a circle of depression and ignorant optimism. She sees through Rex’s elaborate stories that justify his use of money to research and build new inventions as simply another way to gain money to drink. She knows of the poverty she lives in, and sometimes works to provide for the family. She detects Rex’s external problem of drinking, and reads books to attempt to help stop this problem. This hopeful attempt to permanently change Rex never succeeds, and after enough trial her hope of change breaks. She sees how there will never be any positive or upward movement, and that she will forever live in horrible conditions for the rest of her life. Thereafter, she spends some mornings in bed instead of teaching at the school, and eventually quits her job to spend her time alone painting while her children scavenge food to survive. To try to solve her issue of depression, Rose Mary (Rex’s wife) adopts a heavily optimistic lifestyle. She attempts to always look on the bright side and forget about her hopelessness rather than deal with it. Rose Mary decides to not acknowledge the horrible house she lives in and instead naively believes that she exists in a wonderful life, not a life of deprivation and abuse. Rex’s addiction to alcohol pushes Rose Mary into hopelessness terrible enough to bring her to find solace in the creation of a false reality in her mind, a way to make things look better than they actually are.

Yet Rex’s authority cannot be removed because his sobriety allows for him to prove himself as a father for brief moments, before he becomes drunk and ruins the hope of his family. While sober, Rex recites scientific facts to his children, gives them a future to look forward to (a glass castle) and generates an income for his family. He effectively leads the family. While this happens part of the time, he also drinks whenever he earns a substantial amount of money from his labor, and the family loses hopes of moving into a more comfortable life. Rose Mary and her children see Rex as a necessary evil in their lives. It would be impossible to live without him, and with him their lives become harsh, violent, and poor. The combination of virtue and vice in Rex makes him a person the family should do without to survive better, but cannot do without, to that Rex’s family stays imprisoned in the cycle of poverty and an abusive father.

Walls’s memoir tells of a father who destroys and provides for his family with the end result being one of poverty and sadness. Rex abuses his family so he can drown out the problems of his youth. His family needs to get rid of him, but cannot because of their need of him. This story warns of the destruction an irresponsible parent can bring on a family; for the sake of their loved ones, people should deal with their problems rather than ignore them. The Glass Castle, ultimately, examines the devastating effects that can be caused by a father with deep personal problems.

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A Prison Made of Glass in “The Glass Castle”. (2018, Jun 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved August 1, 2021, from
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