Symbols In The Glass Castle
The book The Glass Castle, written by Jeannette Walls, is a memoir of Jeannette and her family’s compelling and captivating life on the move. Her life consists of exceptional struggle, triumph, and countless examples of the ups and downs of a bond between a family. From the west coast, to the east coast, Jeannette’s family was always on the road. Throughout the book, there is a strong use of symbolism in her stories. She had many stories to tell, but she chose specific ones for a reason. From her mother’s description of the Joshua Tree at their desert home and the recurring experiences with fire, to her father’s dreams of building The Glass Castle, there are symbols with every flip of the page.
During one of the Walls family’s hunts for a new home, something along the side of the road caught Rosemary’s, Jeanette’s mother, eye. It was a Joshua Tree. The tree had been contorted by the wind over many years and was seen as a sight for sore eyes by many people, but that is what made Rosemary love it. Jeannette thought the tree was ugly, and when she saw another joshua tree sapling starting to grow, she thought it would be good to have it grow in an area protected from wind. When she was about to dig it up, Rosemary protested the action and said, “You’d be destroying what makes it special… It’s the Joshua Tree’s struggle that gives it its beauty” (Walls 38). If the dysfunctional growth and conflicts that the tree experienced make it beautiful, in Rosemary’s belief, then the tree is a symbol of Jeannette’s life. Growing up, Jeannette faced trials that many people would never have to face, but she manages to overcome them. Without those challenges she would not be the kind of person she is today, similar to the tree.
Another symbol that is recurring throughout the book is, fire. Jeannette encounters fire in different ways throughout her life. Her first experience with fire was when she was three. She got caught on fire while trying to make hot dogs and was severely burned. She had other encounters with fire such as the time her family’s San Francisco apartment burned down or when her and her brother, Brian, burned down a shed. After Brian and Jeannette got out of the burning shed, thanks to her father Rex, they observed the fire. Rex pointed out the area at the top of the fire and described it as, “… A place where no rules apply, or at least they haven’t figured ’em out yet” (Walls 61). Rex’s description of “the boundary between turbulence and order” is a symbol of the Walls’ children's lives. Each day they live on a teeter totter of a functional and loving family and dysfunctional and harmful family. When the children are younger all they feel like is a loving family, but as they get older they begin to debate whether or not their family is as functional as they always thought.
The symbol of The Glass Castle is arguably the biggest symbol in the book. Ever since Jeannette was a child, her father, Rex, promised their family he would build The Glass Castle. He had a specific design for the castle and intricate plans of how he would build it. Early in the book, Jeannette recalls how her dad had things sorted out and remembers him saying, “All we had to do was find gold, Dad said, and we were on the verge of that. Once he finished the Prospector and he struck it rich, he'd start work on our Glass Castle" (Walls 25). The promises that Rex made when the kids were young seemed realistic and hopeful, but as time went on and Rex’s drinking habits worsened, they started to seem more deceitful and empty. The Glass Castle is ultimately a symbol of failed dreams and broken promises. Jeannette is forced to come to the conclusion that The Glass Castle was never realistic when Rex orders her to start filling the foundation they made for it in Welch with garbage. In that moment, the dream of The Glass Castle was thrown away completely, just like garbage.
Jeannettes choice to share the story of the Joshua Tree, the recurrence of fire in her life, and the broken dreams of The Glass Castle are her ways of showing symbolism throughout the book. The stories give us more insight on Jeannette's parents and her most memorable parts of her growing up. Some of the moments that Jeannette experienced throughout her life and that she mentioned in the book, are eye-opening moments where her belief and thoughts on things begin to change. Similar to many people now, she lived a life where she was sheltered from many differing beliefs and was taught to think a certain way because of her parents.