The Glass Castle Rhetorical Analysis
Why would anyone purposely put their children through a chaotic and dangerous childhood? Some people might argue that a traumatic upbringing leads to a rocky adulthood. However, in Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle, the reader can see personal growth of characters through symbolism, choice of language, and imagery. Therefore, a difficult childhood does not define one’s future.
The author uses symbolism to represent the deeper meaning of everything in life. Rex Walls, Jeanette’s father, gives his children stars for Christmas. This situation is represented on page 40, when Walls states, “‘Pick out your favorite star,’ Dad said that night. He told me I could have it for keeps. He said it was my Christmas present” (Walls 40). Jeanette cannot physically touch her Christmas present. It really is not even hers. Jeanette's father claiming the stars have a deeper meaning. It displays the dark side of entitlement. Because nobody can officially claim stars, Rex is essentially teaching the lesson that the rules do not apply to the Walls family. Also, the Walls family moves a lot, but the stars go with them. This could represent the family’s anti-materialistic values. Another example of symbolism can be found on page 35 when Walls writes, “I thought the Joshua tree was ugly. It looked scraggly and freakish, permanently stuck and it’s twisted, tortured position, and made me think of how some adults tell you not to make weird faces because your features could freeze. Mom, however, thought it was one of the most beautiful trees she had ever seen”(Walls 35). Much like Jeanette, the Joshua tree has no choice but to adapt to its extreme environment. This symbolizes that despite life struggles, perseverance can make something beautiful out of the things least expected. The Joshua tree will look different depending on the perception of the person looking at it. Those that know it’s true worth and story can find the beauty in it. Through these examples of symbolism, the reader can see that a difficult childhood does not define one’s future.
In Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle, the author uses the characters’ personal experiences, and how they describe them, to compel the reader to feel sympathy for Jeannette and her siblings. The Walls family keeps moving place to place on a fairly regular basis. They use the phrase “doing the skedaddle” to make moving seem like a fun adventure. This would make it much easier for the kids to be willing to pack everything and leave. One example of this would be on page 19 when Jeannette explains, “We were always doing the skedaddle, usually in the middle of the night”(Walls 19). The kids don’t understand that their lifestyle isn’t the typical one of other kids their age. That simple phrase seems silly but it pushes the reader to feel sorry for Jeannette and her siblings (specifically how unknowing and innocent they are). The irony creates an added sense of frustration for the reader. Another example would be on page 154 when Walls writes, “‘Are we ever going home?’ I asked Dad one day. ‘Home?’ ‘ Phoenix.’ ‘This is home now’”(Walls 154). In this moment, Jeannette realizes that her future is not set in stone. While most kids would think about how they do not have a place to call home, Jeannette sees that her future will be an adventure. She goes on to talk about making Welch the most enjoyable place possible for as long as they are there. She seems satisfied and content without knowing how traumatizing her childhood is. Jeannette Walls decides to be better than her past and thrive in her adulthood. The author displays character growth, through word choice in The Glass Castle.
Walls uses imagery throughout the story to help the reader better understand the characters’ personal experiences. At the beginning of the book, Jeannette describes the day that her dress caught on fire while she was trying to make hot dogs. Walls writes, “Frozen with fear, I watched the yellow-white flames make a ragged brown line up the pink fabric of my skirt and climb my stomach. Then the flames leaped up, reaching my face”(Walls 9). This memory is one of the earliest that Jeannette has. The description of the event helps the reader paint a picture of the scene in their head. The simple fact that a three year old was cooking over a stove, unsupervised, says a lot about the type of parents she has. She goes on to describe the hospital, and how the nurses treated her with such kindness. She states, “The room was small and white, with bright lights and metal cabinets. I stared for a while at the rows of tiny dots in the ceiling panels. Ice cubes covered my stomach and ribs and pressed up against my cheeks”(Walls 10). The specific details show the reader how traumatizing this even truly was. The vivid memories create a story of their own. She describes the nurses’ generosity by explaining how they let her try chewing gum. They cared for her and kept her comfortable. These are things that felt special to Jeannette because she had not felt this level of care before. Even without her parents showing that they care, Jeannette chose to grow from her personal experiences and create a better future for herself.