The Analysis of “The Glass Castle” Quotes
“The Glass Castle” is the book of memoirs of Jeanette Walls and, despite telling us about quite average life of a seemingly dysfunctional family, it has deep symbolism behind the daily routine she paints for us in the vivid descriptive quotes. The first feeling we get while reading the book is bittersweet one.
What does the glass castle symbolize? Jeanette’s broken dreams about happiness and easily achieving it. But thinking more about the book we start to see the real family loyalty behind all the neglection, alcohol abuse and overall depression. Both Rex Walls and Rose Mary Walls loved their children. They could have made countless mistakes while raising them and coping with their own family conflicts, but in this quotation analysis we want to show you the real feeling of Walls family, presented to us by author through rich symbolism.
“One time I saw a tiny Joshua tree sapling growing not too far from the old tree. I wanted to dig it up and replant it near our house. I told Mom that I would protect it from the wind and water it every day so that it could grow nice and tall and straight. Mom frowned at me. “You’d be destroying what makes it special,” she said. “It’s the Joshua tree’s struggle that gives it its beauty.”
Maybe one of the most important quotes when we say about symbolism is the one about Joshua Tree. This symbol has one of the richest meanings in all the book. The old house is very important to Jeannette: it is the place where her dreams and her images about perfect family are stored. For her the old house is, in a way, her glass castle of happiness.
Jeannette clearly associates the little sapling with herself. She projects her desire to be protected to the tree, deciding to pamper it and save it from any stressful impact from the outside, thinking that to be straight is the perfect way to grow for that tree. But her mother, who seems to understand this projection, says that it won’t do the tree any good.
The nature prepared the Joshua trees for growing under the strong winds and heavy rains, their tangled branches are not a distortion of some perfect image, but just the representation of their uniqueness. Accepting the idea that the tree needs challenges to grow up as strong as it has to be is a moment of coming of age for Jeannette.
She understands that overprotection isn’t the option of raising her and her parents still love her, the family loyalty isn’t shattered. Moreover, Rose Mary shows in this conversation how much she understands her daughter and her concerns, giving her exactly the answer that is really needed at the moment.
To add something from outside the story: Jeannette’s mom is right. Some positive stress (a stress that is bearable and stimulates us to struggle, not breaks us, turning us into depressed wrecks) is not only useful for the development of the living beings – it is absolutely necessary and is the matter of their survival – as is the protection of the family and basic trust in family values, knowing that your pack, clan or parents are right behind your back to catch you if the wind is too strong for you to bear.
Dad had lost his job at the gypsum, and when Christmas came that year, we had no money at all. On Christmas Eve, Dad took each one of us kids out into the desert night one by one.
“Pick out your favorite star”, Dad said.
“I like that one!” I said.
Dad grinned, “that’s Venus”, he said. He explained to me that planets glowed because reflected light was constant and stars twinkled because their light pulsed.
“I like it anyway” I said.
“What the hell,” Dad said. “It’s Christmas. You can have a planet if you want.”
And he gave me Venus.
This one is also one of the most important of “The Glass Castle” quotes. It shows both the financial status of the family (they even didn’t tell the kids about Santa Claus to not let them think they were bad children and didn’t deserve the presents). But still, Rex Walls takes his time and puts all his creativity to make a remarkable Christmas for his family.
It is also one of the most descriptive quotes, showing the average talk between the family members, without brushing up (see Rex Walls saying “what the hell” to his kids?). He may be rude, abuse alcohol, be neglecting and not care about his house properly, but he comes up with the best present he is capable of.
Moreover, we see that Jeannette’s family cares about her education: her father explains her the difference about the stars and planets and he is able to distinguish Venus amongst the rest of the stars. Later, after this quote, Jeannette discusses the properties of Venus, like its atmosphere and proximity to the Sun, so we understand that the family values of Walls family include high standards of education – astronomy isn’t something that neglectful parents usually teach their children.
Another precious thing that makes these words one of the most important quotes in all the book is the later explanation of Rex Walls that the average presents – toys and sweets – will not live long while the stars will be with them forever, reminding them of this Christmas and the wonderful evening they spent together as a family. The stars represent family values, love and care, the eternal parental love that doesn’t need material proofs to be true. Stars are Jeannette’s ideals and the embodiment of the sweetest memories about her family.
“I wondered if the fire had been out to get me. I wondered if all fire was related, like Dad said all humans were related, if the fire that had burned me that day while I cooked hot dogs was somehow connected to the fire I had flushed down the toilet and the fire burning at the hotel. I didn’t have the answers to those questions, but what I did know was that I lived in a world that at any moment could erupt into fire. It was the sort of knowledge that kept you on your toes.”
Fire is another powerful piece of symbolism in the book. Fire represents danger that just appears from thin air to burn Jeannette. Fire represents not only danger, but insecurities of the girl’s life, some force of nature she can’t resist and only avoid it, hoping not to get burnt. Family conflicts are heavily associated with fire: something destructive, incomprehensible, that kids have no power to stop.
Jeannette keeps a personal grudge towards fire, thinking of it as of something semi-sentient that is after her and after her feeling of safety and security of the world around. She even imagines all the fire in the world being related, like Rex Walls said all humans are, granting the fire the power of some evil superior mind that is capable to choose its victim and pursue her (“…if the fire had been out to get me”).
She also feels that the fire can emerge from everywhere without any obvious reasons (as the fire truly does sometimes), that only enhances the feeling of insecurity it represents. The symbolism of the fire is meaningless destruction, something that can easily disrupt whatever was achieved before with such hard efforts – trust, understanding, peace in the family.
Interesting that everything connected with Jeannette’s family is represented through something connected to light. Stars – the gentle and eternal sources of light – represent family values, fierce and unpredictable fire represents family conflicts and is something opposing to the stars. The geode – a stone with crystals inside – from Jeannette’s rock collection, the only thing she takes with her when it’s time to move, perfectly represents her family.
Under the grey and ugly shell that is what the Walls family looks from the side, there are crystals that reflect light in a beautiful way – something that again is connected with light and represents the real essence of their relationships – family loyalty and devotion to each other.
As we can see from “The Glass Castle” quotes, the story about real events is thoroughly interwoven with rich symbolism that can tell us even more than the exact words of even the most descriptive quotes. The world of symbols is an average thing in the childhood, but in this book they are so precise and bright that they create a separate story that is seen from beneath the original one like the beautiful crystals are seen beneath the dull green stone shell of Jeannette’s geode.