The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls Summary Study Guide

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Immoral people cannot be shamed. Jeannette tries to shame her mother into getting a job so her kids will not starve but her mother cannot be shamed. Neither can her father be shamed into giving up drinking and getting a job. That's because they are both immoral. You cannot shame immoral and/or crazy people.


Personality is genetic, not environmental.  You might expect Jeannette to grow up crazy because of her environment but she and Lori and Brian grew up surprisingly normal. That's because personality is mostly determined by genetics, not environment. And although Jeannette got her genes from her crazy parents, a parent can pass many different variations of genes to their children. The next time someone excuses the criminal behavior of a teenager on bad parenting, think of the kids in this book, their awful background, and how well they turned out.

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Bad parenting can be rooted in lack of empathy. It is curious to see Jeannette's pleas of hunger, or pain, or sexual assault, fall on the deaf ears of her parents. They simply don't care. They don't have the kind of feelings of empathy for their children that most parents do. It was astonishing watching Jeannette's mom be annoyed when her children complained about being hungry, and her resentment at being forced to work to feed them. I think her parents were borderline autistic, unable to feel the needs of their own children and be affected by them.


Self-delusion is a big part of mental illness. Jeannette's Dad was a drunk but he was also mentally ill.  Part of his coping strategy with dealing with the horribleness of the present was to claim that things would be better in the future. That's where the promise of the Glass Castle comes in. By promising to build a glass castle, he excuses the poor living conditions of the present. It's a coping mechanism so he doesn't get blamed for the extreme poverty  and deprivation he subjects his children to.

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