The Glass Castle

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Erma Walls Character Analysis

Dad’s mother, she lives in Welch, West Virginia. Jeannette catches her sexually abusing Brian, leading the kids to question whether Dad suffered the same. Erma is cold and bitter, but Mom asks the kids to have more empathy towards her, since she had a difficult childhood being shuttled around between various relatives.

Erma Walls Quotes in The Glass Castle

The The Glass Castle quotes below are all either spoken by Erma Walls or refer to Erma Walls. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Growing Up, Illusion, and Disillusion Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Scribner edition of The Glass Castle published in 2006.
Part 3 Quotes

“Erma can’t let go of her misery,” Mom said. “It’s all she knows.” She added that you should never hate anyone, even your worst enemies. “Everyone has something good about them,” she said. “You have to find the redeeming quality and love the person for that.”

Related Characters: Rose Mary Walls (speaker), Erma Walls
Page Number: 144
Explanation and Analysis:

Deciding that the kids are making too much noise downstairs, Erma thumps loudly on the ceiling above them. She has been cranky and unpleasant since their arrival, and Jeannette immediately dislikes her. But Mom, in what is a rare occasion for her, chastises Jeannette and asks her not to judge Erma, who has suffered a good amount in her life. Mom exhibits, here as elsewhere, a compassion stemming from the creative capacity to imagine other people's experiences. Her suggestion also stems from her desire to see certain situations differently from how others choose to see them, often putting a more positive light on what others might consider ugly or unpleasant. Although Jeannette's mother is often portrayed as relatively immature, this is an instance at which her natural optimism and empathy is shown to be wise.

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Erma Walls Character Timeline in The Glass Castle

The timeline below shows where the character Erma Walls appears in The Glass Castle. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 3: Welch
Home Theme Icon
...is Dad’s mother. Jeannette calls her Grandma but she snaps at her to call her Erma. (full context)
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Responsibility, Self-Sufficiency, and Non-Conformity Theme Icon
Next to Erma a fragile-looking man with white hair, Ted, tells Jeannette it’s fine if she calls him... (full context)
Growing Up, Illusion, and Disillusion Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
Responsibility, Self-Sufficiency, and Non-Conformity Theme Icon
Jeannette doubts that Erma likes them, but Mom says that she’s had a difficult life, and that they’ll adapt. (full context)
Responsibility, Self-Sufficiency, and Non-Conformity Theme Icon
That afternoon, Erma asks how “Niggerville” went. She blames blacks for Welch’s deterioration, and says they are the... (full context)
Order and Turbulence Theme Icon
Responsibility, Self-Sufficiency, and Non-Conformity Theme Icon
...not to use that word, and that Mom says black people are just like us. Erma curses at Jeannette and sends her down to the basement without dinner. (full context)
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Order and Turbulence Theme Icon
Responsibility, Self-Sufficiency, and Non-Conformity Theme Icon
Lori congratulates Jeannette on standing up to Erma, but Mom says that they have to remember to be polite while they’re Erma’s guests—confusing... (full context)
Growing Up, Illusion, and Disillusion Theme Icon
Order and Turbulence Theme Icon
Responsibility, Self-Sufficiency, and Non-Conformity Theme Icon
Mom says Erma’s parents died when she was young and she bounced around between relatives, essentially as a... (full context)
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Possessions and Ownership Theme Icon
...in the house. Mom leaves Lori in charge and tells the kids to listen to Erma. (full context)
Growing Up, Illusion, and Disillusion Theme Icon
Order and Turbulence Theme Icon
A week later, the kids are all watching TV in the living room when Erma tells Brian to follow her into Grandpa’s bedroom, where she can sew up his shorts... (full context)
Order and Turbulence Theme Icon
Responsibility, Self-Sufficiency, and Non-Conformity Theme Icon
Jeannette yells at Erma to stop and calls her a pervert. Lori runs in and tells everyone to calm... (full context)
Order and Turbulence Theme Icon
Erma sends the kids down to stay in the basement, where they can’t use the bathroom... (full context)
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Order and Turbulence Theme Icon
A week later, a foot of snow falls on Welch. Since Erma won’t give the kids any coal to burn, they all climb into bed every day... (full context)
Growing Up, Illusion, and Disillusion Theme Icon
Responsibility, Self-Sufficiency, and Non-Conformity Theme Icon
The night Mom and Dad come back, the kids hear the door open upstairs and Erma begin to complain about all the trouble they’ve caused. Dad heads downstairs to yell at... (full context)
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Order and Turbulence Theme Icon
Erma claims she can never forgive the kids and they can no longer stay with her.... (full context)
Responsibility, Self-Sufficiency, and Non-Conformity Theme Icon
At the end of their second Welch winter, Erma dies. She had long prepared for her funeral and leaves detailed, intricate instructions. Jeannette is... (full context)
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Responsibility, Self-Sufficiency, and Non-Conformity Theme Icon
When Mom asks if the kids have something nice to say about Erma, Lori responds, “Ding-dong, the witch is dead.” The others start laughing, but Dad looks furious... (full context)
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Order and Turbulence Theme Icon
Responsibility, Self-Sufficiency, and Non-Conformity Theme Icon
Not long after Erma’s death, Uncle Stanley falls asleep while smoking a cigarette in the basement, and a fire... (full context)