The Glass Castle

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Jeannette Walls Character Analysis

Daughter of Rex and Rose Mary Walls, and the second oldest of four siblings in the Walls family. Jeannette is practical, rational, and thoughtful. Unlike Mom, she enjoys adhering to rules—though she is always up for an adventure as well. Unlike Dad, when she commits to doing something, she follows through. Along with her older sister, Lori, Jeannette often takes on the role of parent when her own parents act more like children. But for much of the memoir, Jeanette adores and idealizes her father, and struggles to reconcile this idealized image with Dad’s reckless choices and mistakes. Ultimately she comes to the conclusion that she must escape her family and she moves to New York. She never entirely condemns her parents, but as an adult her relationship with them remains deeply ambivalent.

Jeannette Walls Quotes in The Glass Castle

The The Glass Castle quotes below are all either spoken by Jeannette Walls or refer to Jeannette 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 1 Quotes

“You want to help me change my life?” Mom asked. “I’m fine. You’re the one who needs help. Your values are all confused.”

Related Characters: Rose Mary Walls (speaker), Jeannette Walls
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

Having caught a glimpse of her mother rifling through a dumpster in New York City, Jeannette has invited her to dinner and shared that she's worried about her. In turn, Jeannette's mother brushes off her concerns and turns the tables, suggesting that Jeannette is actually the one with a problem in this situation. Jeannette's mother has explained her actions by the fact that Americans don't recycle enough, but she is more propelled by a combination of necessity and a blasé attitude towards what others may think. 

Indeed, Jeannette's mother would most likely not be relying on a dumpster if she had other means by which to feed herself. But as this is the case, she develops a subtle worldview created around the superiority of such a lifestyle - something that Jeannette describes as typical of her childhood. According to this worldview, it is defensible and even desirable to actively choose to do what others may look down upon, especially if this means that Jeannette's mother does not need to rely on anyone else. Her critique of Jeannette is part of this ethos as well, as she claims that the lack of money or possessions is morally liberating. It is Jeannette, then, because she cares about what others think and values material possessions, who becomes the weaker and less self-sufficient of the two (at least according to her mother).

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Part 2 Quotes

That was the thing about the hospital. You never had to worry about running out of stuff like food or ice or even chewing gum. I would have been happy staying in that hospital forever.

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker)
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

Having suffered serious burns from a cooking accident, three-year-old Jeannette is in the hospital for an extended stay, but instead of being upset or frightened, she considers this a luxurious vacation. A nurse has given Jeannette a stick of gum, which she adores: when she worries that she'll have to throw it out to eat lunch, the nurse offers to give her as many as she'd like. Such an offer is entirely alien to Jeannette's experiences with her family at home, where food is often difficult to come by and scarcity is the norm, from toys to basic necessities. Before her stay at the hospital, she had considered this state of affairs normal, but now she begins to realize that a home need not be this way. For Jeannette, the hospital is a place of calm, order, and endless supply. In many ways, the hospital represents the period of worry-free childhood that Jeannette has never had, and that she only now begins to glimpse.

When Dad wasn’t telling us about all the amazing things he had already done, he was telling us about the wondrous things he was going to do. Like build the Glass Castle. All of Dad’s engineering skills and mathematical genius were coming together in one special project: a great big house he was going to build for us in the desert.

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker), Rex Walls
Related Symbols: Glass Castle
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

In an extended period of background exposition, Jeannette shares a series of anecdotes about her father's propensity to talk about himself and his various impressive feats. Here Jeannette connects her dad's former triumphs with his dreams for the future, some of which seem just as fanciful and marvelous - but also even more appealing to his children. Rex Walls does like to talk, but the Glass Castle does not seem to Jeannette to be mere empty words: they are fleshed out by the great level of detail that he includes, from the engineering necessities to the architectural blueprints.

The Glass Castle is not just appealing to Jeannette because it will be a beautiful, impressive building for the family to live in. It also foretells a time when the family will be able to stop moving around, when they'll settle into a more stable life together in a place less transient than the various apartments and houses where they have been staying before. Rex Walls also possesses the ability to enchant his children by making them feel like a crucial part of his projects, rather than mere appendages. By involving them in the plans for the Glass Castle, Jeannette's father helps to maintain their illusions about an exciting, fruitful future for the 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 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.

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker)
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

Jeannette's family has been staying at a run-down hotel in San Francisco - until it burns down one night and her father has to carry her outside before returning to fight the flames. Since her accident and hospital stay, Jeannette has been fascinated by fire, alternately attracted to and repelled by or afraid of its power. Although Jeannette is not sure if there is a real connection between her various experiences with fire, she does seem to be able to see parallels between these experiences. In particular, fires seem to develop whenever Jeannette finds herself and her family lacking stability, or at least a relatively greater lack of stability than usual. Fires begin outside human control, spreading according to their own logic. This inability to foretell or prevent such dangerous events thus serves to remind Jeannette of her inability to predict or control what happens in her life in general. All she can do is remain alert so that she won't be caught entirely off guard when the unexpected does happen.

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.”

Related Characters: Rose Mary Walls (speaker), Jeannette Walls
Related Symbols: The Joshua Tree
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

The family has settled into their new life, with Dad working at a gypsum mine and Mom spending her time painting and writing illustrated short stories. Again and again she returns to paint the Joshua tree, whose gnarled branches she finds captivating and beautiful. From the start, Jeannette has been dubious about the Joshua tree's beauty, finding it gnarled and unpleasant-looking. Here, Jeannette goes so far as to imagine that she'll replant one of the tree's saplings in the ground and tend to it so that it grows up straight rather than twisted. Mom, however, couldn't think less of this idea.

Their two opposite opinions on beauty and struggle stem from their quite distinct philosophies of how to live. Mom has always embraced excitement, change, and instability. She does not only find these things interesting: for her they are almost ethical values, directly related to her artistic sensibility and search for new and unusual instances of beauty. But Jeannette has grown up with the constant anxiety that stems from not being able to enjoy a stable, worry-free childhood. For her, change and uncertainty should be fought rather than embraced as objects of beauty. The Joshua Tree gives Jeannette a physical, objective reminder of the vast distance between the way her mother thinks and her own mentality, a gap of which she will only grow more aware as time goes on.

We laughed about the all the kids who believed in the Santa myth and got nothing for Christmas but a bunch of cheap plastic toys. “Years from now, when all the junk they got is broken and long forgotten,” Dad said, “you’ll still have your stars.

Related Characters: Rex Walls (speaker), Jeannette Walls
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

Jeannette's parents have little interest in maintaining the illusion that Santa Claus exists. Instead, for Christmas, Dad has taken Jeannette and her siblings outside to the Arizona desert, where he has told them to choose a star for their present. After each one chooses, Dad explains the significance of each star. For Jeannette and her siblings the lack of normal Christmas presents is not disappointing but rather a marker of their family's superiority. They feel special to have been able to have Christmas presents that few other kids have.

At other times, the Walls parents' decisions are frustrating for the kids, but here we have a glimpse of the elements of the family's life that could be truly enchanting for a child. Of course, their parents could not afford the "cheap plastic toys" that other kids receive for Christmas in any case. But Dad in particular possesses the remarkable skill of making scarcity into an adventure, poverty into something magical. By scorning cheap toys and ephemeral possessions, Dad underlines the superiority of the family's questionable choices, but he also embraces a true attitude of wonder towards the natural world, inculcating this sense in the children as well.

[Dad] pointed to the top of the fire, where the snapping yellow flames dissolved into an invisible shimmery heat that made the desert beyond seem to waver, like a mirage. Dad told us that zone was known in physics as the boundary between turbulence and order. “It’s a place where no rules apply, or at least they haven’t figured ’em out yet,” he said.

Related Characters: Rex Walls (speaker), Jeannette Walls, Brian Walls
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

Once again, Jeannette has had a close call with fire, this time because she and Brian have been playing "lab" in an abandoned shed and have accidentally burned it down. As is often the case for her father, he does not get angry at the danger they put themselves in or at their independence. Looking at the fire seems to awaken in Dad his general fascination for nature and physics, one that is nurtured by his own profound scientific knowledge. For Dad, the mirage that locates the boundary between turbulence and order is intellectually fascinating, appealing in its status as a no-man's-land without rules or regulations. 

Jeannette understands this fascination as going deeper than a mere intellectual interest. For her, Dad is always drawn to the border between order and turbulence in life as well: he is constantly testing this border, trying to see what happens if he acts in one way or another. The problem, of course, is that by definition one cannot know what will happen in this boundary - one cannot apply known rules or theories - so that the family is always teetering on the edge, not entirely without order but never safely within the realm of order either.

Dad kept telling me that he loved me, that he never would have let me drown, but you can’t cling to the side your whole life, that one lesson every parent needs to teach a child is “If you don’t want to sink, you better figure out how to swim.”

Related Characters: Rex Walls (speaker), Jeannette Walls
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:

Dad has brought the kids to a natural sulfur spring one winter day. Jeannette, having never learned to swim, is frightened by the water, and as she cautiously wades in Dad suddenly grabs her and throws her in again and again. Gasping and thrashing around in the water, Jeannette is terrified, but finally she manages to keep her head above water. Only then does Dad remind her that she would never be in danger around him, but that caution and worry would never get her far in life. 

Dad's lesson, a literal affair of "sink-or-swim," also applies to his views on parenting and on life affairs in general. By throwing yourself into the most frightening and difficult challenges, he claims, you'll be forced to learn how to act and how to navigate in any situation. Dad believes he is encouraging Jeannette to become self-sufficient, to learn to rely on herself for whatever might come her way. Jeannette, of course, would not have preferred to learn this lesson in such a dramatic fashion. She would probably not agree that Dad's lesson is the best way to learn responsibility. Nonetheless, the experience does at the very least show her that, as she grows up, she may well have to deal with frightening and dangerous situations not too different from her experience of learning to swim.

“I swear, honey, there are times when I think you’re the only one around who still has faith in me,” [Dad] said. “I don’t know what I’d do if you ever lost it.” I told him that I would never lose faith in him. And I promised myself I never would.

Related Characters: Rex Walls (speaker), Jeannette Walls
Page Number: 78-79
Explanation and Analysis:

Lori and Brian have begun to turn against Dad, arguing that he spends more money on alcohol than he does on basic necessities for the family. Jeannette cannot bring herself to agree with them, at least out loud. She still loves to spend time with Dad, and feels privileged that he shows her his charts and graphs for his various research projects - projects about which Lori and Brian are increasingly skeptical. Still, Jeannette continues to embrace the chance to develop a special relationship with her father. She is proud to be able to have faith that he'll lead the family to better times, especially since he confides that she is the only one who continues to trust him.

However, it is clear that even Jeannette is beginning to doubt her own confidence. She has to promise herself that she won't lose faith in her father, suggesting that the possibility is at least present. For the moment, however, Jeannette continues to cling to the memory of her father's exciting plans and marvelous ideas, fearing that once she gives up those ideals she will be left only with a bleak reality.

“I wonder what life will be like now,” I said to Lori.
“The same,” she said. “[Dad] tried stopping before, but it never lasted.”
“This time it will.”
“How do you know?”
“It’s his present to me.”

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker), Lori Walls (speaker), Rex Walls
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:

Jeannette has asked Dad to give up drinking as his birthday present to her, a request that deeply upsets him, as he realizes that Jeannette must be deeply ashamed of him. Now he has barricaded himself away in a committed attempt to rid himself of his addiction. Lori, however, is far more skeptical than Jeannette about the possibility of Dad truly getting sober. She prefers to judge the chances on the basis of experience: having failed to see a noticeable change in Dad's actions, she doesn't want to get her hopes up about this new commitment. A few years older than Jeannette, Lori has learned to only rely on herself rather than on others so as not to be disappointed again and again.

In some ways, Jeannette has begun to share Lori's skepticism - indeed, she has at least come to terms with the reality of Dad's drinking. But she is convinced that Dad's love for her is such that this time he tries to give up will be different. Jeannette doesn't really see Dad's addiction as a disease, but rather as something under his control, which, if he only wants or tries hard enough, he'll be able to conquer. Part of her illusions thus rests on this innocent view of adult problems.

Part 3 Quotes

“Are we ever going home?” I asked Dad one day.
“Home?”
“Phoenix.”
“This is home now.”

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker), Rex Walls (speaker)
Page Number: 154
Explanation and Analysis:

The family has moved into a sad, run-down home in a downtrodden neighborhood, and although Mom tries to make an adventure out of the small daily challenges of living in such a place, Jeannette can no longer bring herself to acquiesce enthusiastically to these kinds of games. Dad has even suggested that he will return to the Glass Castle blueprints, but Jeannette remains skeptical. She can only understand their current situation as something temporary, rather than a new "home" as Dad calls it.

After years of wandering around from place to place, Jeannette had found that the family's life in Vienna represented real security and stability. Looking back, she now realizes that when she thinks of what "home" means to her, she thinks of Phoenix more than anywhere else. Dad, on the other hand, suggests that wherever the family is now living counts as home. In either case, it does make more sense for him to accept West Virginia as the family's new home, since it is where he himself comes from; but he also seems more than anything resigned to their new situation.

Instead of a freshly painted yellow house, or even a dingy gray one, we now had a weird-looking half-finished patch job—one that announced to the world that the people inside the house wanted to fix it up but lacked the gumption to get the work done.

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker)
Page Number: 158
Explanation and Analysis:

Jeannette has been trying to think up ways to make the house more cheery and pleasant-looking. Armed with a paint can that Dad brought home from work, she paints the parts of the house that she can access without a ladder. But by the time she manages to create a makeshift ladder, the paint has frozen and re-melted and is now unusable. Worse, the house looks even dingier than it did before.

Jeannette is the member of the family who cares the most about the small, symbolic niceties of home life that Mom and Dad care little for. But in addition, for Jeannette, the half-painted house is emblematic of the missed chances and half-baked plans that have defined the family's decisions over the years. Desire and idealism are never lacking - Jeannette herself has often been enthusiastic about Dad's unrealistic projects, for instance - but somehow the end result never aligns with the expectations. As a result of nonchalance, apathy, or lack of drive, projects remain on hold and improvements fail to materialize more often than not.

She was keeping [the wedding ring], she explained, to replace the wedding ring her mother had given her, the one Dad had pawned shortly after they got married.
“But Mom,” I said, “that ring could get us a lot of food.”
“That’s true,” Mom said, “but it could also improve my self-esteem. And at times like these, self-esteem is even more vital than food.”

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker), Rose Mary Walls (speaker)
Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:

While exploring, Brian and Jeannette have found a diamond ring, which turns out to be valuable. They have spent a difficult winter, hungry, cold, and lacking in basic necessities, and Jeannette and Brian can't imagine why their mother wouldn't take the ring to the pawnshop to be exchanged for money that could help them. But Mom doesn't see things that way: for her, its power stems from its capacity to replace an important possession, one that was already lost in exchange for cash.

In general, Mom is scornful of other people's tendency to collect and adore their possessions. Here, though, she is the one to claim the importance of owning a material object above other things. The contradiction can potentially be explained by Mom's usual propensity to value what others do not value and to make decisions that others might find bizarre. Usually, a desire to hold on to a valuable diamond ring would be considered socially appropriate; at this moment, though, when the ring is found among garbage, possesses little sentimental value, and could be exchanged for money to feed a family, Mom's decision begins to look much more non-conforming, even irrational.

A newspaper reporter, instead of holing up in isolation, was in touch with the rest of the world. What the reporter wrote influenced what people thought about and talked about the next day; he knew what was really going on. I decided I wanted to be one of the people who knew what was really going on.

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker)
Page Number: 204
Explanation and Analysis:

Jeannette's earliest associations of what it means to be a "writer" have been with her mother's attempts at writing stories, shutting herself up by herself and receiving rejection letter after rejection letter. Now she sees an alternative glimpse of what being a writer could look like. Rather than spending time alone in one's head, a reporter can go out into the world and become a reliable source on "what was really going on." Jeannette's early experiences at the school newspaper show her that her desire for stability and expertise need not be continually frustrated in her family life, but can be applied to other spheres instead. In addition, this is one of the first moments at which Jeannette is able to picture a way out of her stressful family situation. It is one of the first times when she thinks about what she would like to do in life independently of her parents, based on her own knowledge and skills. 

Because we never subscribed to newspapers or magazines, I’d never known what was going on in the world, except for the skewed version of events we got from Mom and Dad—one in which every politician was a crook, every cop was a thug, and every criminal had been framed. I began to feel like I was getting the whole story for the first time, that I was being handed the missing pieces to the puzzle, and the world was making a little more sense.

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker)
Page Number: 204-205
Explanation and Analysis:

Part of Jeannette's job at the student newspaper involves going down to the local newspaper offices to print out the galleys. When she's finished, she reads the other newspapers lying around the office, a habit that becomes a true revelation for her. This is the first time that Jeannette gains access to the outside world in a way that is not influenced by her parents. Dad, of course, has always excelled at telling exciting, alluring stories that enrapture his children, while Mom has her own position on certain world affairs. The world view that they share is one largely painted in black and white, as well as one in which any authority figure is immediately suspect. As a result, it only makes sense that they continually flee the authorities and fail to settle down.

Rather than encouraging her to consider her parents' views as outright lies, Jeannette's newspaper reading allows her to fill in what had been left out from her parents' opinions and develop a more nuanced understanding of what really happens in the world. This is another case of Jeannette beginning to grasp her own relation to those around her, one that is independent of her close-knit but often anxiety-inducing family, and one that suggests a different way of life for her in the future.

I had always wanted a watch. Unlike diamonds, watches were practical. They were for people on the run, people with appointments to keep and schedules to meet. That was the kind of person I wanted to be.

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker)
Page Number: 216
Explanation and Analysis:

Jeannette's first "real" job is as an assistant at Mr. Becker's jewelry store. She enjoys the work since she gets to see customers who are usually happy, pleased to be buying something special. But for herself, jewelry is too decorative, too frivolous - it serves no purpose other than ornamentation. Jeannette is instead drawn to the watches, not just as another kind of accessory, but as highly symbolic objects that suggest a different way of life for her. Watches, to Jeannette, belong to people for whom time is scarce and important, people who have responsibilities and appointments and who keep to them rather than giving them up or forgetting about them. 

Mom might say that Jeannette's fascination with watches is a troubling sign of obsession with ownership, but for Jeannette material objects have always been more significant in terms of what they represent, in terms of their aspirational quality as standing in for the kind of person she might become. In addition to her time at the student newspaper, Jeannette's job at the jewelry store begins to paint a different kind of a picture for her future. 

“Why do I always have to be the one who earns the money?” Mom asked. “You have a job. You can earn money. Lori can earn money, too. I’ve got more important things to do.”

Related Characters: Rose Mary Walls (speaker), Jeannette Walls, Lori Walls
Page Number: 218
Explanation and Analysis:

Lori and Mom have both returned from their summers away at the same time, both captivated and excited by the time spent developing their own artistic capacities. The book implies that, for all Lori's frustrations with her parents, there are some things she shares with Mom too. However, it is certainly troubling that Mom has a similarly self-absorbed reaction to a teenage girl, who lacks the responsibilities and tasks of a mother of three. Mom seems to refuse to accept that she does indeed have such responsibilities. Instead, she seems to be jealous of her daughters' own paths towards independence, and to want similar things for herself, even at the expense of taking care of her children. The artistic projects that Mom wants to pursue are "more important," in her mind, than the necessary but, to her, boring tasks of raising a family.

“Who do you think you are?” [Dad] asked. “She’s your mother.”
“Then why doesn’t she act like one?” I looked at Dad for what felt like a very long moment. Then I blurted out, “And why don’t you act like a dad?”

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker), Rex Walls (speaker), Rose Mary Walls
Page Number: 219-220
Explanation and Analysis:

Mom has refused to go to school on the first day, and after begging and cajoling her, Jeannette finally grows angry and claims that Mom isn't acting like a mother. Mom tells Dad when he gets home, and in this confrontation Jeannette, for the first time, explicitly shares her disillusionment with and anger towards her father for all that he led her to expect, and all that he did to disappoint her. 

In the past, Jeannette has continued to cling to a sense that Dad was well-intentioned, and his disappointing actions redeemable, even if she has long since had to give up the idea that all his wild stories and enchanting illusions had any substance. Now, she goes a step further, suggesting that both her parents' inability to come through for their children are not just signs of their bohemian sensibility, but proof that they don't know how to be good parents. Jeannette has had to take on many of the responsibilities usually embraced by parents, and this outburst reflects the frustration Jeannette feels at this switching of roles.

I stared at the plans. “Dad,” I said, “you’ll never build the Glass Castle.”
“Are you saying you don’t have faith in your old man?”
“Even if you do, I’ll be gone.” […] “As soon as I finish classes, I’m getting on the next bus out of here. If the buses stop running, I’ll hitchhike. I’ll walk if I have to. Go head and build the Glass Castle, but don’t do it for me.”

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker), Rex Walls
Related Symbols: Glass Castle
Page Number: 238
Explanation and Analysis:

Jeannette has told her parents that she'll be following Lori to New York, and Dad has grown silent and sullen. Finally, he spreads out the old plans of the Glass Castle. Though he doesn't say anything explicitly to Jeannette, it is suggested that he is making one final attempt to enchant Jeannette into staying, by recalling their old exciting projects and the adoration that Jeannette once held for him. Jeannette is only incredulous at this attempt, which leaves her entirely cold. The Glass Castle, once a cherished idea for her, has come to be no more than a symbol for empty promises and castles built in the air. 

On the one hand, Jeannette officially stakes her position on Dad's inability to ever really go through with these plans and create a beautiful, sustainable home for his family. But in addition, her claims on what she will do to get out of Welch reflect an alternative idea of how to make sure that plans get done and dreams for the future fulfilled. She has committed to going to New York and has made everything possible to do so - something that can only be negatively contrasted with the way Dad makes plans for the future.

I wondered if [Dad] was remembering how he, too, had left Welch full of vinegar at age seventeen and just as convinced as I was now that he’d never return. I wondered if he was hoping that his favorite girl would come back, or if he was hoping that, unlike him, she would make it out for good.

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker), Rex Walls
Page Number: 241
Explanation and Analysis:

As Jeannette looks out the window of her bus to New York, some of her anger and frustration at her parents, especially at Dad, begins to dissipate, and instead she begins to ask herself about Dad's own past and the possible parallels between their lives. After having wandered around the country for years, the Walls family had settled back into Dad's hometown, a return that was obviously frustrating and painful for him, as it underlined how little his dreams and ideas for the future resulted in any different kind of life or home for himself.

In some ways, Jeannette's realization about the parallels between Dad's departure and her own is sobering, because it suggests that as much as Jeannette wants to escape Welch for good, there is no guarantee that she will succeed. But she also takes this as a challenge to undertake a different path than that of her father. At the same time, she dares to hope that Dad does want something different for her, even if he made several half-hearted-seeming attempts to keep her home. 

Part 4 Quotes

“You can’t just live like this,” I said.
“Why not?” Mom said. “Being homeless is an adventure.”

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker), Rose Mary Walls
Page Number: 255
Explanation and Analysis:

Now that all three of the children are in New York, Mom and Dad have moved there as well - but after a series of typically disastrous events, they find themselves homeless and refuse to take help from their children. As they gather at Lori's apartment once a month, Mom shares some of the tips that they've learned from their new "adventure" as homeless people in Manhattan, from the soup kitchen's open hours to the various free events taking place all over the city. This conversation between Jeannette and Mom recapitulates the deep gap between the ways that they both see the world. Mom tends to idealize suffering and poverty, considering it a more artistically appealing life path, not to mention one that is even more valuable since others wouldn't consider it so. For Jeannette, of course, it is maddening that Mom and Dad won't settle down, ask for help, or develop a sustainable life for themselves.

“I think that maybe sometimes people get the lives they want.”
“Are you saying homeless people want to live on the street?” Professor Fuchs asked. “Are you saying they don’t want warm beds and roofs over their heads?”
“Not exactly, I said. I was fumbling for words. “They do. But if some of them were willing to work hard and make compromises, they might not have ideal lives, but they could make ends meet.”
Professor Fuchs walked around from behind her lectern. “What do you know about the lives of the underprivileged?” she asked. She was practically trembling with agitation. “What do you know about the hardships and obstacles that the underclass faces?”

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker), Professor Fuchs
Page Number: 256-257
Explanation and Analysis:

This moment is a devastating but also highly significant point in the process of Jeannette's growing up and attempting to negotiate the difficult relationships between her family life and past and the new life she is trying to create. Here, Jeannette "fumbles for words" while trying to make a point about homelessness that stems from her own personal experience. Professor Fuchs, not knowing anything about Jeannette other than the fact that she is a student at an elite college, assumes that Jeannette is simply being naive or even callous about the real challenges faced by the poor.

Of course, the reality of homelessness is more complex than the idea of either saints crippled by poverty or lazy people who deserve to be homeless; but without sharing where she comes from and what exactly she has witnessed, it proves impossible for Jeannette to explain what she means. As a result, she realizes that she and her favorite professor are speaking from worlds apart, as Jeannette's own personal emphasis on responsibility - one that she has developed by necessity because of her family - clashes with a sociological, structural view on where poverty comes from. Even while taking excellent classes with rigorous professors, Jeannette thus still struggles to articulate what it meant to grow up in a family like her own, and how to explain it through available social frameworks. 

I actually live on Park Avenue, I kept telling myself as I hung my clothes in the closet Eric had cleared out for me. Then I started thinking about Mom and Dad. When they had moved into their squat—a fifteen-minute subway ride south and about half a dozen worlds away—it seemed as if they had finally found the place where they belonged, and I wondered if I had done the same.

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker), Rex Walls, Rose Mary Walls
Page Number: 268
Explanation and Analysis:

Jeannette has moved in with her boyfriend, Eric, around the same time that her parents have moved into a squat - not physically far away from Park Avenue, but certainly in another world. Jeannette has spent much of the book dreaming about a place she could call home, whether that means the Glass Castle of her childhood, a yellow-painted house, or simply a place of order and stability. Now, though, she has a more serious view of what it means to establish a home and ownership over a place. Jeannette isn't entirely sure that the apartment on Park Avenue is where she really belongs - indeed, she seems to wonder whether her parents haven't done a better job at finding a home that truly fits their sensibilities. She might have succeeded by the standards of society around her, the standards of material success, but Jeannette's search is not yet over.

I also hoped that Maureen had chosen California because she thought that was her true home, the place where she really belonged, where it was always warm and you could dance in the rain, pick grapes right off the vines, and sleep outside at night under the stars.

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker), Maureen Walls
Page Number: 276
Explanation and Analysis:

Maureen, recently released from a year-long stay at a psychiatric hospital, has decided to leave for California. Here Jeannette implicitly recalls Maureen's childhood fascination with the state. As the youngest in the family, she cannot recall when the Walls lived in California, so she would always ask Jeannette, Lori, and Brian to tell her about it. Now Jeannette imagines that Maureen's desire for such stories was not just a childhood dream.

As Jeannette is trying to figure out where she belongs, and where she might settle down - around the same time that her parents seem to have settled into a routine at least slightly more stable than the norm - she wonders how such a process will play out for the rest of her family. All the Walls children are deeply affected by the kind of childhood they experienced, even if they all reacted in different ways. It is up to each of them to deal with the legacy of how their parents raised them, and to determine what comes next. 

“Hey,” [Dad] said. He winked and pointed his finger at me “Have I ever let you down?”
He started chuckling because he knew there was only one way I could ever answer that question. I just smiled. And then I closed the door.

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker), Rex Walls (speaker)
Page Number: 279
Explanation and Analysis:

Dad has just shared with Jeannette that he has cancer, after inviting her to the tenement where he lives with Mom: it's been a long time since they've seen each other. This, his parting statement to his daughter depends for its dark humor and irony on the long history of grand illusions and exciting plans that Dad had fed his children for years. Both of them know, of course, that Dad has let her down plenty of times - although at few of those times has Jeannette seemed as calm and controlled as she is now.

Indeed, the fact that Jeannette and her father can laugh about his broken promises, even at a moment of pain like this one, underlines how much Jeannette has been able to gain distance from the acute struggles of her childhood. When she was younger, she was at first enraptured by her father, and then went through a process of deep disillusionment. Now she seems to accept Dad for who he is, as someone who has failed to be a fully responsible father, but who retains a sparkling personality and great charisma, and who is aware of his own failings. Jeannette and Dad have not exactly grown closer as a result of this self-awareness, but she does understand enough to no longer be bitter.

A year after Dad died, I left Eric. He was a good man, but not the right one for me. And Park Avenue was not where I belonged.

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker)
Page Number: 280
Explanation and Analysis:

Dad's death leads to a period in Jeannette's life of serious contemplation and questioning about the direction her life is going. She feels restless and ill at ease, never quite sure what is wrong. Finally she does make a major move, breaking up with Eric and moving out of the beautiful apartment where he lived, an apartment that had symbolized at least in a material sense how far she had come from the run-down shack in Welch. Jeannette describes the end of her relationship with Eric as a matter of compatibility, rather than claiming that one or the other did something wrong. For her, this is what home has come to mean: a personal, idiosyncratic feeling of attachment to a certain milieu, which isn't necessarily tied to external signs of success or pleasure.

I liked to go for long walks at night. I often walked west toward the river. The city lights obscured the stars, but on clear nights, I could see Venus on the horizon, up over the dark water, glowing steadily.

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker)
Page Number: 281
Explanation and Analysis:

Jeannette's feelings of restlessness and uncertainty, acute since her father's death, have faded, especially since she has left Eric and the Park Avenue apartment. However, what remains of that time is her propensity to go on long walks. While growing up, Jeannette had never lived in a city, and she always used to be able to see the stars - a capacity that she now has to actively go in search of. But for Jeannette, the rare ability to see Venus is precious for the way in which it reminds her of her father and of the long-ago Christmas present that he gave to her.

At the time, Jeannette had rejoiced in having a gift far more special than the silly, easily broken objects that the other kids at school desired. Now she is reminded of the magical side of Dad's character, the way he made ordinary life and even poverty seem special and unique. As Jeannette is still attempting to determine where she belongs, Venus serves also as a means of continuity between the past and the present, between her childhood and her life now.

Part 5 Quotes

“Grandma Walls is different from your other grandma,” I told [Veronica].
“Way different,” Veronica said.
John’s daughter, Jessica, turned to me and said, “But she laughs just like you do.”

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker), Jessica (speaker), Veronica (speaker), Rose Mary Walls
Page Number: 287
Explanation and Analysis:

For most of the book, Jeannette has emphasized just how different she and her mother are. They grow excited about different things, are annoyed by different things, and in particular Jeannette's love of order and stability has long clashed with her mother's endless search for adventure and here easygoing attitude towards parenting.

Jessica, though, has a slightly different view. Noticing how Jeannette and Rose Mary have an identical laugh, she shows how someone outside the family, with little knowledge of the internal family dynamics, can still pick up on certain elements of continuity. That Jeannette mentions this conversation suggests that she is acknowledging that her childhood wish to be nothing if not opposite from her mother might be just that, a child's desire. Now, she is more willing to recognize that parallels can exist, and that fact does not mean Jeannette is condemned to the same kind of life as her mother.

A wind picked up, rattling the windows, and the candle flames suddenly shifted, dancing along the border between turbulence and order.

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker), Rex Walls
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 288
Explanation and Analysis:

As Jeannette ends her chronicle of her childhood and emergence from the wild uncertainties of her youth, she returns to the symbols that structured her childhood. Even the smallest of events like the flickering of candle flames can be a reminder of both a specific moment from her youth and a broader means of coming to terms with her relationship to her family and to her past. Dad had once told Jeannette all about the physical boundary between order and turbulence according to physics, an idea that fascinated him. The anecdote thus reminds Jeannette of the way in which her father often encouraged her to learn and to be curious about the world around her.

But also, of course, this boundary is one that, in a more metaphorical sense, Jeannette and her family were always skirting over the course of her childhood. Having grown up and lost many of her childhood illusions, especially about her father, Jeannette still is eager to remember much of what Dad taught her, and to remain attached in some way to her past.

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Jeannette Walls Character Timeline in The Glass Castle

The timeline below shows where the character Jeannette Walls appears in The Glass Castle. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: A Woman on the Street
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...a taxi on the way to a party in New York one windy March evening, Jeannette Walls catches a glimpse of her mother, Rose Mary Walls (Mom) rifling through a dumpster... (full context)
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Since she is only two blocks away from the party, Jeannette worries that Mom will see her and begin to talk to her, and that a... (full context)
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...her vases, old books, and Persian rugs (though not her husband, who often works late), Jeannette feels self-loathing, wondering how she can help her parents. They have refused material help before,... (full context)
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Since Mom doesn’t have a phone, Jeannette has to leave a message at a friend of Mom’s and wait a few days... (full context)
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When they meet, Mom seems excited to see Jeannette. She also immediately drops the packets of sauce and dried noodles into her purse to... (full context)
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Jeannette interrupts Mom to say that she’s worried about her, and asks if she can help.... (full context)
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Jeannette admits she was later ashamed that she didn’t say hello. Mom, though she doesn’t seem... (full context)
Part 2: The Desert
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Jeannette recalls her earliest memory, at the age of three, as being on fire. Living in... (full context)
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Jeannette screams for her mother’s help and Mom rushes into the room, throwing an army-surplus blanket... (full context)
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At the hospital, the nurses cut off Jeannette’s beautiful pink dress and tell Mom that Jeannette’s condition is serious, but that she will... (full context)
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The nurses and doctors begin to ask Jeanette about how the burn took place, whether her parents have ever hurt her, and why... (full context)
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Jeannette notices how clean, calm, and quiet the hospital is—far different from what she is used... (full context)
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Jeannette’s family—Mom, Dad, Brian, and Jeannette’s older sister Lori— comes to visit, loudly interrupting the hospital’s... (full context)
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On the family’s next visit to see Jeanette in the hospital, Dad tells Jeannette a story she knows well, about when Lori was... (full context)
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...him to the hospital—one kid was enough. Dad begins to argue with the doctor about Jeannette’s bandages, saying the wounds need to “breathe.” When he threatens to hit the doctor, the... (full context)
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Several days later, Dad arrives and tells Jeannette to trust him: they are going to “check out, Rex Walls-style.” He takes her in... (full context)
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A few days after that, Jeannette decides to cook hot dogs again, and Mom praises her for getting “right back in... (full context)
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Following the accident, Jeannette becomes fascinated with fire, passing her finger through a candle flame, watching her neighbors burn... (full context)
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...announces that the family is leaving in fifteen minutes, and should take only the essentials. Jeannette asks if anything is wrong: when Dad responds by rhetorically asking, “Don’t I always take... (full context)
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...isn’t open to anyone who doesn’t like to travel, and throws Quixote out the window. Jeannette begins to cry but Mom tells her not to be sentimental—it will be far more... (full context)
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That night, they sleep under the stars, and when Jeannette tells Lori that they could live like this forever, Lori responds, “I think we’re going... (full context)
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According to Jeannette, Dad is sure FBI agents are after him, though Mom says that the FBI just... (full context)
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...the family stays with Mom’s mom, Grandma Smith, in her large house in Phoenix. Although Jeannette adores Grandma Smith, the stay never lasts long until her grandmother gets into an argument... (full context)
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Jeannette says that like the cactus, the family eats sporadically but fills up when they can.... (full context)
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...find gold to support his family—this is the real reason they move around so much. Jeannette believes him since Dad is an excellent fixer-upper. He is also an expert in math... (full context)
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Jeannette acknowledges that while Dad is “perfect,” things can turn frightening once he embarks on a... (full context)
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Jeannette tells us that Dad left the Air Force because he wanted to strike gold; then... (full context)
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...Dad stop at the Bar None Bar for hours and leave the three kids outside. Jeannette asks Lori how many places they’ve lived, and Lori asks what she means by living... (full context)
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...while drinking beer in the other hand. At one sharp curve, the door opens and Jeannette falls out of the car. Scratched and bloody, initially just shocked but then upset, she... (full context)
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A few days later, Jeannette wakes up in the middle of the night to the sound of fire. Dad rushes... (full context)
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...living on the beach, until a policeman tells them it is illegal to sleep there. Jeannette thinks that the policeman is nice enough, but Dad calls him the “gestapo” and says... (full context)
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...upright toward the sky, but its sturdy roots have prevented it from tipping over. Though Jeannette finds the tree ugly, Mom adores it, and stops to make a painting of it. (full context)
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In Midland, Jeannette is afraid of the coyotes and other animals in the desert, and one night becomes... (full context)
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...loads them into the car, and drives off to a pond to throw them in. Jeannette begins to cry, and Mom comforts her by saying that the cats should be grateful... (full context)
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...Lori). The kids often accompany her to paint the Joshua tree again and again. When Jeannette announces a plan to dig up a small sapling and replant it so that it... (full context)
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Jeannette recounts how she never believed in Santa Claus, since Mom and Dad couldn’t afford presents;... (full context)
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Dad tells Jeannette to choose a star for her Christmas present. She picks the one shining the brightest,... (full context)
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In Blythe, Jeannette is now obliged to wear shoes and attend school, where she makes few friends because... (full context)
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One day, four Mexican girls follow Jeannette home and beat her up. When she gets home, she tells Dad that there were... (full context)
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Mom gives birth two months after arriving in Blythe. Jeannette, five at the time, is deemed mature enough to hold the baby, and promises to... (full context)
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Mom doesn’t want to name the baby before studying it for weeks. Jeannette suggests Rosita after a girl at school, but Mom calls that name too “Mexican.” She... (full context)
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Jeannette is enrolled in second grade with a teacher named Miss Page, but already knows most... (full context)
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Jeannette meets other kids around the “Tracks” whose families are just as poor—here, money doesn’t matter. (full context)
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Jeannette starts a rock collection from what she finds in the desert, with granite, obsidian, turquoise,... (full context)
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Jeannette also likes going to the dump with Brian, where they collect batteries, oil drums, and... (full context)
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...linger until the owner yells at them to leave. Brian usually settles on SweeTarts and Jeannette on Sugar Daddies, since, though she loves chocolate, it doesn’t last long enough. (full context)
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...their way home, they sneak past the Green Lantern, which Mom calls a “cathouse,” though Jeannette only sees women in short dresses, and men ducking inside. Mom only says that “bad... (full context)
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One day Jeannette dares Brian to talk to one of the women on the porch. He tells Jeannette... (full context)
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...order to allow nature to “take its course,” rather than buying a No-Pest Strip like Jeannette’s friend’s Carla’s family. (full context)
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That winter, Dad brings the family to the “Hot Pot,” a natural sulfur spring. Jeannette is unused to large bodies of water and they frighten her. As Jeannette wades in,... (full context)
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One day, Jeannette arrives home from exploring to learn from Lori that Dad has lost his job. Dad,... (full context)
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Jeannette begins to steal inconspicuous pieces of food from other kids’ lunch boxes at schools. One... (full context)
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Mom turns red and yells at Jeannette not to blame her. That night, she gets into a fight with Dad, accusing him... (full context)
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...Beatty, especially disapproves of Mom’s teaching tactics. Afraid Mom will be fired, Lori, Brian, and Jeannette start helping out with classroom tasks and homework grading. (full context)
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Lori corrects Mom’s spelling—she loves reading and writing and, according to Jeannette, is brilliant. (full context)
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Another day, Dad asks Brian and Jeannette why they’re not carrying lunch bags to school. When they say there’s no food in... (full context)
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...and Brian agree that Dad spends more money on alcohol than on family necessities, but Jeannette defends his research on cyanide. She spends more time with Dad than they do, and... (full context)
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A few months after Mom takes the teaching job, Brian and Jeannette pass the Green Lantern and a woman smoking a cigarette—Ginger—calls out to Brian. He tells... (full context)
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Brian clearly dislikes Ginger so much that Jeannette suspects there is more to the story. She asks Brian if he learned what the... (full context)
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...and even if people tend to make fun of it for being ugly and desolate, Jeannette considers it her first real home. She thinks her family’s days on the road have... (full context)
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Just after Jeannette turns eight, she meets a new neighbor, Billy Deel, who is three years older. Billy... (full context)
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Jeannette is upset and says that you should never laugh at your own father. Billy responds... (full context)
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At dinner back with her family, Jeannette makes fun of Billy’s dad and their run-down house, but Mom tells Jeannette to show... (full context)
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As a result, Jeannette tells Billy she’ll be his friend but not girlfriend. A week later, Billy comes up... (full context)
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A few weeks later, while playing hide-and-seek, Billy crawls into Jeannette’s hiding place, an abandoned shed. He asks if she knows what they do in the... (full context)
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The following day, Jeannette goes to Billy’s house and finds him in the driver’s seat of an abandoned car... (full context)
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Jeannette responds only, “Big deal!” When she returns home, she looks up the word in the... (full context)
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The day after that, Billy comes to meet Lori, Brian, and Jeannette at her house and calls out Jeannette’s name. Lori tries to tell him to leave... (full context)
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...Billy goads her into shooting, and she pulls the trigger in his general direction. When Jeannette opens her eyes, he has disappeared, and the three of them run after Billy, who... (full context)
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...with Mom and Dad inside parks outside the house. Dad asks them what’s happened, and Jeannette says they acted in self-defense—Dad had always told her that was justifiable. (full context)
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Jeannette runs to get her rock collection, since Dad has told the kids they can only... (full context)
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On the way to Phoenix, Jeannette reminisces about her trips to Grandma Smith’s white house in Phoenix, where she assumes they’re... (full context)
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Jeannette, on the other hand, is Grandma Smith’s favorite grandchild, and loves all the rules, such... (full context)
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On the way to Phoenix, Jeannette asks if the family is going to stay with Grandma Smith. Mom says no—that Grandma... (full context)
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Mom is surprised when Jeannette gets upset. They’re going to Phoenix to live in Grandma Smith’s house, she says. Mom... (full context)
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...announces that she can see each leaf on a tree several dozen feet away. When Jeannette responds that she can also see them, Lori bursts into tears. (full context)
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...steady money. After his first payday, he buys three new bicycles for Lori, Brian, and Jeannette—their first. Jeannette marvels at the seat, purple color, and chrome handlebars with tassels hanging off. (full context)
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The neighborhood is also filled with creepy old men, though Jeannette sometimes feels sorry for them for lacking friends, and with homeless people who wander into... (full context)
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...Mom asks him to listen to the guard, he leads the kids out the exit. Jeannette hears people whispering about the drunk and his dirty children, but is thrilled enough at... (full context)
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...electrician’s job, and then another and another, until he is left only with odd jobs. Jeannette usually can afford school lunch for a quarter, though when she can’t her teacher takes... (full context)
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...new dresses, and Mom reemerges with one tucked under a raincoat, while Brian, Lori, and Jeannette make noise to distract the shop employee. (full context)
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...into Dad’s story, and after seeing him come home repeatedly drunk, angry, and breaking things, Jeannette begins to question his narrative too. (full context)
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Sometimes, when he passes out, Jeannette picks his pocket, as Mom taught her to do. Once she tries the liquid in... (full context)
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...all found their own ways to cope on their own with his “crazy” ways, as Jeannette says. (full context)
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When Jeannette turns ten that spring, Dad asks what she wants most in the world—surprising her, since... (full context)
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Dad looks wounded, and says that Jeannette must be ashamed of him. She assures him she’s not, but he walks into the... (full context)
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The next day, he tells Jeannette that he’s going to stay in the bedroom alone for a few days. The day... (full context)
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...him, though he’s pale and thin with shaking hands, and he’s never hungry. Lori tells Jeannette that it won’t last, but Jeannette insists it will, since getting sober was a present... (full context)
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...Grand Canyon. They pack up the car and, once just out of Phoenix, Dad asks Jeannette how fast she thinks the car can go. “Faster than the speed of light,” she... (full context)
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Though Jeannette is confident he can fix the car, Dad says he doesn’t have the right tools.... (full context)
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...turns from a fight to an embrace and they each laugh and hug each other. Jeannette is distraught that Dad has returned to drinking. (full context)
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...come as the rest of the family packs up the car. At the last minute, Jeannette cries out that they need him, and the other kids chime in, until he ambles... (full context)
Part 3: Welch
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...takes to cross the country, and one morning wake up to Oklahomans laughing at them. Jeannette hides under a blanket and refuses to come out, leading Mom to admonish her to... (full context)
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By late November, they reach West Virginia, where Jeannette notices that the air feels heavier and darker. They arrive in Welch, a valley flanked... (full context)
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...welcomed by a pale, obese woman with a cigarette in her mouth—she is Dad’s mother. Jeannette calls her Grandma but she snaps at her to call her Erma. (full context)
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Next to Erma a fragile-looking man with white hair, Ted, tells Jeannette it’s fine if she calls him Grandpa. Redheaded Uncle Stanley, smelling like whiskey, hugs and... (full context)
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Jeannette doubts that Erma likes them, but Mom says that she’s had a difficult life, and... (full context)
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The next day, Jeannette sees Uncle Stanley listening to the radio, on which they hear someone speaking in tongues,... (full context)
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...where Mom tries to convince the principal that the kids are gifted. The principal asks Jeannette eight times seven in such a thick accent that she doesn’t understand—and he can’t understand... (full context)
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Jeannette arrives for her first day in an old coat with the buttons torn off, and... (full context)
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In English, Jeannette’s teacher goads the students into making fun of Jeannette for thinking she’s too special to... (full context)
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Jeannette lingers in the cafeteria, eating alone, until the janitor nudges her outside to recess. The... (full context)
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At home, Jeannette deflects Mom and Dad’s questions about school rather than face Mom’s optimistic responses to whatever... (full context)
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Jeannette finally tells Mom only that girls are making fun of her for being poor, and... (full context)
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A month into school, Jeannette is wandering in a park and sees a wild dog approaching a small black child,... (full context)
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Jeannette carries the boy piggyback to a neighborhood with brightly painted houses. She drops him off... (full context)
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The next day, Dinitia stops bullying Jeanette, and the others soon lose interest. Though she never apologizes, Dinitia does ask Jeannette for... (full context)
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Jeannette tells her not to use that word, and that Mom says black people are just... (full context)
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Lori congratulates Jeannette on standing up to Erma, but Mom says that they have to remember to be... (full context)
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...relatives, essentially as a servant. She says everyone has one good thing in them. When Jeannette asks if that applies to Hitler, Mom immediately responds that he loved dogs. (full context)
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Jeannette envies Mom and Dad for returning to Phoenix, where she remembers riding her bike, eating... (full context)
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Brian and Jeannette wonder aloud if Mom and Dad will return. The kids know that they are more... (full context)
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...into Grandpa’s bedroom, where she can sew up his shorts while he’s still wearing them. Jeannette follows them into the bedroom and sees Erma squeezing at Brian’s crotch while he cries... (full context)
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Jeannette yells at Erma to stop and calls her a pervert. Lori runs in and tells... (full context)
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...trouble they’ve caused. Dad heads downstairs to yell at them for not being proper guests. Jeannette thinks he’ll understand when she explains, but Dad only says that Brian can take anything,... (full context)
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Afterwards, Jeannette and her siblings wonder why Dad was acting so strange. Jeannette asks aloud if Erma... (full context)
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Still committed to the adventure of it, Mom tries to teach Lori and Jeannette how to use the house’s sewing machine to make dresses, though they turn out baggy... (full context)
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One day Jeannette asks Dad if they are ever going home—when he asks “Home?” she responds, “Phoenix.” Dad... (full context)
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Jeannette and Brian decide to embrace this new home by beginning to dig the foundation for... (full context)
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One day, Dad tells Jeannette and Brian to dump the house’s garbage in the pit, since they haven’t been able... (full context)
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The garbage also attracts rats, one of whom Jeannette discovers “bathing” in the sugar bowl. When Brian throws a skillet at the rat, it... (full context)
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Jeannette, Brian, and Lori begin to sleep with makeshift weapons by their heads, while Maureen spends... (full context)
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...doesn’t seem worried about what the neighbors will think about the garbage or cleanliness, but Jeannette tries to think up ways to improve the house, like painting it yellow with paint... (full context)
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The rest of the family is unenthusiastic about this idea, so Jeannette embarks alone, until she has completed all the sections of the house that she can... (full context)
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Jeannette’s family is the poorest on Little Hobart Street, but Mom and Dad never accept welfare,... (full context)
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Jeannette is friendly with the oldest of the six Hall children who live nearby: 42-year-old Kenny,... (full context)
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The oldest Pastor daughter, Kathy, wants to be Jeannette’s friend, and invites her over so that she can tell Ginnie Sue about her family’s... (full context)
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When she visits, Ginnie Sue asks Jeannette to help her pick apart a chicken, and Ginnie Sue and Kathy marvel at Jeannette’s... (full context)
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Jeannette tells the two of them about California and Las Vegas, exaggerating her proximity to showgirls,... (full context)
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On her way home, Jeannette realizes she hadn’t asked any of her questions—she had even forgotten Ginnie Sue was a... (full context)
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...of Little Hobart Street,” against Ernie Goad. It starts when Ernie begins throwing rocks at Jeannette and Brian for “stinking up” the town. He yells that they’re garbage—they even live in... (full context)
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...his friends, they think. When Ernie’s gang returns, Brian gives the signal and he and Jeannette catapult the mattress lined with rocks into the air, hurling them into the group of... (full context)
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Lori is the family’s biggest reader, and enjoys fantasy and science fiction. Jeannette prefers books about the hardships of this world rather than another: her favorites are The... (full context)
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...with deep, bloody cuts on his head and arm. Mom is asleep and Dad asks Jeannette to sew up his arm. She feels like she’s sewing meat, and tells him she... (full context)
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...to hit a windfall, by figuring out how to burn coal more efficiently, for instance. Jeannette tries to be supportive but finds it increasingly difficult to believe in him. (full context)
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At school, Jeannette hides in the bathroom during lunch so that the other kids don’t make fun of... (full context)
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...have a stable food source, since she rotates among her friends’ houses for dinner. But Jeannette notices Mom is getting heavier, and one day Brian finds her eating a giant Hershey... (full context)
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As winter arrives in Welch, Jeannette begins to feel ill. She wears only a thin wool coat, and the family can’t... (full context)
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One day Jeannette goes to her friend Carrie Mae’s house to work on a school project. When Carrie... (full context)
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...winter, Erma dies. She had long prepared for her funeral and leaves detailed, intricate instructions. Jeannette is surprised at how upset Dad seems—she’d assumed he’d feel relieved. (full context)
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Four days later Mom sends Jeannette to find Dad, who still hasn’t come home. She moves from bar to bar and... (full context)
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Dad orders Jeannette Cokes as he continues drinking whiskey, until he is stumbling so much that a man... (full context)
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One time, when Jeannette goes over to take a bath, she feels Uncle Stanley’s hand easing its way onto... (full context)
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One day, as Jeannette and Brian are exploring, they find a diamond ring, which Mom takes to be appraised.... (full context)
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...when she decides to clean the house. Instead of ridding it of the clutter, though—like Jeannette wants to do—they end up just organizing the clutter into piles. (full context)
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Jeannette takes advantage of one cheerful moment to broach a grand plan to Mom: that Mom... (full context)
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That summer, Dad still thinks of Jeannette as his biggest fan. One afternoon as they’re sitting on the porch he points down... (full context)
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To get away from the heat, Brian and Jeannette go to the public swimming pool, until the day Ernie Goad tells everyone that the... (full context)
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Later that week Jeannette runs into Dinitia Hewitt, who invites her to go swimming with “us” in the morning.... (full context)
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That afternoon, a man with a folder under his arm knocks on the door to Jeannette’s house saying he’s from child welfare, and asking for Rex or Rose Mary Walls. He... (full context)
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Jeannette claims she’s not neglected, and that her parents do work—her dad as an “entrepreneur” developing... (full context)
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Angry and fuming, Jeannette runs outside to throw rocks from the hill, and worries about how she’ll be unable... (full context)
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Though Jeannette had initially assumed Welch was one more, brief stop, Mom and Dad seem to have... (full context)
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When Jeannette gives Mom the child welfare man’s card, Mom grows quiet instead of being self-righteously angry... (full context)
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...difficult to make ends meet with four kids and an alcoholic husband, but Lori and Jeannette draw up a budget as if they were in charge of the money, with generous... (full context)
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That fall Jeannette starts seventh grade at Welch High School. Though Dinitia is there, she spends most of... (full context)
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...at school, and has trouble with her mother’s new boyfriend. She passes one note to Jeannette one study hall in December revealing that she’s pregnant. When she doesn’t return to school,... (full context)
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Romantic relationships begin to be the main point of conversation for girls at school. Jeannette doesn’t trust boys, but wishes one would like her even though she’s tall, gangly, and... (full context)
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Jeannette has never been to the dentist, and while she initially decides to save up for... (full context)
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Seventh grade is also when Jeannette begins to work for The Maroon Wave, the school newspaper, where she can fit in... (full context)
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In the evenings, Jeannette proofreads at the offices of The Welch Daily News, where the Wave is printed, and... (full context)
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Jeannette also enjoys watching the reporters and editors at work, as they send journalists out to... (full context)
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Jeannette sometimes feels badly about not taking care of Maureen, so that year, she, Brian, and... (full context)
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Though at times like these, Jeannette thinks Mom is incredibly wise, Mom’s moods are also becoming more intense and extreme. Near... (full context)
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Lori tries to console Mom as she sobs under the covers, but Jeannette looks on, feeling scornful about her mother’s childish behavior. She swears that she will not... (full context)
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Lori, though, feels sorry for Mom for being married to Dad. When Jeannette says that Mom needs to be stronger, Lori says that not even a caryatid (ancient... (full context)
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...for her teaching certificate. Lori is heading to a state-sponsored summer camp, so Mom leaves Jeannette with two hundred dollars, giving her an opportunity to prove that Dad just needs a... (full context)
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The first week, Jeannette sticks to her budget and organizes the house, which has again become a mess. (full context)
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...and asks for money for beer and cigarettes—five dollars, or two days’ worth of food. Jeannette finds herself unable to say no, but feels used. (full context)
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...and then twenty, claiming he needs gas to borrow a friend’s car for a meeting. Jeannette feels increasingly desperate, and when Dad asks if he’s ever let her down, Jeannette is... (full context)
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That weekend, Dad tells Jeannette to accompany him on a business trip to pay back that money. He picks out... (full context)
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Though Jeannette expects Dad will be furious once he realizes what’s happening, he seems nonchalant and simply... (full context)
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Robbie invites Jeannette upstairs to listen to a Roy Acuff record and dance. Jeannette is worried about his... (full context)
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Upstairs, Robbie dances with Jeannette but then starts groping and kissing her. Jeannette is too mad at Dad to want... (full context)
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Afterward, Dad gives Jeannette forty of the dollars he’s won, and though Jeannette is seething, she accepts the money... (full context)
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A few days later, Dad asks Jeannette to come with him to another bar, and when she refuses, he demands another twenty... (full context)
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Jeannette finally realizes that standing up to Dad is more difficult than she’d thought. She applies... (full context)
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Jeannette enjoys the work at the store since anyone buying jewelry is happy, despite Welch’s poverty.... (full context)
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Jeannette is particularly attracted to the watches, which actually serve a purpose and stands for someone’s... (full context)
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One day, an employee from another of Mr. Becker’s stores stops by and, in conversation, Jeannette learns the other woman makes a commission of ten per cent of every sale. When... (full context)
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The next day Jeannette slips into the watch display case, which Mr. Becker doesn’t see a need to keep... (full context)
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But since she’s worried about being seen with the watch on, Jeannette decides to only wear it at home—but then wonders how to explain it to her... (full context)
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...friends, food, and songs of her summer. It’s the first time she’s realized, she tells Jeannette, that she could have a happy, normal life. (full context)
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...on herself rather than others by quitting teaching and working on her art. She asks Jeannette why she should be the one earning money, and says that Jeannette and Lori can... (full context)
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The first day of school, Mom refuses to leave with Lucy Jo, and when Jeannette’s cajoling doesn’t work, Jeannette says that to be treated like a mother Mom should act... (full context)
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Mom tells Dad when he returns home that Jeannette back-talked her, and Dad admonishes her for not respecting her parents. Jeannette repeats that neither... (full context)
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Jeannette races outside and into the woods, where she throws up. She wanders for hours through... (full context)
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Jeannette buys a plastic piggy bank and puts the seventy-five dollars she’s earned at her job... (full context)
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...Gross, arrive in Welch as part of a government cultural program. Despite their funny names, Jeannette is awed by their clever, complex humor and the symbolist foreign films they show. After... (full context)
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Jeannette offers to make her escape fund a joint fund, and she and Lori name the... (full context)
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One day that winter, Jeannette arrives home to find a Cadillac Coupe DeVille outside their house, which Dad has won... (full context)
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...some of her paintings. When the family accompanies her, they sleep in the car, and Jeannette remembers how easy it used to be to stay on the move. (full context)
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Jeannette says that Lori should still go to New York, get a job, and save up... (full context)
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One May evening, Jeannette returns to her bedroom to put a few babysitting dollars into Oz, and finds him... (full context)
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Jeannette wonders desperately if she can quickly make back the nine months’ worth of money that... (full context)
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...come home for three days, and when he does he seems nonchalant despite Lori’s and Jeannette’s fury. He throws a few dollars at them. Jeannette asks him why he’s doing this... (full context)
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The next day Jeannette buys a change purse, which she wears under her clothes, and then hides in a... (full context)
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They have made only $37.20 by the summer, when one of Jeannette’s babysitting families offers to take her to Iowa to take care of their two children... (full context)
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...family and leaves without looking back. Dad says that the family is falling apart, and Jeannette agrees. (full context)
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Now in the tenth grade, Jeannette becomes the news editor of The Maroon Wave, and enjoys attending school events since she... (full context)
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Jeannette spends her lunch hour writing and editing, giving her an excuse for why she doesn’t... (full context)
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Jeannette gets the editor-in-chief job as a junior and sells newspapers in the hallways. She only... (full context)
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...Dad’s heroes, comes to give a speech at Welch High. Dad is thrilled and helps Jeannette think up all kinds of questions, since Yeager has agreed to let her interview him.... (full context)
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Chuck Yeager holds the entire school in thrall, and later allows Jeannette to interview him for almost an hour. During the interview she mentions the airplanes he’s... (full context)
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...waitress at a German Restaurant, taking classes, and loving how art and music are everywhere. Jeannette counts down the months until she can join her. (full context)
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Jeannette has decided to enroll in a city college in New York and apply for a... (full context)
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When Jeannette goes to see Miss Katona, the college guidance counselor, she advises Jeannette to apply to... (full context)
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When Jeannette tells her parents her plan, Dad walks out without saying anything. Mom encourages her to... (full context)
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Lori offers Jeannette a place in her apartment, and Brian starts counting down the months, as Jeannette had... (full context)
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One evening, though, he asks Jeannette to take a look at something with him. He spreads the blueprints for the Glass... (full context)
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Jeannette tells Dad that he’ll never build the Glass Castle, and that even if he does... (full context)
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Dad suggests that Jeannette can stay in Welch and get a job at The Welch Daily News while he... (full context)
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Jeannette tells him that there’s no way she’s staying put, and if he builds the Glass... (full context)
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At the end of May, Jeannette is feeling increasingly scared. She says goodbye to Miss Bivens, who assures her that she’ll... (full context)
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As Jeannette packs, she decides to leave everything from the past behind, even her geode, which she... (full context)
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Jeannette leaves on the seven-ten morning bus, so Mom, who likes to sleep in, doesn’t wake... (full context)
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As Jeannette looks out the window at Dad, she wonders if he had left Welch at 17... (full context)
Part 4: New York City
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As Jeannette approaches the city, she wonders if all people will see is a tall, awkward, Appalachian... (full context)
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...the bus station, Lori’s friend Evan meets her. He offers to carry her suitcase, but Jeannette soon takes it back. He comments that West Virginia girls are a tough breed. (full context)
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Jeannette meets Lori at the restaurant where she works, called Zum Zum. As she waitresses, Lori... (full context)
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Jeannette wanders around while she’s waiting for Lori, and finds that New Yorkers, once they learn... (full context)
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Lori and Jeannette head to the Evangeline, a women’s hostel, that evening. Jeannette notices an orange glow in... (full context)
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It only takes a day for Jeannette to get a job at a hamburger joint, which pays over eighty dollars a week.... (full context)
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That summer, Jeannette and Lori move into an apartment in the South Bronx, a bit shabby but far... (full context)
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Jeannette enrolls in a school that offers internships rather than classes. She interns at The Phoenix,... (full context)
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...mouse runs over her foot, terrifying the candidate. When the woman leaves Mr. Armstrong offers Jeannette the job, which she accepts. (full context)
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Jeannette starts working ninety-hour weeks, relying on her ten-dollar watch to make sure she isn’t late.... (full context)
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Brian writes to Jeannette telling her about the family: Dad’s drunk or in jail, Mom’s in her own world,... (full context)
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Jeannette has decided to stay at her job rather than go to college, which she doesn’t... (full context)
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Jeannette applies to Barnard College, the sister school of Columbia. She is accepted. Grants and loans... (full context)
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As a student, Jeannette is hired as an editorial assistant at a famous magazine. Elated, she feels she’s finally... (full context)
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Three years after Jeannette’s move, she is listening to the radio when she hears about a traffic jam on... (full context)
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When Jeannette hangs up, she looks around the small maid’s room where she lives in the psychologists... (full context)
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Jeannette is torn, wanting both to help Mom and Dad and to abandon them. She often... (full context)
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Once, when Jeannette gives some change to a homeless man on Broadway, her friend Carol tells her not... (full context)
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In a political science class at Barnard, Professor Fuchs—one of Jeannette’s favorite professors—asked if conservatives or liberals were right about the cause of homelessness. Jeannette responds... (full context)
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Though Jeannette considers dropping out of Barnard since she feels so hypocritical, like she’s pretending to be... (full context)
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Jeannette meets Mom at a café to try to discuss some options that could ease her... (full context)
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That spring Dad comes down with tuberculosis and is hospitalized. When Jeannette comes to visit him he introduces her to all his new friends (i.e. other patients)... (full context)
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...that year at Lori’s apartment. Mom and Dad give the kids battered street finds, while Jeannette gives Dad warm winter clothes. He says they must be ashamed of him and stomps... (full context)
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...been following along her class syllabi by checking the books out from the library, calls Jeannette to discuss her courses. She says she’s thinking of dropping out, since she’s a thousand... (full context)
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Jeannette goes to visit them and finds boarded-up windows, one light bulb strung from the ceiling,... (full context)
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Jeannette is reminded of their home in Welch and just wants to run away, but she... (full context)
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Mom and Jeannette’s siblings can’t make it to her graduation that spring. Jeannette wants Dad to attend, but... (full context)
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Jeannette is offered a job at the magazine where she’s been working part-time. Her boyfriend Eric,... (full context)
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As she moves into the Park Avenue apartment, Jeannette thinks about her parents, and wonders if she has found a place she belongs, just... (full context)
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Dad refuses to come visit Jeannette, saying he’d feel out of place, but Mom does come at once and is fascinated... (full context)
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Jeannette then tells her mother that she wants to help her and Dad, either with a... (full context)
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Meanwhile, Jeannette’s editor assigns her a weekly gossip column, which also concerns Mom, who would rather Jeannette... (full context)
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Jeannette adores her new job and the perks that accompany it: the art-gallery openings, movie premieres,... (full context)
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Jeannette is convinced that she couldn’t keep her job if people knew about her family, so... (full context)
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Jeannette marries Eric four years after moving in. Not long after, Mom’s uncle Jim dies, and... (full context)
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Jeannette slowly realizes that this means that Mom’s half of the land is also worth a... (full context)
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Jeannette tells Mom that she can’t ask Eric for a million dollars. Mom tells her how... (full context)
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...job to job and from boyfriend to boyfriend—looking for someone to take care of her, Jeannette says, just as her friends’ families in Welch. (full context)
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One day Maureen comes to see Jeannette, with dark makeup and bleached hair, and mentions Mormon kidnapping cults that need to be... (full context)
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...hospital for a year. After she’s released, she buys a one-way train ticket to California. Jeannette hopes California will become Maureen’s true home, with its warmth, grapes free for picking, and... (full context)
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Though Maureen didn’t want anyone to actually see her off at the train station, Jeannette wakes up early the morning of Maureen’s departure to imagine her leaving. Jeanette regretfully things... (full context)
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Jeannette hardly sees Mom and Dad for a year or so, until she gets a phone... (full context)
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Dad tells Jeannette that he got into a fight with Nigerian drug dealers, which has given him a... (full context)
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Jeannette knows how much chaos Dad has created for her, but also cannot imagine life without... (full context)
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...way out, Dad asks if he’s ever let her down. He immediately starts laughing, and Jeannette smiles too. (full context)
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Two weeks later, Dad has a heart attack. Before they let him off life support, Jeannette visits the hospital and has a strong desire to pick him up and run down... (full context)
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In the weeks following Dad’s death, Jeannette finds herself restless and uncomfortable, always wanting to be somewhere else or, especially, on the... (full context)
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Jeannette leaves Eric a year later, realizing that he’s not the man for her, and that... (full context)
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Though Jeannette’s desire to always be moving fades, she still enjoys walking at night, where on particularly... (full context)
Part 5: Thanksgiving
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Five years after Dad dies, Jeannette awaits Mom and Lori at the train station near the country farmhouse that she has... (full context)
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...the house, as John tells Mom and Lori about the area’s history and farm life. Jeannette feels comfortable with John, a writer, whose mother is from Tennessee—not far from Welch. (full context)
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...house in Brooklyn and being pursued by two other women, so he hasn’t done badly, Jeannette concludes. (full context)
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John and Jeannette show Mom and Lori the gardens, which they’ve prepared for winter, and Mom seems to... (full context)
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...the green cover and falls into it. Brian’s own daughter Veronica seems fascinated but confused. Jeannette tells her that Grandma Walls is different from her other grandmother, but Jessica notes that... (full context)
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Jeannette shows Mom and Lori the house, the first she’s ever owned, with fireplaces and high... (full context)
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It grows windy outside, and Jeannette notices that the flames from the candle move somewhat, the border between order and turbulence... (full context)