Fire is present in The Glass Castle
from one of the very first scenes, when Jeannette
accidentally lights herself on fire while making hot dogs as a three-year-old. Fire is both a source of heat and light and a force for destruction. From the family’s San Francisco apartment to Uncle Stanley’s
house in Welch, the shells of burned-down homes strew the pages of the memoir. But Jeannette is fascinated by fire, perhaps precisely because of its power to do both good and harm. When she’s younger, that fascination edges towards a worrying pyromania. By the time she’s older, though, Jeannette can appreciate the complexity of fire on a more intellectual level. As Dad
tells her, the place at which fire melts into air is the unknown border between order and turbulence. Fire, then, stands for the ambivalence of this unknown factor, as Jeannette can never fully know whether her tumultuous childhood and dysfunctional family has done more good than harm.