The Glass Castle

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Glass Castle Symbol Analysis

Glass Castle Symbol Icon
As the title of the memoir, this symbol could easily sum up most of the tensions in and interests of the book. The Glass Castle symbolizes the illusions that Jeannette must release in order to fully mature. For years, Dad has, with the kids, made blueprints and floor plans for a magnificent transparent palace built in the desert and relying on solar panels for electricity. The Glass Castle epitomizes how Dad would like to live, self-sufficiently and sustainably, without submitting to a system or authority. In Welch, Brian and Jeannette even dig a foundation pit for the palace. The illusion is, for Jeannette, definitively burst once Dad tells her to fill up the pit with garbage: the very idea, the dream itself, has become no more than a receptacle for trash. Dad’s flimsy attempts to revive the dream, by showing Jeannette new floor plans when she’s about to leave for New York, only confirm for her that she must definitively let go of the idea of the Glass Castle. But as sobering as this symbol is, by choosing it as the book’s title Walls pays homage to Dad’s magnificent dreams and illusions, as unrealistic and broken as they might be.

Glass Castle Quotes in The Glass Castle

The The Glass Castle quotes below all refer to the symbol of Glass Castle. 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 2 Quotes

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.

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Part 3 Quotes

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.

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Glass Castle Symbol Timeline in The Glass Castle

The timeline below shows where the symbol Glass Castle appears in The Glass Castle. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 2: The Desert
Growing Up, Illusion, and Disillusion Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
...to the story of what he plans to do once he finds gold: build the Glass Castle in the desert, which would harness the sun’s energy and draw on Dad’s engineering know-how.... (full context)
Growing Up, Illusion, and Disillusion Theme Icon
Order and Turbulence Theme Icon
...that Jeannette’s father is no better than his—just a drunk. Though Jeannette thinks of the Glass Castle and her Christmas star, she knows these things won’t convince Billy Deel of anything. (full context)
Part 3: Welch
Growing Up, Illusion, and Disillusion Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
Responsibility, Self-Sufficiency, and Non-Conformity Theme Icon
...that this is just a temporary solution, providing a plot of land to build the Glass Castle . It’ll take him a little while to adapt the solar cells, given that where... (full context)
Growing Up, Illusion, and Disillusion Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
Possessions and Ownership Theme Icon
...Brian decide to embrace this new home by beginning to dig the foundation for the Glass Castle during all their free time. After a month, the foundation is deeper than they are... (full context)
Growing Up, Illusion, and Disillusion Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
Possessions and Ownership Theme Icon
Order and Turbulence Theme Icon
Responsibility, Self-Sufficiency, and Non-Conformity Theme Icon
...Jeannette to take a look at something with him. He spreads the blueprints for the Glass Castle , which they haven’t mentioned since they started filling up the foundation with trash, on... (full context)
Growing Up, Illusion, and Disillusion Theme Icon
Order and Turbulence Theme Icon
...Welch and get a job at The Welch Daily News while he works on the Glass Castle . (full context)
Growing Up, Illusion, and Disillusion Theme Icon
Home Theme Icon
Possessions and Ownership Theme Icon
Order and Turbulence Theme Icon
Jeannette tells him that there’s no way she’s staying put, and if he builds the Glass Castle it shouldn’t be for her. Dad walks out with his blueprints without saying a word. (full context)