The Glass Castle

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The Joshua Tree Symbol Analysis

The Joshua Tree Symbol Icon
Mom is enthralled by the Joshua tree she sees in the desert, which has grown in the direction of the wind rather than standing up straight. The Joshua tree symbolizes the strength and beauty that can arise from dysfunction. As Mom tells Jeannette, the tree’s struggle is what gives the tree its beauty. This symbol can be applied to Jeannette’s need to surmount incredible difficulties in the process of growing up. It suggests that Jeannette’s childhood was not in vain, and that she would not be the person she is today without these struggles. However, the Joshua tree also reminds us how different people can see the same image or event in very different ways: for Jeannette, who as a child does not (understandably) see the need for such struggles, the tree is ugly rather than beautiful.

The Joshua Tree Quotes in The Glass Castle

The The Glass Castle quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Joshua Tree. 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

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.


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The Joshua Tree Symbol Timeline in The Glass Castle

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Joshua Tree appears in The Glass Castle. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 2: The Desert
Order and Turbulence Theme Icon
Responsibility, Self-Sufficiency, and Non-Conformity Theme Icon
On the way from San Francisco to the Mojave Desert, Mom sees an ancient Joshua tree in a spot between the desert and the mountain and asks Dad to pull over.... (full context)
Home Theme Icon
Order and Turbulence Theme Icon
Responsibility, Self-Sufficiency, and Non-Conformity Theme Icon
...and illustrating stories (spell-checked by seven-year-old 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... (full context)