The Glass Castle

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Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Glass Castle, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

The Glass Castle is the story of Jeannette Walls’s development from childhood into adulthood. It’s a story, therefore, of her growing up—a bildungsroman. Walls presents growing up as a process of recognizing one’s childhood illusions as just that—illusions—and instead coming to see “how things really are.” Growing up, then, as Walls describes it, involves disillusionment, the loss or recognition of the non-reality of childhood dreams and ideas. This process of disillusionment is one…

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Constantly on the run from bill collectors or minor run-ins with the law, Jeannette’s family finds shelter in houses and towns across the country, while Jeannette continues to seek the one place where she can feel most “at home.” In The Glass Castle, this search mirrors Jeannette’s process of growing up: Jeannette idealizes her grandmother’s house in Phoenix, for example, as well as her father’s plans for the Glass Castle. Yet part of…

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Ultimately Jeannette links her own sense of home to ownership, investing in a country home with her husband. The importance—but also danger—of ownership recurs often throughout the memoir. In The Glass Castle, physical objects often become symbolically significant, standing in for a character’s personality or dreams, from Jeannette’s rock collection that signify her desire for order to Brian’s army soldiers that foreshadow his eventual choice of career. These possessions also provide markers of consistency…

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The hazy point at which fire and smoke reaches into the air fascinates Dad, who calls it “a place where no rules apply, or at least they haven’t figured ‘em out yet.” It is this intermediate realm that the family inhabits, that Jeanette’s parents seek to inhabit, where the rules are grey and they can therefore define their own way of living and being. For a time, living “on the edge” seems to work…

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To whom and to what should one be responsible? While Mom and Dad clearly shirk much of their responsibility as parents, the book reveals that they are actually acting in accordance with their non-conformist beliefs—which they see as a higher responsibility. In some cases, the book equates responsibility with self-sufficiency, as Mom and Dad encourage Jeannette and her siblings to look out for themselves rather than rely on anyone else. On the other hand, her…

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