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 that the symbol of the Glass Castle itself captures: though Dad tinkers with blueprints and floor plans for this fantastical family home for years, and Jeannette herself fantasizes about living in it once it is built, she only slowly comes to realize that the idea itself was never more than a dream based on her own illusions about her father.
However, while The Glass Castle is a story of Jeannette’s growing up and gradual understanding of the world, it does not precisely follow the classic form of a bildungsroman, in which the main character usually follows a path (however meandering) toward attaining some kind of wisdom and clarity about the world. Instead, Jeannette adopts her own, new dreams in reaction to those of her parents, even as we understand her parents’ illusions as themselves products of their parents’ ways of being. The book thus suggests that growing up might be less of a path toward knowledge—toward grasping reality—than a cycle of children’s disillusionment with their parents’ dreams, and their replacement of such dreams with illusions of their own.
Growing Up, Illusion, and Disillusion ThemeTracker
Growing Up, Illusion, and Disillusion Quotes in The Glass Castle
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
“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.
“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.”
“Erma can’t let go of her misery,” Mom said. “It’s all she knows.” She added that you should never hate anyone, even your worst enemies. “Everyone has something good about them,” she said. “You have to find the redeeming quality and love the person for that.”
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.
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.
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.
“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?”
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.”
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.
“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?”
“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.
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.
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.
“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.”
A wind picked up, rattling the windows, and the candle flames suddenly shifted, dancing along the border between turbulence and order.