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.
Home Theme Icon

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 her process of maturing involves understanding that a home is not an ideal. It is something she must work to forge rather than relying on romantic models. It is something she must help to build herself.

However, the book resists settling on any one definition of home. A home is not only a physical place, like Jeannette’s Park Avenue apartment in New York. Jeanette discovers that a home can also be – or perhaps even must also involve – a community, such as her school newspaper or her parents’ group of New York squatters. Jeannette must come to terms with her parents’ “home” even if it is not what she wants for herself. The Glass Castle seems to suggest, then, that home is a constantly shifting category rather than being a fixed place, and that the search for it differs between different people—or even for the same person at different moments in his or her development.

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Home ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Home appears in each part of The Glass Castle. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Home Quotes in The Glass Castle

Below you will find the important quotes in The Glass Castle related to the theme of Home.
Part 2 Quotes

That was the thing about the hospital. You never had to worry about running out of stuff like food or ice or even chewing gum. I would have been happy staying in that hospital forever.

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker)
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

Having suffered serious burns from a cooking accident, three-year-old Jeannette is in the hospital for an extended stay, but instead of being upset or frightened, she considers this a luxurious vacation. A nurse has given Jeannette a stick of gum, which she adores: when she worries that she'll have to throw it out to eat lunch, the nurse offers to give her as many as she'd like. Such an offer is entirely alien to Jeannette's experiences with her family at home, where food is often difficult to come by and scarcity is the norm, from toys to basic necessities. Before her stay at the hospital, she had considered this state of affairs normal, but now she begins to realize that a home need not be this way. For Jeannette, the hospital is a place of calm, order, and endless supply. In many ways, the hospital represents the period of worry-free childhood that Jeannette has never had, and that she only now begins to glimpse.


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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.

Part 3 Quotes

“Are we ever going home?” I asked Dad one day.
“This is home now.”

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker), Rex Walls (speaker)
Page Number: 154
Explanation and Analysis:

The family has moved into a sad, run-down home in a downtrodden neighborhood, and although Mom tries to make an adventure out of the small daily challenges of living in such a place, Jeannette can no longer bring herself to acquiesce enthusiastically to these kinds of games. Dad has even suggested that he will return to the Glass Castle blueprints, but Jeannette remains skeptical. She can only understand their current situation as something temporary, rather than a new "home" as Dad calls it.

After years of wandering around from place to place, Jeannette had found that the family's life in Vienna represented real security and stability. Looking back, she now realizes that when she thinks of what "home" means to her, she thinks of Phoenix more than anywhere else. Dad, on the other hand, suggests that wherever the family is now living counts as home. In either case, it does make more sense for him to accept West Virginia as the family's new home, since it is where he himself comes from; but he also seems more than anything resigned to their new situation.

Instead of a freshly painted yellow house, or even a dingy gray one, we now had a weird-looking half-finished patch job—one that announced to the world that the people inside the house wanted to fix it up but lacked the gumption to get the work done.

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker)
Page Number: 158
Explanation and Analysis:

Jeannette has been trying to think up ways to make the house more cheery and pleasant-looking. Armed with a paint can that Dad brought home from work, she paints the parts of the house that she can access without a ladder. But by the time she manages to create a makeshift ladder, the paint has frozen and re-melted and is now unusable. Worse, the house looks even dingier than it did before.

Jeannette is the member of the family who cares the most about the small, symbolic niceties of home life that Mom and Dad care little for. But in addition, for Jeannette, the half-painted house is emblematic of the missed chances and half-baked plans that have defined the family's decisions over the years. Desire and idealism are never lacking - Jeannette herself has often been enthusiastic about Dad's unrealistic projects, for instance - but somehow the end result never aligns with the expectations. As a result of nonchalance, apathy, or lack of drive, projects remain on hold and improvements fail to materialize more often than not.

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.

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.

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker), Rex Walls
Page Number: 241
Explanation and Analysis:

As Jeannette looks out the window of her bus to New York, some of her anger and frustration at her parents, especially at Dad, begins to dissipate, and instead she begins to ask herself about Dad's own past and the possible parallels between their lives. After having wandered around the country for years, the Walls family had settled back into Dad's hometown, a return that was obviously frustrating and painful for him, as it underlined how little his dreams and ideas for the future resulted in any different kind of life or home for himself.

In some ways, Jeannette's realization about the parallels between Dad's departure and her own is sobering, because it suggests that as much as Jeannette wants to escape Welch for good, there is no guarantee that she will succeed. But she also takes this as a challenge to undertake a different path than that of her father. At the same time, she dares to hope that Dad does want something different for her, even if he made several half-hearted-seeming attempts to keep her home. 

Part 4 Quotes

“You can’t just live like this,” I said.
“Why not?” Mom said. “Being homeless is an adventure.”

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker), Rose Mary Walls
Page Number: 255
Explanation and Analysis:

Now that all three of the children are in New York, Mom and Dad have moved there as well - but after a series of typically disastrous events, they find themselves homeless and refuse to take help from their children. As they gather at Lori's apartment once a month, Mom shares some of the tips that they've learned from their new "adventure" as homeless people in Manhattan, from the soup kitchen's open hours to the various free events taking place all over the city. This conversation between Jeannette and Mom recapitulates the deep gap between the ways that they both see the world. Mom tends to idealize suffering and poverty, considering it a more artistically appealing life path, not to mention one that is even more valuable since others wouldn't consider it so. For Jeannette, of course, it is maddening that Mom and Dad won't settle down, ask for help, or develop a sustainable life for themselves.

I actually live on Park Avenue, I kept telling myself as I hung my clothes in the closet Eric had cleared out for me. Then I started thinking about Mom and Dad. When they had moved into their squat—a fifteen-minute subway ride south and about half a dozen worlds away—it seemed as if they had finally found the place where they belonged, and I wondered if I had done the same.

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker), Rex Walls, Rose Mary Walls
Page Number: 268
Explanation and Analysis:

Jeannette has moved in with her boyfriend, Eric, around the same time that her parents have moved into a squat - not physically far away from Park Avenue, but certainly in another world. Jeannette has spent much of the book dreaming about a place she could call home, whether that means the Glass Castle of her childhood, a yellow-painted house, or simply a place of order and stability. Now, though, she has a more serious view of what it means to establish a home and ownership over a place. Jeannette isn't entirely sure that the apartment on Park Avenue is where she really belongs - indeed, she seems to wonder whether her parents haven't done a better job at finding a home that truly fits their sensibilities. She might have succeeded by the standards of society around her, the standards of material success, but Jeannette's search is not yet over.

I also hoped that Maureen had chosen California because she thought that was her true home, the place where she really belonged, where it was always warm and you could dance in the rain, pick grapes right off the vines, and sleep outside at night under the stars.

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker), Maureen Walls
Page Number: 276
Explanation and Analysis:

Maureen, recently released from a year-long stay at a psychiatric hospital, has decided to leave for California. Here Jeannette implicitly recalls Maureen's childhood fascination with the state. As the youngest in the family, she cannot recall when the Walls lived in California, so she would always ask Jeannette, Lori, and Brian to tell her about it. Now Jeannette imagines that Maureen's desire for such stories was not just a childhood dream.

As Jeannette is trying to figure out where she belongs, and where she might settle down - around the same time that her parents seem to have settled into a routine at least slightly more stable than the norm - she wonders how such a process will play out for the rest of her family. All the Walls children are deeply affected by the kind of childhood they experienced, even if they all reacted in different ways. It is up to each of them to deal with the legacy of how their parents raised them, and to determine what comes next. 

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.

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker)
Page Number: 280
Explanation and Analysis:

Dad's death leads to a period in Jeannette's life of serious contemplation and questioning about the direction her life is going. She feels restless and ill at ease, never quite sure what is wrong. Finally she does make a major move, breaking up with Eric and moving out of the beautiful apartment where he lived, an apartment that had symbolized at least in a material sense how far she had come from the run-down shack in Welch. Jeannette describes the end of her relationship with Eric as a matter of compatibility, rather than claiming that one or the other did something wrong. For her, this is what home has come to mean: a personal, idiosyncratic feeling of attachment to a certain milieu, which isn't necessarily tied to external signs of success or pleasure.

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.

Related Characters: Jeannette Walls (speaker)
Page Number: 281
Explanation and Analysis:

Jeannette's feelings of restlessness and uncertainty, acute since her father's death, have faded, especially since she has left Eric and the Park Avenue apartment. However, what remains of that time is her propensity to go on long walks. While growing up, Jeannette had never lived in a city, and she always used to be able to see the stars - a capacity that she now has to actively go in search of. But for Jeannette, the rare ability to see Venus is precious for the way in which it reminds her of her father and of the long-ago Christmas present that he gave to her.

At the time, Jeannette had rejoiced in having a gift far more special than the silly, easily broken objects that the other kids at school desired. Now she is reminded of the magical side of Dad's character, the way he made ordinary life and even poverty seem special and unique. As Jeannette is still attempting to determine where she belongs, Venus serves also as a means of continuity between the past and the present, between her childhood and her life now.