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 for the siblings while everything around them is changing, giving them a certain sense of pride and satisfaction. At times, The Glass Castle reveals, the simple fact of owning something can make up for or render irrelevant even major material wants.
But the book also articulates a tension between ownership as productive or destructive. As Jeannette grows up and starts to want and embrace a comfortable life, her desires clash with Mom’s disapproval of materialism, and through this conflict the book questions whether ownership can really give Jeanette, or anyone, what they’re looking for. The Glass Castle walks a fine line between acknowledging that material possessions can be powerful tools of identity, comfort, and power, and admitting that the lack of material possessions is not the only thing holding Jeannette back from a better life.
Possessions and Ownership ThemeTracker
Possessions and Ownership Quotes in The Glass Castle
“You want to help me change my life?” Mom asked. “I’m fine. You’re the one who needs help. Your values are all confused.”
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.
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.
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.
She was keeping [the wedding ring], she explained, to replace the wedding ring her mother had given her, the one Dad had pawned shortly after they got married.
“But Mom,” I said, “that ring could get us a lot of food.”
“That’s true,” Mom said, “but it could also improve my self-esteem. And at times like these, self-esteem is even more vital than food.”
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.
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 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.
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.