The Glass Castle Summary,Themes,Characters & Synopsis [by Jeannette Walls]

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TitleThe Glass Castle
AuthorJeannette Walls
Publication YearMarch 2005
No. of pages289
GenreMemoir, Autobiography
SettingWest Virginia, Arizona, and New York City.


The main characters of the book “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls are:

  1. Jeannette Walls – The author and narrator of the memoir. She reflects on her challenging childhood and the impact of her eccentric parents.
  2. Rex Walls – Jeannette’s father, an intelligent and charismatic man with a drinking problem. He’s full of grand ideas but struggles with providing stability for his family.
  3. Rose Mary Walls – Jeannette’s mother, a free-spirited artist who prioritizes her creative pursuits over her children’s needs. She’s unconventional and often neglectful.
  4. Lori Walls – Jeannette’s older sister, artistic and determined. She strives to escape their difficult circumstances and pursue a better life.
  5. Brian Walls – Jeannette’s younger brother, resourceful and independent. He copes with the family’s challenges in his own way.
  6. Maureen Walls – Jeannette’s youngest sister, initially neglected and later removed from the family due to her troubled behavior.
  7. Grandma Smith – Rex’s mother, who provides some stability and care to the Walls children during their difficult times.
  8. Erma – Rex’s mother and a source of conflict for the Walls children due to her abusive behavior.
  9. Uncle Stanley – Rex’s brother, who occasionally helps the family but also struggles with his own issues.
  10. Uncle Billy – Rex’s brother, who has a criminal background and often clashes with Rex.


The themes of the book “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls are:

  1. Family Resilience – The book explores the Walls family’s ability to persevere through hardships and maintain their bond despite challenging circumstances.
  2. Parental Contrasts – Highlighting the stark differences between the unconventional and neglectful parenting style of Rex and Rose Mary Walls, and their impact on their children’s lives.
  3. Personal Determination – Jeannette’s journey of self-discovery and determination to escape her chaotic upbringing, striving for a better life and future.
  4. Societal Norms vs. Individuality – The clash between the Walls family’s unconventional lifestyle and society’s expectations, raising questions about the nature of normalcy.
  5. Childhood Innocence – The book delves into the bittersweet innocence of the Walls children, who find joy and beauty even in challenging environments.
  6. Poverty and Privilege – Exploring the effects of poverty on the Walls family and the complex relationships between privilege, material possessions, and happiness.
  7. Forgiveness and Understanding – Themes of forgiveness and understanding emerge as the Walls children come to terms with their parents’ flaws and choices.
  8. Art and Imagination – The role of creativity and imagination as coping mechanisms for the children, providing an escape from their difficult reality.
  9. Coming of Age – The story follows the growth and maturation of the Walls children as they navigate the transition from childhood to adulthood.
  10. Embracing Individual Histories Each family member’s unique background and experiences contribute to their collective history, highlighting the importance of understanding one another’s pasts.


“The Glass Castle” is a memoir by Jeannette Walls that recounts her tumultuous upbringing with her unconventional and often neglectful parents.

The story follows her journey from poverty and instability to eventual success. Walls reflects on her parents’ dreams of building a grand glass house, which serves as a symbol of their aspirations and the fragility of their family bonds.

Despite the challenges, the memoir explores resilience, forgiveness and the power of personal determination.


Jeannette Walls opens her story with an adulthood scenario. Jeannette glances out the window of a taxi in New York City and sees her mother’s garbage diving. She sits down to avoid being spotted but later asks her mother to lunch to discuss how she might assist. Mom claims that she & Dad like being homeless & chastises Jeannette for being embarrassed by her family. Jeannette’s narration then travels back in time to her very first recollection.

Jeannette, three years old, lives in a trailer park with her parents, older sister Lori, and younger brother Brian. While cooking hot dogs over a stove, Jeannette’s tutu catches fire, & her mother takes her to the medical center for an emergency skin transplant. Dad smuggles her out of the hospital after six weeks without settling the bill. Back at home, Jeannette resumes unsupervised cooking and begins toying with matches.
Dad forces the family put their stuff into the family car and change cities in the middle of the night one night, a ritual he refers to as “doing the skedaddle.” The Walls skedaddle dozens of times during the following several years, relocating all over to keep ahead of debt collectors & police authorities. They spend a month or two in more prominent places such as Las Vegas & San Francisco, where Dad can make money quickly by gambling.

The Wallses, the other hand, spend most of their time in distant desert mining villages, where Mom and Dad educate their children in reading, math, and specialized survival skills. Dad drinks frequently and struggles to retain a job, but he assures his family that their wandering existence is temporary. He vows to find gold and construct the Glass Castle, a vast, self-sustaining castle made of glass, for his family.

Mom had another child, Maureen, while Jeannette was in first grade. Dad relocates his family to Battle Mountain, Nevada, to work as an electrician. Until Dad loses his job, the family has six months of relative stability. Mom obtains a teaching job after a heated dispute. Dad takes the most of her money, and the family goes hungry. Their stay in Nevada is cut short when Billy Deel, a delinquent neighbor kid whose overtures Jeannette turned off, arrives at the Walls’ house and fires a BB pistol.

Jeannette responds with her father’s revolver. She deliberately misses him, but the cops become involved. The family takes refuge in Phoenix. Jeannette hears on the trip to Phoenix that Grandma Smith has died, leaving Mom a significant sum of money and a house. They relocate to the enormous mansion, and Dad finds work as an electrician. For nearly a year, the children get regular meals, their bicycles, & attend public school.

However, Dad loses his work, and his drinking worsens. The family is now again impoverished. Mom decides to relocate to Dad’s hometown of Welch, West Virginia. The Wallses stay with Jeannette’s paternal grandmother, Erma, when they arrive in Welch. Erma is a caustic, unwelcoming host, and most Welch residents see the Wallses as arrogant intruders. Erma molests Brian as Mom and Dad depart for a lengthy road trip to Phoenix. Erma retaliates brutally when Lori and Jeannette confront her. Dad takes Erma’s side when he returns, but Erma evicts the family.

The Walls purchase a tiny, deteriorating house that lacks running water and indoor plumbing. Dad agrees that the conditions aren’t perfect, but he vows to use the site to start building the Glass Castle. Brian and Jeannette dig a massive hole for the foundation to assist Dad in getting started building the Glass Castle, but the family quickly fills it with junk. To make ends meet, the children begin trash diving & stealing food from their classmates and neighbors. Jeannette urges Mom to divorce Dad so they may live on assistance, but Mom refuses.

Mom secures a teaching position after child protective services visit the Wallses. The money may fix their issues, but Dad’s excessive drinking depletes their cash again, and the family goes hungry. Mom travels to Charleston for several weeks the following summer to renew her teaching license. When Jeannette is left in charge of the family finances, she discovers that she, too, succumbs to Dad’s requests for more money. When Mom returned from Charleston, she declared that she would resign from her work and dedicate her entire time to painting.

Jeannette eventually tells Mom and Dad about their selfishness, but in retribution, Dad whips her. Jeannette and Lori are outraged and want to relocate to New York City immediately. Jeannette, Lori & Brian get work in the Welch area and save their money for over a year, but Dad takes it just months before Lori’s planned departure. Jeannette eventually finds Lori a summer childcare job with a bus ticket to New York City as remuneration.

Lori enjoys her life in New York City, where she works as a waitress and lives in a women’s hostel. A year later, Jeannette moves to the city & finishes high school there, volunteering at a Brooklyn newspaper for credit. Brian arrives a year later. Jeannette begins college at Barnard, paying for it with grants, loans, and earnings from odd jobs. At the age of twelve, Maureen moves live with Lori. Dad accuses Lori of kidnapping his children, and three years later, he and Mom go to New York City. After being evicted from various apartments, both parents go to the streets before becoming squatters.

Jeannette has married and now works at a prominent magazine. Lori is an artist, while Brian works as a cop. Maureen abandons college and moves live with her parents. Maureen attempts to stab Mom and is sentenced to a year in a psychiatric facility. The family grows apart, and Dad dies of a heart attack a year later. Jeannette & her second husband, John, entertain the family for Thanksgiving five years after Dad’s death, but without Maureen. They raise a glass to Dad’s life.


What is the overall message of The Glass Castle?

The Glass Castle portrays resilience and love amidst adversity. It conveys that familial bonds and personal determination can help overcome challenges, leading to personal growth and strength.

What is controversial about The Glass Castle?

The Glass Castle is controversial due to its depiction of neglectful parenting and difficult upbringing, sparking debates about child welfare and parental responsibility.

What is the mental illness in The Glass Castle?

The mental illness is schizophrenia. It affects a main character, Rex Walls, causing erratic behavior and hallucinations.

What is the biggest lesson from The Glass Castle?

“The Glass Castle” teaches that resilience and love can overcome a tumultuous upbringing. Family bonds endure through hardships, shaping individual strength and determination for a better life.

What does Tinkerbell symbolize in The Glass Castle?

Tinkerbell in “The Glass Castle” symbolizes Jeannette’s hope, imagination, and desire for love. Like Tinkerbell, she clings to dreams despite challenges, representing resilience and determination.

Why is it called The Glass Castle?

The Glass Castle is likely called so because it symbolizes the father’s dream of building a grand, yet fragile, house made of glass, reflecting his unfulfilled ambitions and the family’s complex relationships.

What does the cheetah symbolize in The Glass Castle?

In “The Glass Castle,” the cheetah symbolizes the free-spirited and wild nature of the protagonist’s father, Rex Walls. It represents his untamed, unpredictable and reckless behavior.

About the Author-Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
NameJeannette Walls
BirthdateApril 21, 1960
BirthplacePhoenix, Arizona, USA
OccupationAuthor, Journalist
Notable Work“The Glass Castle”
Literary GenreMemoir, Non-fiction
EducationB.A. in Journalism

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