BOOK DISCUSSION GUIDE
Summary: A celebrity reporter for MSNBC and once denizen
of Park Avenue, Jeannette Walls stunned her colleagues and friends by
writing a memoir that revealed her upbringing in an alcoholic family
existing at the margins of society. Although it serves as a perfect
primer of the emotions and challenges that all trauma survivors face,
this elegantly written book is a testament to the resilience and courage
that even addicted people possess. Her mother had always told Jeannette
life was an adventure and had said, regarding the memoir, "Tell
the truth." The Glass Castle shows us how poignant, multi-layered,
and various the truths of a life can be.
Growing up with nonconformist parents, Rex and Rose Mary Walls, was
difficult for their four children. They spent the early years living
like nomads, camping in the mountains of the Southwest. Rex, a brilliant
man who, when sober, captured his children’s imagination, taught
them physics, geology, and other things including how to embrace life
fearlessly. Rose Mary, an artist, couldn’t stand the responsibility
of providing for her family. When money and the romance of a wandering
life faded, the Walls moved to a West Virginia mining town. To escape,
Rex drank, stole grocery money, or disappeared for days. As this behavior
escalated, Jeannette and her siblings had to fend for themselves, supporting
each other, as they weathered their parents’ betrayal. This is
a story of deep and unconditional love for parents who despite their
flaws enabled Walls to move from hiding her roots to finding the determination
to carve out a successful life.
1. Memoir vs. autobiography: How does Walls choose what details about
her life to leave in / leave out? For instance, why is the first husband
barely touched upon?
2. In memoir, as in fiction, the work has to be structured to best
present main ideas. The arc of this memoir follows Jeannette's passage
from idealization of father to growing disillusion and awareness of
parents' inability to parent them, to transcending her old life and
coming to a fuller appreciation of her parents.
3. Use of irony / dramatic irony: In the opening scene, the narrator
is worrying whether she is overdressed while observing Mother-through
a cab window-- rooting through a dumpster. There is dramatic irony in
that the narrator presents details that make us react even though the
narrator, as a character, is in denial.
4. The dynamics of alcoholic family: As in all traumatic situations,
defense mechanisms used include denial, rationalization, projection,
repeating / seeking a similar trauma to gain mastery (eg, Jeanette burning
her doll), numbing, and dissociation. What are some other examples?
As readers, we begin the memoir with horror, and then gradually become
accustomed to the environment, much as a child in an alcoholic family
Roles in the alcoholic family: caretaker (Lori for Mom, Jeannette for
Dad), hero, scapegoat (Brian? Truth teller), Mascot, Lost Child (Maureen).
[See article below] Different children embody different aspects at different
times. What makes this novel so wonderful is that it is real, and the
people are real, not just textbook stereotypes. Adding to the psychological
complexity of the book's truth telling are the episodes at each grandmother's
house, in which the reader is shown where the parents came from and
why they were as they were. When the family comes to West Virginia to
stay with Rex's mother, their journey literally moves into the bowels
of hell. But as in the literature of recovery, the book shows that hitting
"bottom" gave the children the energy and courage to break
free and begin a new life.
in the Family” by Laurie Walker - Essortment
Questions and related information provided by Sue Oringel.
This discussion guide made possible with public
funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency. Sponsored
by the Mohawk Valley Library System and participating member libraries.