One of the first memories that Jeannette Walls remembers in The Glass Castle is when she is about three and is cooking a hot dog on the stove. Her dress catches on fire, and she is badly burned. Jeannette has to go to the hospital for her burns. This memory sets up the entire story of the Walls family and how they abuse their children in many different ways. A three-year-old should not be cooking a hot dog unsupervised by an adult. Jeannette and her brother and sister are left on their own to survive and exist. There is very little parental guidance or input into their lives.
Jeannette spends most of her life traveling around the desert south west with her family. Her alcoholic father is always in search of the “next big invention” that never pans out for the family. Jeannette’s mom is a failing artist who is more interested in her own wants and needs than she is in her own children. It’s a desperate lifestyle that causes Jeannette and her siblings to grow up fast and hard. They live in various towns only as long as their dad can hold down a job. They are constantly moving around avoiding debts and responsibility. They even left town after Jeannette’s hospital visit so they didn’t have to pay the hospital bill.
It is a very dysfunctional family, and it’s a miracle that Jeannette survived and became successful in spite of her unhappy childhood memories.