What is the impact of parenting on the characters in the Glass Castle?How does this them affect the characters in the Glass Castle?

Expert Answers
amerie eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Rex and Rosemary Walls are not "traditional" parents.  Rex is a nomadic dreamer who is always one step ahead of the bill collectors and drags his family from place to place through the desert and then across the U.S. to West Virginia.  Rosemary is a certified teacher who chooses not to work so that she can be free to paint instead.

The children (there are four of them) are impacted by their parents' behaviors in a variety of ways, but the total lack of structure, money, and stability influences how the kids mold their personalities.  One example of the deep love Rex has for his children is when he lets them choose a star from the sky to claim as their own as a Christmas present.  He teaches them about astronomy and mathematics and science, letting them experiment with the world in order to understand things better.  Unfortunately, his inability to keep a job drives him to drink, which scares the kids.  At one point in the book Rex tries to run over his wife in the middle of the desert - while the kids are in the back seat screaming.  Not exactly a great role model.  Later in the book, he gets raging drunk at Christmas and lights their tree on fire, ruining all the presents underneath it.

Rosemary is a bit different.  She doesn't seem to love her kids as much as she loves herself.  She refuses to get a job, hoards what little food they do  have for herself, makes the kids leave behind all their belongings when the family has to move but insists on taking her art supplies, lets her in-laws physically and sexually abuse her children, and (perhaps worst of all) doesn't disclose to anyone that she has a million dollars worth of property bequeathed to her by her mother.  Money was available the entire time the children were starving, but Rosemary was too selfish to cash it in.

The kids become convinced that they will never live the same way as their parents.  They become incredibly independent - even moving to New York City - alone - while still in high school just to escape from the terrible conditions in West Virginia.  The biggest casualty is probably the youngest child, who ends up a drug addict who stabs her mother in an altercation, gets put in a mental ward, and then runs away to California.  All of the children were abused in some way, but for the most part it convinced them that they could be in control of their own circumstances and be happily independent.

Lynn Ramsson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The impact of Rex and Rosemary's parenting on the four Walls children vary wildly from child to child. This observation illustrates one of the most important themes of the book: no bad experience impacts the same person the same way.

The reader understands the impact of their parenting through Jeanette's experience and through her description of her siblings. Jeanette appears to have developed an uncanny resilience and a need for independence as a result of her non-traditional, somewhat (if not completely) abusive upbringing. The book itself is a testament to Jeanette's ability to recover and heal from the difficulties of being a child of Rex and Rosemary. Interestingly, her numerous defenses of her sometimes violent father lead the reader to wonder if the most powerful impact Rex had on Jeanette as a child was one of inspiring her to live in a fantasy world, where delusions are easier to bear than realities.

Lori is older than Jeanette, and she is a strong-minded person. The reader could make an argument that all the challenges of being a Walls child simply encouraged Lori to become tougher and more mature, quicker than perhaps expected. The impact of Rex and Rosemary on Brian is best defined by his choice to stay away from them as an adult. He seemed to recognize the neglect and abuse of his parents sooner than the others, unlike Jeanette, so the impact of their parenting isn't shocking to him when he reflects on it later in life. Maureen, the youngest child, ends up in the worst situation, mentally ill and violent at times, and exhibiting erratic behaviors of her own; perhaps the impact of her parents has left her confused and uncertain about how to function in the real world as the only role models she had were her dysfunctional parents.