The Glass Castle By Jeannette Walls Summary and Analysis Part 3: Welch Sections 7-9

Summary

Shortly after moving into the tiny house on Little Hobart Street, Dad plots out a spot to build the Glass Castle. Brian and Jeannette, eager to make this vision a reality, start digging the foundation. They carve out and smooth a large section of earth; however, the family cannot afford garbage service and starts throwing their trash into the hole. The trash attracts rats and one night Maureen feels a rat crawling near her in her sleep; fortunately, the family dog catches the rat and kills it. The dilapidated house and the growing pile of trash near it troubles Jeannette, so when Dad brings home some extra yellow paint from an odd job, she starts painting the house. Unfortunately, the paint freezes on a cool fall night and she is unable to finish the job. The house remains only partially painted.

The neighborhood that the Walls have moved into is one of the poorest in Welch, and the Walls are the poorest family on their street. However, Mom and Dad refuse to accept help while other families on the street accept support from food stamps and church clothing drives. Mom reminds Jeannette that other families have it harder and Jeannette decides the Pastor family has it the worst because the mother, Ginnie Sue Pastor, is the town whore. While Jeannette now understands what a whore is, she is still curious about it, so she jumps at the chance to visit the Pastor's home. She, Ginnie Sue, and Ginnie Sue's daughter, Kathy, clean a chicken one day and Jeannette tells them about California. At the end of the visit, Jeannette realizes she did not learn anything about whoring except that it puts food on the table.

Fights are also common in Welch, and the Walls kids often band together for self-defense. One day a bully, Ernie Goad, teases Jeannette about living in trash, and he and his buddies ride their bike over to the Walls' home the next day. They throw rocks through the windows, one of which strikes Brian. After the bullies cycle away, Brian and Jeannette formulate a plan to turn an abandoned mattress on the ridge above their house into a catapult. They fill the mattress with rocks, and, using some rope Brian finds, wing the rocks at Ernie and his gang when they return. And thus the Battle of Little Hobart Street was won.

Analysis

In these sections, Walls contrasts two elements of her childhood — her family's trash pile and her Battle of Little Hobart Street — to emphasize one of her main themes: that hardship can both create and mend divisions within a family. First, the fact that Dad's dream of the Glass Castle is now, literally, a garbage pile, foreshadows growing tension between Jeannette and her father. While, throughout the memoir, Jeannette is shown to be Dad's chief defender, she is upset by the fact that the foundation of the Glass Castle is a garbage dump. Her decision to paint the house indicates that she is still unable to blame the family's poverty on Dad, and instead, takes on some of the responsibility to improve their standing in society by painting the house. Of course, the job goes unfinished (and unsupported by the family) indicating how problematic individual endeavors are for the family — each member is tied to the rest in order to survive, and thus their interdependence makes it impossible for any single individual to change his or her life, or the family's status, without threatening the family structure as a whole.

However, this interdependence can also be positive, as shown through the Battle of Little Hobart street. When Brian and Jeannette rally against the neighborhood bullies they show that, while they may not have the money other families have, they do have ingenuity. By rigging their own catapult, they stop Ernie Goad and his friends and gain a stronger sense of their own power. Thus, through contrasting these scenes, Walls shows that, while much of her childhood is filled with hunger and suffering, she also learns the value of both team work and independent-thinking through her struggles.

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