Jeannette Walls: An Innocent Child Amidst the Poverty and Struggles

For the last week or so, I have been reading a very intriguing memoir called The Glass Castle written by Jeannette Walls. The story is told from Jeannette’s perspective, as she undergoes many troubles with her struggling family, mostly due to her poor, incompetent parents that are constantly moving from place to place, making the kids never feel at home. To learn more about the story, click here. I did not expect the book to be so thrilling; there are unexpected surprises that pop up here and there! I look forward to watching the movie when it comes out in theatres.

Being halfway through the book, it is clear to see that several archetypes are present in the characters of The Glass Castle. In my opinion, the literary archetype that is best represented in a character is The Child, constantly being shown by young Jeannette.

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The cover of The Glass Castle (Photo from Amazon)

I think it’s important that we are all on the same page as I begin this blog. First things first: what exactly is “The Child” archetype?

The Child, from a literary perspective, refers to a character of innocence that maintains purity and is always hopeful and optimistic, even in times of great catastrophe. Despite any evil or malice that can occur in their surrounding

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Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle (Photo from Simon & Schuster Canada)

environment, the Child still manages to be carefree and uses the harsh experiences to grow up (Campbell, Candess M.). I like to think that in all of us, there is a child within that keeps us playful, innocent, and most importantly… immature!

As I started to delve into the plot more and more, I quickly realized how clear it was that Jeannette is portraying the archetype of the Child. Coming from a very poor family that is always moving from one cheap home to another, she should have lots to complain about. Her parents are always fighting, and have never had the money to feed the family well, to send her to school, or even to settle down in a nice city. Despite all this, Jeannette remains innocent and keeps optimistic throughout the memoir.

For example, Jeannette’s family suffers from severe poverty and struggles to have food on a daily basis. The lack of food and money in the house causes a massive fight between Rex, Jeannette’s father, and Rose Mary, her mother. With several death threats, physical abuse, and curse words, the fight comes to an end: “‘He tried to kill me,’ Mom sobbed. ‘Your father wants to watch me die.’ ‘I didn’t push her,’ Dad protested. ‘I swear to God I didn’t. She jumped.’ He was standing over Mom, holding out his hands, palms up, pleading his innocence. Lori stroked Mom’s hair and dried her tears. Brian leaned against the wall and shook his head. ‘Everything’s okay now,’ I said over and over again.” (Walls 72). Jeannette, even at the age of seven, is having to deal with family troubles at a serious level. However, she still finds the courage and energy to stay positive and loves the family that she was born to. I think only a true archetype of the Child can cope with such stress, as she simply says how “everything’s okay now”, as if none of the fighting had happened and she’s just glad that the family is back to as normal they can be again.

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From left to right: Brian, Jeannette, Maureen and Lori Walls (Photo from Blogspot)

I think the author did an excellent job with the word choice. By making the rest of the family seem depressed, miserable, and ready to give up on their struggling life, Jeannette’s optimism shines like a diamond. This makes the idea of Jeannette being the Child archetype very effective and convincing to the readers.

I personally think a reason as to why Jeannette is always so optimistic and not worrying about money that much is because she has never really had any experience with the rich. Everywhere she has lived with her family, they were always surrounded by other families that were just as poor, if not worse. This would give Jeannette the false idea that the life they are living is normal, and she is able to live her life brightly and carefree, representing the Child perfectly.

A second strong piece of evidence for Jeannette being the Child that I found happens on yet another low point in the Walls’ lives. Rex, determined to put an end to his drinking, decides that a family road trip to the Grand Canyon would help everyone’s cause. Unfortunately, upon trying to impress Jeannette by driving extremely fast, the car breaks down. Frustration hangs upon the family like a cloud, but has no effect on the Child Jeannette: “Lori gave me a disgusted look, as if she thought it was my fault that the car had broken down. ‘Why do you always encourage him?’ she asked. ‘Don’t worry,’ I said. ‘Dad will fix it.'” (Walls 119-120). Lori, being the oldest daughter, knows deep down that they will be stranded in the middle of nowhere with that broken-down car of theirs. However, the Child archetype in Jeannette does not fail to keep positive, as she has complete confidence in her father’s abilities to fix the car and get them underway again to the Grand Canyon. Jeannette does not bother herself with the fact that her family is too poor to afford a properly functioning car, or the fact that her siblings and parents are all on verge of losing it.

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Rex Walls with his daughter Jeannette (Photo from Rimedia)

I think the author does a very good job once again portraying the Child archetype, as she makes young Jeannette seem playful, hopeful and purely optimistic. Despite the catastrophes that seem to follow the family around, Jeannette always manages to be bright and unnerving. I believe with this spirit, her mood will never be dampened with any issues that seem to trouble the rest of the Walls very greatly.

I couldn’t help but notice the use of symbolism in the memoir to show the archetypal Child in Jeannette. In the book, the Walls family moves out to the Mojave Desert after a brief stay at San Francisco. Rose Mary, being an artist, is fascinated by a weird-shaped tree called the Joshua Tree and paints several variations of it. This tree grows in all sorts of shapes and different directions, making it seem ugly and unnatural, and is only found in the Mojave Desert (Desert USA).

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The Joshua Tree (Photo from Desert USA)

Despite this bent-out-of-shape structure, Rose Mary still finds immense beauty in its crookedness, much to Jeannette’s confusion: “Mom frowned at me. ‘You’d be destroying what makes it special,’ she said. ‘It’s the Joshua tree’s struggle that gives it its beauty.'” (Walls 38). I believe the Joshua tree symbolizes how withstanding struggles and fighting through the pain will result in beauty for others to be in awe of. Jeannette has been going through many problems with her family since a young child; however, she still manages success in the end, as she now has more money than she could’ve imagined as child and lives in Park Avenue in New York City (Walls 4-5). This tree is a perfect symbol for the Child as it must withstand struggles and harsh climates for its whole childhood, and yet it manages to grow up to provide beauty and show strength to others. I believe the author explained the tree in such detail, hoping that readers will catch on and realize the importance of this symbol in the novel. It is a clear representation of the Child archetype that I could not miss.

Jeannette Walls depicts the archetype of the Child perfectly through the actions and feelings of her childhood self. By withstanding personal struggles coming from the Walls family and keeping a positive mood at all times, she was able to grow up and achieve success in the future. The same can be said for the Joshua tree, which in my opinion is a clear symbol for the same archetype; despite growing in different directions and being bent out of shape, it still manages to be beautiful in the end.

Thanks guys, I hoped you enjoyed my second ever blog post! I’m sure there’s more to come…

Sungwoo Chang

Works Cited

Walls, Jeannette. The Glass Castle. New York. Scribner, 2006. Print.

Campbell, Candess M. “The Child Archetype.” Energy Medicine DNA. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 July 2017.

“The Glass Castle Summary.” GradeSaver: Getting You the Grade. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 July 2017.

DesertUSA.com. “Joshua Tree.” Joshua Tree – Yucca Brevifolia – DesertUSA. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 July 2017.

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