Reading a book and applying a theory is almost like breathing in a beautiful scenery – it can be interpreted differently depending on how you look at it. When examining Wall’s The Glass Castle from an archetypal lens, it brings to the surface many symbols, archetypal characters and their journeys throughout the course of the plot.
The Glass Castle, is a memoir to Jeannette Walls’ life. The story depicts the troubled childhood of her and her three siblings, raised by unstable parents who struggle to keep their jobs and provide a high quality life for their family. The novel shows the journey of Jeannette and her way of coping with her troubled household.
To start off, Rex Walls is the father of three children and has an occasional drinking problem. Although it can be seen in many instances that he admires his kids unconditionally, he portrays the archetype of a father who seems to get his own way and is a soul crushing person. For example, when the family is on the move, his daughter is cradling her cat while Rex grabs her, throwing it out of the window, concluding that she will be much happier out in the wilderness where she belongs. From his perspective he may be correct but his daughter states: “Quixote landed with a screeching meow and a thud, Dad accelerated up the road, and I burst into tears” (Walls 32). It can be proven and confirmed from this that Rex unknowingly causes harm and hurts the souls of his kids by disrespecting something which they hold so close to their heart. To sum it up: “The father archetype exerts his influence on the human mind and lays restrictions and social values that are imposed as rules and laws, in accordance with Freud’s notion of superego” (“Father Archetype”). Rex Walls possesses traits of an egoistic and unthoughtful father in many circumstances, but of course, this adds to the essence of the novel and builds up to the heroic journey of Jeannette Walls which you will find out about next!
Before we get into the nitty-gritty details of the heroic archetype and which character best fits this role, it’s crucial to understand a few traits. The first requirement is that: “the hero… unaware, is introduced sympathetically so the audience can identify with the situation or dilemma”(The Writer’s Journey). While considering this, let’s explore the protagonist and the first person narrator of the book – Jeannette Walls. Jeannette, although being a young child throughout the first half of the book, does not let age define her maturity. She resides in a household with parents who try to encourage her to live life with minimal guidance. When she was about four years old, she got caught in a horrendous fire incident for the second time and stated the following: “I wondered if the fire had been out to get me. I wondered if all fire was related… like the fire that had burned me that day while I cooked hot dogs… I didn’t have the answers to those questions, but what I did know was that I lived in a world that at any moment coulderupt into fire. It was the sort of knowledge that kept you on your toes” (45). This dialogue alone is enough for readers to label Jeannette as a heroic and young girl who is willing to persevere. How many kids have you met who are able to turn such a situation into a life evaluation? Jeannette, through her sympathetic circumstances allows readers to identify with her desperate situation of life, thus making her fulfill the role of a heroic archetype.
Now, to support the claim, let’s compare her to another famous character from The Hunger Games, which I’m sure most of you have heard of – Katniss Everdeen.
Katniss Everdeen is a young girl whose days were spent trying to keep her family alive until her call to adventure where she fulfilled her responsibilities (“Katniss Everdeen – Hero’s Journey”). Jeannette and Katniss have a lot in common as they are living off very little, yet their journey goes from innocence to experience.
Katniss fights in order to stay alive and to become a great figure for her sister. Jeannette battles the constant hardships of poverty and challenges herself to accept the circumstances of her family: “We liked our boxes. They made going to bed seem like an adventure” (68). Although Jeannette’s family is unfortunate, she takes the situation and makes it into the best version possible, again, portraying her whole hearted and accepting nature. Jeannette was able to manipulate poverty into an adventure, making the downsides in life seem positive.
So far, Jeannette’s story definitely aligns with the archetypal hero’s journey. Although Jeannette “never really knew a familiar place doing the ol’skedaddle” (101), it starts to become more of a journey of gaining experience through her travel from town to town, giving her the heroic journey attribute. She learns skills that help her survive and understand the severity of the situation that her father Rex is in, due to the escape he’s making from bill collectors. As a reader I can infer that as the plot progresses, Jeannette will confront her father about his wrong doings. Also, when she gradually matures, she will take matters into her own hands to provide for and sustain her family.
On another note, when examining the symbols in the book, the first one that comes to attention is the Joshua tree. When Jeannette and her family were residing in Midland, there was a tiny Joshua tree growing near their house. Jeannette told her mother that she “would protect it from the wind and water it every day so that it could grow nice and tall and straight” but her mother replied saying that she‘d be “destroying what makes it special… it’s the Joshua tree’s struggle that gives it its beauty” (91). This symbol can be used to understand Jeannette’s need to surmount incredible difficulties through the process of growing up. It suggests that Jeannette’s childhood was not in vain, and that she would not currently be the person she is today without these struggles (Litcharts). However, the tree also symbolizes the different ways that people can see the same image. For Jeannette, who understandably does not see the need for such struggles, the tree is rather ugly than beautiful. This can be compared to her mother who views the tree as a reprsentative of nature to represent obstacles and hardships.
Moving on to the most prominent symbol and coincidentally, the title of the book – The Glass Castle. Before we get into the details and meaning, let’s just admire the choice of the name as it doubles as the title of this memoir as well as an extended metaphor for empty promises and the false hopes offered by Rex. This use of figurative language is highly effective in allowing readers to make correlations between the symbol of the castle and the plot of the story which ties in to the idea of falsehood and acceptance of reality. Superb writing technique Jeannette Walls!
Anyways, back on track – The castle is first mentioned when Jeannette states: “Dad was telling us about the wondrous things he was going to do, like build the Glass Castle… a great big house he was going to build for us in the desert” (100). The Glass Castle encapsulates the extent to which Rex prefers to theorize and fantasize, rather than think practically and within his limits (“The Glass Castle”). It is the design that Rex keeps with him at all times to showcase his big dreams. But it also represents the hope and faith which Jeannette has in her heart to believe that her father will do what he promises. I strongly believe that the day she comes to understand that the glass castle will not actually be built, she will welcome her realistic attitude and maturity level.
Well, there you have it! The first half of the Glass Castle has been packed with superb archetypes to showcase characters and symbols, allowing readers to experience a heartfelt connection with the novel. There is so much anticipation to see what the rest of the novel will uncover and what other lenses can be applied to better understand the emotional roller coaster this book is. Until then, breathe in the archetypal approach of this blog and eagerly await the next analysis folks!
MLA Works Cited
“INTRODUCTION.” Hero’s journey. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 July 2017.