Two childhoods, both plagued by hardships, suffering, alcoholic and neglecting parents–this was how Jeannette Walls and David Pelzer grew up. Their familial situations are only different in that Walls’ parents were forgivable because they had good intentions and tried their best despite their addictions and financial situations, whereas Pelzer’s parents are seemingly unforgivable–one parent was a sadist and abusive mother, while the other left the family and never stood up for his son. This essay will examine the similarities and differences in the styles that Walls and Pelzer recount their unusual, and painful, childhoods.
1. Identify and then compare and contrast the central arguments of both works
The central argument of The Glass Castle revolves around the the theme of unconditional love. As the Walls family moved from the dessert to West Virginia, Jeannette began to understand that her life wasn’t a never-ending, fun adventure. When the Walls family switched to a sedentary lifestyle, both of her parent’s carefree mentalities caused serious damage that consumed the whole family. Jeannette suffered from extreme poverty, bullying, and having to be held accountable to feed her siblings. Though she is anxious to get away from her parents and the circumstances they have made her suffer through, Walls still loves them and never blamed them for anything. When her parents followed her and her siblings to New York and became homeless, the reader sees that she loves them enough to want to help them better their living conditions. She never turns her back on them, though she definitely has enough reasons to do so.
Unlike The Glass Castle, A Child Called “It is not a story of a family’s unconditional love. The central arguments of A Child Called “It” try to show readers how a parent can become abusive and how the human spirit can prevail. Pelzer himself states that these are his objectives for writing the memoir in the afterword. Unlike Walls’ The Glass Castle, Pelzer does not write his memoir to show his parents any forgiveness. His mother was his abuser, and his father was a coward that didn’t stand up for his own son. He holds no sentiment for his childhood, save for the few years before his abuse. But instead, Pelzer wishes to tell his experience to show how the human spirit can conquer and survive all as long as it stays strong.
2. Compare and contrast the styles of writing that each author utilizes
Both Pelzer and Walls wanted to use a type of language and word choice in their works that their characters would have used when when they were young to create the effect that the reader was actually reading his/her thoughts at that particular time. Both use descriptive, but simple, word-choice.
Wall’s writing style is narrative, developing very complex characters: Her own family. She even used first-person narration and dialogue to show their point of view. All of the book’s chapters are consecutive, therefore the story development is very clear and easy to follow. The book’s syntax uses long sentences with ideas separated by commas (not run-on sentences, but long enough to hold plenty of information). The tone in the book is personal and reflective, as her own reasoning is the bridge between the events in her life and her family and her own actions. Walls uses a mixture of informal diction, with a tad of slang diction for character’s words like ‘skeddadle’ and ‘big ol…’ since those were phrases that were actually used by her family. Walls possibly did this to bring authenticity to her work.
Pelzer’s overall writing style is fairly easy to follow. His diction/language level is generally casual and simple since the story is from his point of view as a child–also narrative like Walls’. Pelzer does not use many sophisticated words, and his use of techniques such as figurative language are limited. His writing style is very straightforward and to the point. He does very little to develop his characters, like his mother. All the audience knows is that his mother’s attitude made a 360º change from loving mother to child abuser. She is antagonized throughout the entire memoir without much explanation as to why she abused David like she did.
The difference in writing styles and sophistication maybe be due to each person’s background. A Child Called “It” was Pelzer’s first book, and he was an amatuer writer. On the other hand, Walls had been writing for a long time, being that she was a writer.
3. Analyze and compare and contrast the evidence and techniques each author uses
The Glass Castle is mainly divided in two parts: Walls’ early childhood in the desert and her time in Welch, West Virginia. Walls writes is by using imagery, personification, and detail. Most of the imagery used took place when she was living in the desert, as she often compared herself to object in nature: “We were sort of like the cactus. We ate irregularly, and when we did, we’d gorge ourselves” (p.22), however, these literary devices stopped when she moved to Welch, since she no longer had the element of wild nature to draw from. She uses long and complex sentences with detailed descriptions of events and places, often using several descriptive adjectives in one sentence. Since this is a memoir, she opts to relay messages by using quotes and diction. Walls includes a lot of dialogue combined with her actual thoughts create an overall feel of authenticity.
Though he is not a sophisticated writer, throughout the book Pelzer does notably implement the literary techniques of tone/mood, motif, allusion, and imagery to illustrate the horrors he faced as an abused child. Take a look at this excerpt, in which most of the mentioned literary elements are exemplified:
“At night I no longer dreamed, nor did I let my imagination work during the day. The once vibrant escapes of watching myself fly through the clouds in bright blue costumes, were now a thing of the past. When I fell asleep, my soul became consumed in a black void” (p. 77).
The tone here is defeated and gloomy, creating a jaded and depressed mood. The reader feels how beaten down young David feels, how defeated his spirit is. The imagery adds to this mood by describing how his dreams were once vibrant and of him being a superhero, to becoming “a black void.” The recurring motif here is the image of superheroes. Throughout the book, young David compares himself to Superman as a way to cope and keep himself motivated to outsmart and survive his mother’s torments. In one scene, David describes “in [his] dream, [he] flew through the air in vivid colors … [and] wore a cape of red … [He] was Superman” (p. 59). This allusion, or reference, to Superman, a character of strength and resilience, is what keeps young David determined to live.
4. Evaluate the arguments of each text as a whole.
Each author tells their own story of a childhood in an untraditional, even dangerous, household, and how they each found their escape in hopes of a better life. In the end, both characters accomplished their goal of having a separate adult life from their family.