“If you don’t want to sink, you better figure out how to swim.” (Walls, 66) Although this quote was said by Rex as he was teaching Jeanette to swim, it stands out because it wraps up the whole theme of the book in that one little line. Not only is this the strategy that represents the way Jeanette and he siblings were raised but it shows the way they were often presented with challenges, some life threatening, but nine times out of ten those challenges were always out of their control. The two literary devices that I found to be most evident share the common theme of “what you put in, is what you get out”, those being the analysis of both the marxist theory; taking a deeper look into the way social class affects different aspects of the Walls family and the archetype theory looking at the typical main characters and their situations that are suspected to represent universal patterns of human nature.
There were many characters that had archetypes tied to them, but the one that I think had the biggest influence on everyone at the end of the day was Rex, the father or head honcho of the Walls household. He was seen as a mentor at first but also the villain. Rex was very intelligent and he taught his kids many important life skills throughout their lives. The only downfall was when he drank, which was often, he became short tempered and extremely manipulative. As a mentor he was able to teach his kids many skills that set them apart from other kids their age, things they may not learn in school but just going through the motions of life.
Rex taught them the essentials in life. He really drove home the values of objects and the priorities in which they came. The children placed very little value on objects and more so on things that will last their whole life, “We laughed about the all the kids who believed in the Santa myth and got nothing for Christmas but a bunch of cheap plastic toys. Years from now, when all the junk they got is broken and long forgotten,” Dad said, “you’ll still have your stars.” (Walls, 41) That quote shows that he was a successful mentor in the aspect he taught his kids the values he believes matter. On the flipside Rex also fulfilled the villain archetype when he drank. He often lost jobs because of his alcoholic-like issues and in the bigger picture, that lead to no constant flow of income for the household. On one Christmas when the family was doing well they chose to celebrate Christmas on Christmas instead of celebrating a week later when everything is cheaper and on sale as they had done in the past. Later that night Rex came home drunk and thought to “really light up Christmas” (Walls 115) by burning the Christmas tree down. His actions ruined Christmas for the entire family but no one says anything to him because of his abusive behavior when intoxicated. Many times throughout the story there are small hints that Rex abuses his wife, yet she won’t leave him. Rex ultimately puts the family in tough situations by not bringing in enough money, spending it all on alcohol or causing discomfort for everyone at home with his abusive behavior.
Throughout the story Rose Mary and Rex represent the lower class of society and utilize what they think are goods in their situation as a way to influence their social standing. Regardless of the children’s well-being, both parents attempt to move up in society through valuing in their minds what are the right things to value. Another word for this is commodification, which is the idea of valuing things not for their usefulness but for their power to impress others or for their potential resale opportunities. Rose Mary displays this through her constant artwork that she takes so much pride in and would rather do than raise her own children. At one point she poses the question, “Why spend the afternoon making a meal that will be gone in an hour,’ she’d ask us, ‘when in the same amount of time, I can do a painting that will last forever?” (Walls, 56). Rose Mary’s question indicates her attitude that her paintings will impress others later on proving her commodification values. Her desire to impress others with her art pieces reveal her attempt to increase her social standing. Her concerns with how she is viewed in this aspect show how people’s socioeconomic situations play a role in how they do certain things.
Along with the commodification values seen through the parents’ actions, the children’s reluctancy to remain in the lower social class show how they were able to actually take their experiences and better from them, especially Jeanette. Jeannette continuously attempts to raise her social standing but she was stuck in the lower class due to her father who would always ruin their attempts with his outbursts of anger, non-present source of income and his alcoholism. Just because he was suffering in the lower class he tried to make it seem like his children were incapable of making themselves into something more. For example, Jeanette planed to sell her rocks and create a business when she was younger. She wanted to create a business in which she had, “…rock sales… I explained that all my rocks were incredibly valuable and I’d rather keep them than sell them for less than they were worth” (Walls, 59-60). Jeannette tries to raise herself out of her horrific situation from a young age knowing her full potential. When Jeannette moves away from her father into the city, her standards of living as well as other aspects improve, only because she worked for it. That is one of the key messages all of the children did take from their situation, if they wanted something they needed to work and sacrifice in order to get it.
All in all Jeanette Wall’s memoir preached the idea of one being their biggest enemy, by illustrating the way Rex lived his life and how it affected those around him in regards to the different character archetypes connected to him and looking into the extreme lifestyle in which the family endured due to the influence their social class had on them. The literary theories within The Glass Castle help to really showcase the different impacts little things have on the way people do certain things or why they choose to live the way they do. Although it may look a certain way to someone, no one will truly know the reasons why, unless really evaluating and taking everything into account, just as in this instance the literary theories helped do.