Habits drive our lives, from the smallest of things to the biggest. In The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls, Jeannette’s parents habits nearly ruin her life. Because Rex and Rose Mary’s habits and beliefs, and therefore actions, override the family’s needs, the family grows up extremely poor and endures many unnecessary hardships. The parents have many beliefs and habits that come before the needs of their children and family. This leads to a cycle that the parents, and, when they are young, the kids, become trapped in.
The biggest issue that the family faces is their never ending need for money. Even when Rex and/or Rose Mary have a job, they can’t make their money last. When the family is living in Battle Mountain, Rex loses his job at the mining company but Rose Mary finds a job as a teacher. Even with her job, the kids sometime go hungry. “We now had food in the fridge, at least until it got toward the end of the month, when we usually ran out of money because neither Mom nor Dad ever mastered the art of budgeting” (76). This is a big issue that the family faces often. They start the month feeling good with plenty of food and money, but by the end of the month, they can barely scrape by and have to scavenge for food. As soon as they have money, the parents go out and spend it, trying to convince the kids that everything is going well, but this leads to them spending and then eating everything at once and not having any money or food by the end of the month, as it is when they don’t have jobs. The kids see this and, at one point in Welch, even try to budget the money themselves, but Rex and Rose Mary don’t let them anywhere near the money. Rex and Rose Mary’s inability to save money leads the family to not having enough food sometimes, even when they have jobs.
Another big issue is the family’s acceptance of all of Rex’s problems and not trying to deal with them. Rex has many issues, many of them stemming from his alcoholism. When the family is in church, Rex is drunk as usual. He starts arguing with the pastor and Rose Mary reacts in a very unconcerned way, as usual. “‘Don’t worry, God understands,’ Mom said. ‘He knows that your father is a cross we must bear’” (105). Rose Mary simply accepts him how he is and doesn’t try to change anything about him and and this has many consequences for the family. Rose Mary is saying “He is how he is, and we can’t do anything to change him”. This attitude hurts the entire family because there are many times that Rex drinks and acts out without any consequences, or even memory of the events. Rose Mary insists that the best way to deal with him is that they should make it look and feel like nothing ever happened, which achieves nothing because most of the time Rex is blacked out and has no memory of the events anyways. Rose Mary’s approach, or lack thereof, to dealing with Rex’s drinking only hurts the family more and causes more problems.
The final decision that caused the family to live they way that they did came after Rose Mary’s mother died. She inherited many items and land worth a lot of money, yet she refused to sell anything to help her family. Jeanette only finds out when Rose Mary asks for money to buy the half of the land that her brother inherited. “I was thunderstruck . . . Had all those years, as well as Mom and Dad’s time on the street — not to mention their current life in an abandoned tenement — been a caprice inflicted on us by Mom?” (273). Rose Mary could have simply sold the land and they family could have lived relatively comfortably. She chose her personal belief that land should never be sold over her family’s immediate need for money. Jeannette can’t believe that, even after everything her parents put her through, this could still happen without her even knowing until now. Jeanette sees that her Mom wasn’t just negligent. Rose Mary had a large part in ensuring that the family would continue to live in poverty beyond her selfishness. The final action that caused the Walls’ to live they way they did was Rose Mary’s belief that land should never be sold.
In The Glass Castle, habits and beliefs keep the Walls family in deep poverty and allow Rex to keep drinking until there is no helping him. They seem like a nightmare of a family, but many of their struggles can be applied to nearly anyone’s life. They simply have bad habits, but most people are able to break them or work around the minor ones, but Rex and Rose Mary’s habits build and build until the family falls apart and the kids are old enough to leave. But in the end, with the exception of Maureen, all of the kids are able to overcome their upbringing, build successful lives for themselves, and escape the things that kept their parents trapped in their ways.
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