Character Analysis

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Jeannette Walls

Jeannette is a major character and protagonist. She is a round, dynamic character, and the memoir focuses on her development and maturity. She is Rex Wall's favorite daughter because of her forgiving nature. Despite her father's destructive nature, she chooses to be optimistic and positive. Through her early childhood she chooses to ignore her father's drunken escapades, and thinks of him as a loving father and excellent teacher of the wild. It isn't until her junior year of high school that she realizes the indisputable flaws her father has. She uses her intelligence to eventually move away from her parents and Welch. She is a natural forgiver and it shows even when she moves away from her parents.

Jeanette's early character is somewhat timid and a fan of conformity. She writes, "Since I wanted the other kids to like me, I didn't raise my hand all the time" (Wells 58). She goes on to move to New York away from her parents after junior year with her own effort and resources. Jeanette changes from a child who is affected by others' opinion of her into an adult mature enough to make life-changing decisions for herself without concern for the status quo. She is motivated by success and by increased chances in the world outside of Welch, where she is constrained by others' closed-mindedness. Jeanette is a symbol of the resilience and perseverance of humanity.

Rex Walls

Rex is the father of Jeannette, Lori, Brian, and Maureen Walls. He can be considered an antagonist due to the fact that he hinders Jeanette's plans by spending the money she saved and preventing her and her family from living in less deplorable conditions. He is brilliant and full of life when he is not drinking, but his alcoholism is quite plainly destructive. It can be inferred that the reason Rex drinks is because of his own childhood. Rex was possibly molested or otherwise abused by his mother as a child. He had a special place in his heart for Jeannette, because she would forgive him for whatever destruction he caused. Rex leaves the family for days on a drinking binge. He is deceitful and deceptive. Rex's few attempts at staying sober all eventually fail, demonstrating a weakness that is a central part of his character. Jeanette comes to despise his alcoholism and leaves once she is able to escape him. He finally makes peace with Jeannette by the time he dies in the book.

Throughout the novel he reveals astronomical plans of how to earn money so he can build the Glass Castle for Jeannette and the family. Before she leaves, Jeanette tells him he "will never build the Glass Castle" (238). This is a symbol of his extraordinarily high hopes, which always seem to vanish whenever he drinks. His plans never follow through and throughout the whole book he demonstrates a lack of resolve.

Rex cares about his family, telling Jeanette that he moved to New York "so we could be a family again" (253). However, his inability to resist the temptation of alcohol means that, though he has good intentions, these intentions will never reach fruition. Rex is motivated by alcohol and by his desire for his family's self-sufficiency. He represents, in many ways, the downfall of humanity without a sense of discipline.

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Jeanette's mother is a free spirit who once declared, "I don't want to be pigeonholed" (38). She has essentially no regard for others' opinions of her and is an unsuccessful artist who frequently prioritizes her art over her children, with the possible exception of Lori, who also exhibits artistic tendencies. Rose Mary exhibits selfishness, once hiding money to buy chocolate while the rest of her family starved. She frequently displays a lack of remorse for her actions and doesn't seem to care how her whims affect the rest of the family.

Rose Mary could also be considered an antagonist for the same reasons as Rex - she is often impeding Jeanette and her siblings' future and quality of life. She refuses to earn any money for the family, instead relying on income that is at least partly earned by Jeanette. When Jeanette finds a valuable ring, she offers to help sell it, but Rose Mary refuses, stating, "It could also improve my self-esteem. And at times like these, self-esteem is even more vital than food" (186). Rose Mary is motivated by her own desires and is a symbol of the debilitating nature of selfishness on others.


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Brian Walls

Brian is Lori's younger brother and closest friend. As children, they are together nearly constantly. Later, Jeanette helps Brian move to New York just like Lori did for her. He is the only one who comes to Jeanette's college graduation, which marks his loyalty for her. Brian struggles with Rex Walls (his father) from the very beginning, and doesn't see how Jeannete can look past it. He didn't share his feelings with his dad by comfronting him, but instead mumbled what he was thinking under his breath. He did not have the courage of Lori to confront Rex or the forgiveness of Jeannette to leave the issues alone. Towards the end of the book he is living in New York and lets Rex stay with him for some timw showing how he remains protective and loving towards his family throughout the memoir.

Lori Walls

Lori is Jeanette's older sister and the sibling closest to their mother. As she grows older, she becomes more aloof and distant. She is the one who hatches the plan with Jeanette to run away and the first to leave Welch. Often she assumes the role of the parent, as she does when the four children are staying with Erma: "'Let's all calm down,' Lori said in the same voice she used when Mom and Dad got carried away, arguing. 'Everybody. Calm down'" (147). Lori provides the voice of reason. She is a protagonist and is rooting for Jeanette the whole novel. She is a talented artist and becomes more successful than her mother without having to be as selfish, offering proof that the selfish way of life is not a necessity for success. She is also a representative of triumph, as she was the courageous one to move away from the destructive enviornment in Welsh.

Maureen Walls

Maureen is the youngest sibling by far and not particularly close to anyone in the family, it seems, due to her age difference. She has always been considered beautiful but is not very self-sufficient, unlike the values her parents attempt to instill in her. Jeanette writes, "Ever since she was a kid, she'd been looking for someone to take care of her" (274). Maureen is a fairly static character who takes the role of the one who needs protection and perhaps the most "normal" of the family, as she spent most of her time with other famillies. Her relationship with Jeanette brings out Jeanette's nurturing tendencies. Late in the book, Maureen becomes confused and stabs her mother. Jeanette notes that everyone "blamed the others for allowing the most fragile one of us to break into pieces" (276). Maureen inherited some of her mother's selfishness and some of her father's charm, but is the most enigmatic character in the family.

Erma Walls

Erma is Rex's mother and possibly abused him as a child, which is her most important role. She also attempts to abuse Brian when the four children stay at her house and is generally cruel to them. She is the character that first sets the downfall of events in Welsh. She is bitter to her grandchildren and children, and has different morals than Jeannette. She is racist and resents Jeannette for being friends with any African American children. When Rex and Rose Mary leave to go get thir things in phoenix, Erma shows her true cruelty. She is a static antagonist. However, when she dies, the entire family attends her funeral, and both of Jeanette's parents challenge the children with the notion that nobody is entirely bad.