Symbolism

Below is a list of important symbols throughout the memoir.

Bicycles

Rex buys all of the children bicycles. Jeannette responds with, "It had never occurred to me that one day I might actually own one myself. Especially a new one" (98). The bicycles symbolize hope for a brighter future and temporary success. Later, when they are forced to move, the kids have to leave their bikes behind, which represents their loss of hope.

Colors: Red, Orange, Yellow, White and Blue

These colors are used throughout the book to describe numerous things. Red, orange, yellow, white and blue are the colors of fire, which is an underlying symbol in The Glass Castle. By using these colors on countless occasions, Jeannette Walls is showing us how important they are, and how important the fire is. Also, the people that are described with these colors are the ones that overcame the chaos, fear and destruction that fire embodies.

Fire

Rex says of Jeannette, "'She already fought the fire once and won'" (15). Fire symbolizes chaos, fear and destruction. Throughout her life, Jeannette has fought numerous fires or battles. She overcame terror, homelessness, starvation and abuse. She fought fire with a fighting spirit, and just like when she burned herself as a child, she pulled through.

The Glass Castle

external image 800_206.jpgAt the end of the novel, Rex and Jeannette have a conversation in which Rex admits," 'Never did build that Glass Castle"' and Jeanette responds, "'No. But we had fun planning it' "(279). The Glass Castle symbolizes hope, the American Dream, a bright future, and the pursuit of happiness. Ironically, glass is unstable and something that can shatter. This shows that Rex Walls wanted an unachievable lifestyle, a lifestyle that could fall to pieces with one blow or problem.

Glasses

The new glasses Lori receives represent clarity and perspective.

Hospital

While in the hospital, Jeannette notes, "I wasn't used to quiet and order, and I liked it" (11). The hospital is a symbol for order and for life outside of the chaotic Walls family and inside the buereaucratic nature of the rest of the world. The color white, which is prevalent throughout the hospital, reinforces its meaning as a symbol of cleanliness, orderliness, and calm.

The Joshua Tree

As they are driving to Midland, Rose Mart makes Rex stop the car so she can paint a large tree that she finds. Jeannette describes it with, "It stood in a crease of land where the desert ended and the mountains began, forming a wind tunnel. From the time the Joshua Tree was a tiny sapling, it had been so beaten down by the whipping wind that, rather than trying to grow skyward, it had grown in the direction the wind pushed it. It existed now in a permanent state of windblownness, leaning so far that it seemed ready to topple, although, in fact, its roots held it firmly in place." (35). The Joshua Tree symbolises the four Walls children. Their parents had raised them in such a way that they too were "in a permanent state of windblowness", meaning that the children were constantly changing. However, when Lori and Jeannette arrived in New York, they held on tightly to their "roots", and their lives were held firmly in place by them.

Jeannette continues with, "I thought the Joshua Tree was ugly. It looked straggly and freakish, permanently stuck in its twisted, tortured position, and it made me think of how adults tell you not to make weird faces because your features could freeze." (35). This, again, is showing how Jeannette is relating the tree to her own life. Her family is not as privileged as some of the families she is acquainted with, so Jeannette is regarded as "freakish" and "permanently stuck in [her] twisted, tortured position". Although she is seen in that light by her peers, Jeannette is set out to make a better life for herself, and holding onto her roots, like the Joshua Tree, plays a vital role in this.

Newspaper

In high school, Jeannette decides the path her life is going to take: "But a newspaper reporter, instead of holing up in isolation, was in touch with the rest of the world. What the reporter wrote influenced what people thought about and talked about the next day; he knew what was really going on. I decided I wanted to be one of the people who knew what was really going on." (Walls 204). The newspaper symbolizes Jeannette's maturity. Jeannette grows even further independence when she joins the paper. She also develops a mature confidence in her self that enables her to go to school events alone, and helps her to be the independent person she becomes. The paper educates her on the world. She begins to see the truth behind topics her parents had given her a very twisted version of to believe in. Jeannette no longer lives an isolated life in oblivion, but finds herself while helping uncover the truth in her world and to share that with her class mates. Her job on the newspaper starts her in the direction of success, and the influential person she will become.

Old car

While on the road again, the Walls' car completely breaks down. Rex says he could fix it "with the proper tools" (120), but it is a lost cause without them. This is a symbol for the Walls' life and stability, which could be fixed with a huge amount of effort but which neither Rex nor Rose Mary have close to the ability or desire to mend. In the end, the Walls family are dependent on another car to transport them, just as Jeannette and Lori are dependent on outside situations to get out of Welch.

Piano

The piano that Rose Mary drags through the house into the backyard sumbolizs the oddities of the Walls family. Rose Mary says, "Most pianists never get the chance to play int he out-of-doors" (53). This is also a symbol of Rose Mary's eternal optimism and lack of concern for what others think of her.

Rocks

The rocks Jeanette collects represent beauty and real wealth, as they are simply common rocks but she believes them to be worth hundreds of dollars. They can also be interpreted as symbols for the Walls children, whom no one outside of the family really thinks are anything special but who grow into successful, capable individuals. Additionally, Jeanette's geodes are symbolic of the Walls children, who look rough and worn on the outside but hide many wonderful characteristics and capabilities within.

Stars

As a child, Jeannette's parents are too poor to afford Christmas gifts, so her father gives the children stars instead: "'
Years from now, when all the junk they got is broken and long forgotten,' Dad said, 'you'll still have the stars'" (41). Just when everything is at its worst and the Walls have nothing for Christmas, their father gives them the greatest gift of all, lov
e. Although the stars aren't physically touchable, they are a powerful gift of love. When all else fails, Jeannette can look up to the sky and always know her father's love and a bright future is near. Stars, like love, are constant and symbolize hope.

Tinkerbell

Jeannette recounts a childhood memory with a Tinkerbell doll she owned: "I lit a match and held it close to Tinkerbell's face to show her how it felt. She looked even more beautiful in the flame's glow. When that match went out, I lit another one, and this time I held it really close to Tinkerbell's face. Suddenly her eyes grew wide, as if with fear; I realized, to my horror, that her face was starting to melt ... Even though her face was melted, she was still my favorite toy." (Walls 16). Tinkerbell symbolizes Jeannette herself. Jeannette develops a fascination with fire, but deep down she still possess a fear of it that is shown through Tinkerbell's fearful eyes. Tinkerbell is deformed now, unable to be patched together, just as Jeannette will always have scars from her burns on the inside and out. Her scars will never fully heal, but Tinkerbell remains Jeannette's favorite toy, because she too requires that love and favoritism from her own parents.

Watch

Jeannette writes, "I had always wanted a watch. Unlike diamonds, watches were practical. They were for people on the run, people with appointments to keep and schedules to meet. That was the kind of person I wanted to be." (Walls 216). The watch symbolizes Jeannette's need for practicality which she has learned the importance of being raised in a family who threw out anything that slowed them down, even loved animals and most special belongings. She has learned not to care about inanimate objects especially nonsense things like the diamond jewelery she sells in Welch. The watch calls to her because it symbolizes the life that she could have and the person she wants to become, a life far different from the one she is living at this point, but just like the one she come to live at the end of her novel.

Wedding Ring

The ring Jeanette and Brian find is a symbol for hope, which their mother crushes when she refuses to sell it. It could also be interpreted as a symbol for selfishness, which Rose Mary keeps instead of selling away.