Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Though The Glass Castle is brimming with unforgettable
stories, which scenes were the most memorable for you? Which were the
most shocking, the most inspiring, the funniest?
Discuss the metaphor of a glass castle and what it signifies to
Jeannette and her father. Why is it important that, just before leaving
for New York, Jeannette tells her father that she doesn't believe he'll
ever build it? (p. 238).
The first story Walls tells of her childhood is that of her
burning herself severely at age three, and her father dramatically takes
her from the hospital: "You're safe now" (p. 14). Why do you think she
opens with that story, and how does it set the stage for the rest of the
Rex Walls often asked his children, "Have I ever let you down?"
Why was this question (and the required "No, Dad" response) so important
for him -- and for his kids? On what occasions did he actually come
through for them?
Jeannette's mother insists that, no matter what, "life with your
father was never boring" (p. 288). What kind of man was Rex Walls? What
were his strengths and weaknesses, his flaws and contradictions?
Discuss Rose Mary Walls. What did you think about her description
of herself as an "excitement addict"? (p. 93).
Though it portrays an incredibly hardscrabble life, The Glass
Castle is never sad or depressing. Discuss the tone of the book, and
how do you think that Walls achieved that effect?
Describe Jeannette's relationship to her siblings and discuss the
role they played in one another's lives.
In college, Jeannette is singled out by a professor for not
understanding the plight of homeless people; instead of defending
herself, she keeps quiet. Why do you think she does this?
The two major pieces of the memoir -- one half set in the desert
and one half in West Virginia -- feel distinct. What effect did such a
big move have on the family -- and on your reading of the story? How
would you describe the shift in the book's tone?
Were you surprised to learn that, as adults, Jeannette and her
siblings remained close to their parents? Why do you think this is?
What character traits -- both good and bad -- do you think that
Jeannette inherited from her parents? And how do you think those traits
shaped Jeannette's life?
For many reviewers and readers, the most extraordinary thing
about The Glass Castle is that, despite everything, Jeannette
Walls refuses to condemn her parents. Were you able to be equally
Like Mary Karr's Liars' Club and Rick Bragg's All Over
But the Shoutin', Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle tells the
story of a wildly original (and wildly dysfunctional) family with humor
and compassion. Were there other comparable memoirs that came to mind?
What distinguishes this book?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Scribner.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
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