The Glass Castle: An Archetypal Lens


First of all, The Glass Castle is a great book. I am two thirds through it and I haven’t been able to put it down. I was sceptical about it at first, but it got me hooked. The thing I like about it is the diverse characters. Each character is unique, and each has his or her own story to tell giving the plot so much more depth. Although the novel is written in first person point of view, in this case, the author Jeannette Walls, she touches on each person and tells their unique stories.

When analyzing The Glass Castle from an archetypal view, I have noticed a few important things. The first is that most of the characters fit into the typical archetypal characters. There is the youngest daughter, Jeannette, (the story is told from her point of view) who I think fits the role of the hero. Jeanette shows so much love and more understanding of the world than the other children do, giving her some of the qualities the hero would possess. Secondly, all the other Wall children, (Brian, Lori, and Maureen) fall into the innocent youths. The harsh world that the other children live in is too much for them to understand. They are inexperienced and have to live without guidance from their parents, and their only safety is each other. The parents, Rex and Rose Mary, appear to be the villains.

bad house
A house on Little Hobart Street, similar to the one the Walls lived in.

The parents do nothing to help their children. Rex, is a drunk who spends all the family’s money on alcohol and gambling, but when he comes home with sandwiches he bought with some money he won from gambling, he thinks it is enough to supply for the family. Rose Mary tries her hardest only when the family lives in Phoenix and Battle Mountain. She obtains a job in Battle Mountain and works hard to allow her children to have the best life possible in Phoenix, but before they arrive to these locations, and after they leave, she doesn’t do much to help them. Rex and Rose Mary are content with being poor and don’t care what their children’s needs or wants are. They never do much to try and make their children’s quality of life better. They keep saying they will find riches, and that Rose Mary’s art career will take off, but so far, none of this has happened. In an article by Francine Prose she states how Walls makes the reader see how she and her siblings are convinced that their turbulent life is a glorious adventure. (1)

welch 1974
Welch 1974, a town the Walls lived in.

Another idea I have noticed while reading The Glass Castle is that of the archetypal journey. The first aspect of the journey is Jeannette’s quest for a better life. In my opinion, her initial start of the quest happens when she asks her father to quit drinking and he does, for about 2 weeks or so, but then goes back on his word. It is at this point where she realizes she will have to make her own future for herself. Jeannette is always trying to find ways to help herself, but more importantly, her family to live a better life. There is also the journey the family takes to finding riches and building the glass castle itself. The family moves from town to town, all the while the children’s parents explaining how this is the town they will strike gold. When Rex loses his job in Battle Mountain, Lori states how her father decides they are still staying in town. Jeannette explains how “he had arranged to have himself fired because he wanted to spend more time looking for gold. He had all sorts of plans to make money, [Lori] added, inventions he was working on, odd jobs he had lined up. But for the time being, things might get a little tight around the house” (Walls 67). Rex regularly gets fired from his employment and tells his family it will be okay, but eventually they always have to move so Rex can find another job. The journey consists of constant failure, and as of right now, I don’t see there being an end to this cyclical pattern. From evidence of foreshadowing at the beginning of the book, and because this is a memoir which is non-fiction, I know that Jeannette is successful in finding a better life, but her parents are not. She offers to help numerous times but her dad insists they don’t need anything. They are living the way they want to. (Walls 4) When she meets her mother for lunch and asks again how she can help change her life, her mother responds, “I’m fine. You’re the one who needs help. Your values are all confused” (Walls 5).

Finally, there is the archetypal theme of light vs darkness; in this case, the Desert represents light compared to the town of Welch which represents darkness. The family transitions from these two places (light to dark) and describes the desert as open, wonderful and full of adventure and learning. The desert is where the children’s innocence, happiness  and carefree attitude flows. The desert is bright and life is good here, hence the theme of light. Once they move to Welch, the darkness appears and they lose that innocence. Welch is a mining town and is described to be covered in black soot everywhere. It symbolizes the theme of darkness. Under their grandmother’s care, the children are undernourished and beaten frequently when their parents are out of town. Jeannette herself, witnesses her brother being sexually assaulted by their grandmother. They have moved into one of the worst houses they have lived in yet; there is no running water, no electricity, it is very small, and there is garbage everywhere. This is one of the darkest times in their lives.

Map with the locations where the Walls lived pinpointed on it.

Works Cited

Date Accessed: July 11, 2017

Walls, Jeannette. The Glass Castle: A Memoir. New York: Scribner, 2017. Print.

Date Accessed: July 11, 2017






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s