The Glass Castle Part 2 - The Desert Summary

Jeannette's earliest memory is fire. While making hotdogs for herself at the age of three, her dress catches fire. Her mother throws a wool blanket around her to smother the flames and then runs to the neighbor's house to ask for a ride to the hospital. The hospital staff clearly thinks Jeannette is a victim of child abuse, however Jeannette says otherwise. She tells the nurses that cooking hot dogs is easy, but the nurses ask her questions about whether or not her parents hit her, etc. She tells the nurse making hot dogs is easy; and this is the first glimpse we get of her mother's philosophy on childrearing. She wants her children to be self-sufficient. Jeannette's burns are serious, so she needs a skin graft. Skin from her thigh is taken to cover her ribs, chest, and stomach. Fire is a motif in the novel. It is able to nourish, but it also destroys.

Jeannette likes it in the hospital because she never runs out of food, there is a TV, and it is clean and shiny. The nurses are all nice to her; including one nursewho gives Jeannette her very first piece of chewing gum. Her mother does not approve because she said it is a low class, vulgar habit. When her family visits they are very loud and attract a lot of negative attention. Jeannette wonders if the nurses were staring at her father because he was handsome or because of the way he behaves. Rex does not like hospitals; he wishes Rose Mary had taken Jeannette to the witch doctor that cured her sister Lori's scorpion bite a while back. During one visit, Rose Mary tells Jeannette that she won a helicopter ride at a fair raffle. When Jeannette excitedly asks when she can go, her mother simply tells her that she missed it-the family already went. Rose Mary is consistently self-centered. Rex, easily combative, gets into an argument with the doctor because he doesn't think Jeannette should be wearing bandages. Security has to remove him. After six weeks, Rex comes into her room and says they are checking out "Rex Walls style." They do the "skeddaddle," leaving without paying the bill. She lovingly describes the familiar smells on him of Vitalis, whiskey, and cigarette smoke. When they get to the car her mother is waiting to speed away saying, ironically, "you're safe now."

Instead of being afraid of fire, Jeannette becomes fascinated with it. She makes hot dogs again and she watches closely when the neighbors burn their garbage. Her parents are clearly proud of her fearlessness and openly encourage it. She also steals matches from her father and accidently melts the face off of her favorite toy: Tinkerbell When a neighbor asks about the girl's lack of fear, Rex replies, "She already fought the fire once and won!"

Rex's paranoia about the state and organized society, coupled with his alcoholism, leads the Walls to move often. Rex wakes the family in the middle of the night to do the "skedaddle'" taking only what they can carry in the car. Jeannette is upset she leaves behind Tinkerbell, and Rex throws their cat, Quixote, out of the car window due to limited space. The family moves around to desolate towns in Arizona, Nevada, and California. On occasion the Walls stay with Grandma Smith, Rose Mary's mother. However, these visits are usually cut short because Rex and Grandma Smith get into terrible arguments about him being unable to take care of his family. After one of these arguments, the family packs and leaves in search of yet another mining town. When Rex gets fired, or can't pay the bills, or thinks the FBI is coming for him, they take off. The kids are not always enrolled in school; they are home schooled. Jeannette's mother and father are intelligent people; dad could fix anything and mom thrived in the desert, in part, because of her knowledge. Rose Mary is also a certified teacher. Jeannette compares her family to a cactus saying that they ate irregularly and "gorged" themselves when they did. By using this metaphor, Walls shows us that her family is tough and a bit rough around the edges, and also resilient like a cactus. Rose Mary believes that suffering makes children stronger; more resilient.

At this young age, Jeannette believes her dad to perfect with the exception of drinking. She describes him as fun when drinking beer and a monster when drinking liquor, which he only does when he has money. Always in pursuit of gold, Rex begins working on an invention called 'The Prospector," a design intended to sift through sand detecting and separating gold nuggets from rocks and dirt by measuring the weight. Rex tells his children that once the Prospector is finished he will build them a "Glass Castle." He describes it as a big house with glass walls and ceilings, and a glass staircase. This image suggests a desire for future stability despite the lack of it in their current lives. This dream is something the kids want him to believe in because it can take his focus away from drinking and gambling, but glass is fragile as is the dream.

Rex promises to replace his wife's wedding ring once he finds enough gold. He had pawned the ring off for cash after using the family's funds on alcohol and gambling, habits Rex adopted after discovering his daughter Mary Charlene dead in her crib one night. This incident changes Rex, plaguing him with dark moods and periodic drinking, but it does not affect Rose Mary as much. She sees Mary Charlene's death as a sign of God's protection. She thinks God only took her because she was imperfect, but he also blessed her with three perfect children.

Lori, age 7, and Jeannette, age 4, and Brian, only a toddler, are left in the car one hot afternoon for hours while Rex and Rose Mary went into a bar so Rex could gamble. When her parents finally come out and they drive away, the car takes a sharp turn, which opens the back door causing Jeannette to fall out. She gets hurt badly with a bloody nose and cuts and scrapes. The family kept driving, and Jeannette eventually cries thinking that they will leave her behind like their cat. When the car comes back, Rex gets out and plucks out the pebbles embedded in Jeannette's face with a needle nose pliers. This shows he is capable of an act of love even when unstable. She makes no mention of concern from her mother.

The Wall's family lives in Las Vegas for a few months. Rex has a streak of luck, but it soon ends with the family doing the "skedaddle" in the middle of the night. The family has to leave Las Vegas after the casino owners discover Rex has been cheating at blackjack. Rex tells everyone that they had to leave because the mafia was after him. They head to San Francisco and settle in the Tenderloin District. The hotel they stay at burns down, and the family stays on the beach until the police tell them to move on. Fire seems to follow Jeannette, furthering this motif in the memoir.

The Wall's children did not believe in Santa Claus because their parents could not afford to buy them expensive gifts. Rex and Rose Mary don't want them to think that they are bad kids because all the other boys and girls receive gifts and they do not. Instead, they celebrate Christmas about a week after the holiday so that they can collect wrapping paper and bows from people's garbage and get a discounted toy at the after Christmas sales. This Christmas was particularly bad because Rex has no job. After a fight with the foreman, Rex was fired from the mine. On Christmas he took each of his kids out into the desert one by one. He told them to pick out any star they wanted...it was their Christmas present. They named it and it made them feel special. He passes on the love of nature to his children. Rose Mary doesn't offer this kindness to her children; she is far too self-centered.

While driving in the middle of the night, Jeannette's parents begin arguing about how long Rose Mary has been pregnant. She claims she carried Lori for 14 months and that she is currently 10 months pregnant. Rex challenges her and she gets angry; she puts her foot over, slams on the break, and runs into the desert. Rex drives behind her cursing and calling her cruel names until he pins her against a rock. Jeannette fears her father would "smush" her mother, but instead, he gets out and throws her back into the vehicle. In contrast to Rex's ability to love his family, this scene shows the unstable and dangerous part of his personality.

The family then lives in LBJ apartments in Blythe, California. While there, Jeannette remembers that she had to wear shoes and attend school. Jeannette attends first grade and excels causing some other kids to pick on her. One day, on the way home, four Mexican girls beat her up badly. Her parents did not make a fuss over her when she came home. Rex praises her for taking on so many girls at once. Jeannette leads him to believe she hurt the girls worse than they hurt her. The next day her brother, Brian, was waiting in the alley when Jeannette arrived. They two managed to ward off the Mexican girls, but they got hurt in the process. Regardless, the pair is proud to have stood up to the bullies. Also, they stuck together as they continue to do all their lives furthering the theme of loyalty in the novel. Mrs. Walls gives birth to a baby girl named Lily Ruth Maureen at the end of this section.

One day while driving, a police car tries to pull the family over because of a broken taillight. Rex guns it- having no insurance and a stolen license plate. He has no respect for law and order. The next day Rex announces that the family will leave Blythe and head to Battle Mountain, Nevada. Mr. Walls was endlessly chasing gold, which is why he chose this town. Once again the do the 'skedaddle."

Since only two people can fit in the front of a U-Haul, the children were made to ride in the back for hours, along with the newborn, Maureen, in complete darkness. After several hours of getting tossed around the back of the truck, the back door flies open and the children grab onto the tied down furniture so they do not fall out. Her parents didn't seem to notice any of this until another car pulls up along side of them to warn to alert them that the back door was open. Dad pulls over, and goes to the back of the truck yelling. He didn't seem to consider the danger of the situation or its absurdity. The first section of the novel certainly reveals the Walls' parenting style and individual flaws. Rex has the potential to be a better father-he is not as self-centered as Rose Mary. It is his addictions to gambling and drinking that continue to pull him away from his family. Rex and Rose Mary are educated, which is ironic when you consider the way they choose to raise their children.

When the Walls arrive in Battle Mountain the family moves into an old building that once served as a railroad depot. Instead of buying furniture, they use spools from the rail yard as tables and chairs and the children sleep in boxes. Rex begins working in a mine as an engineer and stops going out to drink after work. Instead, he and his family read books by Dickens, Faulkner, and Pearl Buck. Rex also played outside with the neighbor kids- Jeannette was proud of her father during this time. Although the Walls' children have an unstable, difficult life this section reveals that Jeannette and her siblings live imaginative, creative, adventurous lives exploring the desert and learning from their parents.

Jeannette begins second-grade at the Mary S. Black Elementary School and continues to do well in her studies. She comments that her parents already taught her most of what Miss Page was teaching them. Battle Mountain offers a rainless, harsh environment. Rex and Rose Mary show the children what to look for in the mineral deposits in the desert. Jeannette begins a rock collection. The neighborhood they lived in was known as "the tracks" and all the children play together. The Jeannette and her brother had few restrictions since Rose Mary did not believe in rules. Her one rule was to come home when the lights come on. Rose Mary firmly believes in self-sufficiency.

One day, while climbing a fence, Jeannette gets a deep cut from a nail. The neighbor thought she should go to the hospital but her mother just sent her back out to play saying, "We're becoming a nation of sissies." One day she and Brian try to make explosions out of some toxic waste they find in the dump. They do cause a small explosion that accidentally sets a wooden shed on fire. Rex is walking along the path near the shed when Jeannette runs out. Rex pulls Brian out of the burning shed and coolly tells the them that they got too close to the boundary between turbulence and order, "a place where no rules apply". Rex values learning and is willing to let his children take risks in order for them to nurture their curiosity.

The children get no allowance, so they collect cans and bottles to earn change for candy. Brian and Jeannette also enjoy spying on a place called The Green Lantern. Rose Mary refused to discuss this place with her children, but she called it a "cathouse." The mystery made it more appealing to them. When Brian saw a lady lying on the porch one day he went over to talk with her. Jeannette said Brian waved at the women when they walked by, but she was still a little afraid of them because her mom said they did bad things in there.

The Walls' house had animals coming and going all the time: cats, dogs, a coyote, lizards, snakes, and even a buzzard. The family rarely had food themselves so they did not feed these creatures. Rose Mary said that they were doing the animals a favor by forcing them to remain self-sufficient. She also never killed the flies that filled the house; she claimed they fed the cats. While visiting her friend Carla, Jeannette observes the lack of animals and insects. She asks Carla's mother how they keep their house animal free and she shows Jeannette a No-Pest strip. When Jeannette tells her mother this, Rose Mary says she will not get one because anything that kills animals probably isn't healthy for them either.

That winter, Rex purchases a Ford Fairlane and takes the kids to swim in the Hot Pot; a sulfur spring composed of warm, smelly water. His idea of teaching Jeannette how to swim was to throw her in, let her sink, rescue her, and throw her in again and again. Water fills her nose and lungs until she realizes she has to get away from her father because he was not going to help her. She swims away from him and he congratulates for it. He doesn't seem to see, or care, that she was angered and upset by the ordeal. Her mother floated in the water during the "swimming lesson" as if nothing were happening. Again, her philosophy of being self-sufficient and resilient before being compassionate is revealed in her lack of response to her daughter's fear.

After keeping his job for six months, Rex lost it on purpose so that he could spend more time looking for gold. Consequently, the family ate very little and when they did, it was something Rex whipped up with whatever he could find- often a few vegetables he probably took from someone's garden. Rex begins disappearing again and when the kids ask their mother about food she just says, "I can't make something out of nothing." This led Jeannette to steal food from kids' lunches at school; or she would ask to use the bathroom at a friend's house and then sneak into the kitchen and eat what she grabbed there. When Brian is caught stealing a jar of pickles from the neighbor, he is made to eat the entire thing until he gets sick.

One evening, Rose Mary gets angry with the girls for eating the last stick of margarine. When Jeannette defends herself by saying that they were hungry, Rose Mary collapses in tears saying that she doesn't like living this way either. That night, Rex and Rose Mary get into a loud, dramatic fight, which brings the entire neighborhood out of their homes. Rex wants Rose Mary to ask her mother to invest money in the Prospector, while he can't even feed his children. He also demands that she get a job if she doesn't like their lifestyle. Of course, Rose Mary protests that she is an artist. The fight takes a wicked turn-Rose Mary is hanging out of the upstairs window and Rex is holding her from inside of the house. Rose Mary is screaming, "Help! He's trying to kill me!" The next day Rose Mary applies for a teaching position at the Battle Mountain Intermediate School and is hired.

Rose Mary begins teaching Lori's class and is soon told she is allowing her class to be disorderly and she is failing to discipline her students. The students like her because she has the same attitude with them as she does with her own kids; rules and discipline only hold people back. Rose Mary is not enthusiastic about her job because she wants to be an artist and feels this shows her failure to do so. It was her mother that wanted her to become a teacher; this is not her own dream, so she does not see any importance in it. Her children try to prevent their mother from getting fired by waking her up in time for school and helping her grade papers. Lori gets very involved. When the principal comes in the classroom Rose Mary shows that she can discipline students by always yelling at Lori so she could spare the other children. She goes as far as hitting her with a paddle in front of the class to prove her point, but Lori understood her mother and was not angry.

Rex insists that he has control of the family's money even though he is not working himself. Despite Rose Mary's efforts to save, every month he is able to get possession of her earnings. Rex recklessly spends the money on liquor or big meals at the Owl Club and Brian and Lori are disappointed in him. Jeannette refuses to give up on her father's dreams. Walls foreshadows that Dad's behavior is unlikely to change, based on his choices in this portion of the book. Over the course of the memoir, Jeannette's attitude toward her father evolves as she matures. Brian's disappointment is clear when he stops waving to the women in the Green Lantern. His father takes him out one night with Ginger, a woman from the Green Lantern. It is Brian's birthday and Rex buys him a Sad Sack comic book. When they go to the hotel Rex and the woman disappear for some time while Brian sits outside reading his comic book over and over again. When Rex sees Ginger is interested in the comic book, he makes Brian give it to her. He resents Ginger and the women of the Green Lantern after that.

Soon after Jeannette turns eight, a boy named Billy Deel moves to Battle Mountain with his father. Eleven-year-old Billy spent time in a juvenile facility for shoplifting and vandalizing property. He likes Jeannette and calls her his girlfriend. Jeannette accepts his friendship, but refuses to be his girlfriend. Billy brags to the neighborhood kids that he will marry Jeannette. One day, while Jeannette is playing hide and seek, Billy pushes himself into her hiding place, and forces a kiss. His actions suggest he was going to rape her; he forces himself on top of her pulling down her shorts and unbuttoning his pants. Jeannette has little room to move in the small space, so she bites him and Billy hits her face bloodying her nose. They are interrupted by the other children who heard the struggle. Later, Jeannette returns the ring he had given her and tells Billy that she no longer is his friend. This event marks the beginning of her loss of innocence. She now has an understanding of what happens at The Green Lantern. Billy tells her with joy, "I raped you!" Jeannette doesn't quite understand but she has the feeing if she asked dad, it would start trouble. Angry over her rejection, Billy comes to the Walls' house one night and shoots into the room with a BB gun. Lori is in charge, since their parents are out, and she gets her father's gun and shoots at Billy in hopes that he will leave. Jeannette takes the gun and shoots at Billy again and again until he runs away. When Rex and Rose Mary come home, a police officer tells them that they must report to court the following morning. That night the Walls do the "skedaddle" heading for Phoenix. Each of the children is only allowed to bring one thing and Jeannette is upset to leave Battle Mountain, which had become like a home for her.

Jeannette asks if they will stay with Grandma Smith in Phoenix. Rose Mary tells her that they will not stay with her because she died of Leukemia. Jeannette is shocked and angry that her mother had not told her. She begins to punch her mother's shoulder until her father pulls her hand away. Rose Mary says that they will live in a house that Grandma Smith left to her: an adobe house near Phoenix's business district. Rose Mary is happy that she will be able to begin an art studio and purchase supplies with her inheritance money.

Jeannette is surprised by the size of the house on North Third Street- a 14-room stucco house with orange trees in the backyard. Rose Mary enrolls the kids in the district public school, Emerson. All of the Walls children are placed into gifted reading groups, and the school nurse tells Lori she needs glasses. Rose Mary considers glasses a crutch and refuses to let her get them. When the school sends a note saying they would pay for them, she gives in. With the new glasses Lori is amazed at all of the things she can now see; things that her siblings had seen all along. She is moved to tears at the sight of all the details she was unable to see for so long. Soon after she gets the glasses, Lori decides that she will become an artist like her mother. In Phoenix Rex gets a job as an electrician and joins the union. Rex earns steady money for the first time and surprises the kids with new bikes. He apologizes to Jeannette for making her leave her rock collection behind which shows compassion and a bit of guilt on his part. Despite their fancy new home, when roaches and termites begin to get into the house, Rose Mary and Rex refuse to use more conventional means of exterminating the creatures. Since Rose Mary does not clean, the roaches multiple quickly. Taking the situation into their own hands, the family attacks the roaches using rolled up newspapers and Rex fills the holes the termites created with empty beer cans. The new money does not change them. They still hold the same beliefs, however strange.

Jeannette's parents leave the doors and windows open at night because they have no air conditioning. Vagrants would wander in at times. One night, Jeannette is woken by a hand running over her body. It was the neighborhood pervert-an older man the kids stayed away from. Even after this happened, the Walls still refuse to close the house at night and surrender to fear.

Rex is fired three times before he is kicked out of the electrician's union. He misses the wild, open desert; he is already sick of living in the city. The inheritance money has run out and, once again, food is scarce. One day, Rose Mary tells the children they will go shoplift to get Maureen new clothes for preschool. Also, Rex discovers a way to withdraw twice as much money from the bank by having Rose Mary withdraw money from the window while Rex went inside and withdrew money at the same time.

After losing his job Rex begins to drink heavily and he frequently returns home violent and angry, smashing dishes and trashing the house. Rose Mary hides during these episodes while the children try to calm him down. That Christmas, Rex has a drunken outburst at Midnight Mass which results in the family being escorted out of the church. At home, Rex lights the thrift store Christmas tree on fire, destroying the tree and the ornaments as well as the family's hopes for a happy Christmas. The fire motif suggests, at this point, a never-ending cycle of family dynamics and inescapable poverty. Each member of the family shuts down as a result of Rex's outburst.

Jeannette's faith in her father, alcoholism, and Rex's issues with masculinity are the central themes in this section. Usually birthdays are not celebrated, so when Rex asks Jeannette what she wants, she is surprised. Jeannette tells her father that she wants him to stop drinking. For days Rex, lies in bed tied down in agony with withdrawal. That summer, as he regains his strength, he proposes a family trip to the Grand Canyon. On their way, the car breaks down after Rex trieds to see how fast the car can go. The family is forced to walk until a woman picks them up and takes them back to Phoenix. On the night of their return, Rex does not come home.

Rex doesn't return for another three days and when he does he is drunk and violent. He trashes the house while the kids yell for him to stop. When he finds Rose Mary they fight terribly. Though both of them draw knives, after Rex asks if Rose Mary loves him, they fall into each other's arms laughing and hugging. Rose Mary decides that the family should move to West Virginia where Rex's parents might be able to help the family financially. She sells some of her inherited land in Texas and buys an Oldsmobile for $200 to replace the car that broke down during their trip to the Grand Canyon. Rex does not want to make this move, but he reluctantly gets into the car demanding he drive. Jeannette can't believe he went back to drinking after all the pain he endured.



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