Study Guide

The Glass Castle Coming of Age

By Jeannette Walls

Coming of Age

"I know," I said, "but if I'm not, that's okay, too." (2.1.11)

Jeannette is one of those young children who talk like adults. Some might say she's "precocious." And those precocious children always grow up more quickly than others.

"Mom says I'm mature for my age," I told them, "and she lets me cook for myself a lot." (2.1.14)

Jeannette is independent at a very young age—she's just three years old here, folks. While this borders on neglect and sometimes causes her harm, the advantage is that she matures more quickly than other children and can take care of herself.

I was going to turn six in a few months, and Mom said I was mature enough to hold [the baby] the entire way home. (2.10.37)

This passage foreshadows the time in high school when Jeannette will be a mother figure to her younger siblings. Here, Jeannette's holding the kids and taking caring of them, and she's not even six years old yet.

[Mom] would only say that bad things happened there, which made the Green Lantern a piece of irresistible mystery to us. (2.15.3)

For a woman who doesn't believe children should be kept in the dark in any way, it's funny that Mom won't tell the kids that the ladies of the Green Lantern are prostitutes or what prostitutes do. Why does Mom keep this particular factoid a secret?

I liked knowing that I could do what grown-ups did for a living. (2.18.9)

Yeah, Jeannette has to act like a grown-up before she even hits puberty. If she can do what grown-ups do, then being a grown-up isn't that difficult of a job, or Jeannette is very advanced for her age. Which is it?

"It was self-defense," I piped up. Dad had always said that self-defense was a justifiable reason for shooting someone. (2.20.84)

Many children have parents to take care of them, but Jeannette often has to fend for herself. Being self-sufficient is a critical part of growing up. It just happens a little early for Jeannette.

[Mom] said that sexual assault was a crime of perception. (3.13.43)

Mom's attitude suggests that being the victim of sexual assault is a critical part of growing up. Um…we're just going to say right now that Mom is wrong. But moving on, it seems that everyone in this book—even Dad—was a victim of sexual assault at a critical part of growing up, but the book doesn't explore the trauma. Maybe because of Mom's attitude, Jeannette, too, lets it roll off her back.

"I'm not that kind of girl." (3.20.58)

Every coming-of-age story needs an awkward sex scene, and Jeannette being used as a prostitute for one of her dad's friends is one of the more awkward. Luckily, our Jeannette is able to fend off the creep.

"It was like that time I threw you into the sulfur spring to teach you to swim," [Dad] said. "You might have been convinced you were going to drown, but I knew you'd do just fine." (3.20.69)

Mom and Dad's parenting style is a double-edged sword. Jeannette isn't really able to enjoy her childhood, but she grows up more quickly and becomes more self-sufficient than she would have in an overprotective environment.

I had just turned eighteen. I quit my job at the hamburger joint the next day and became a full-time reporter for The Phoenix. (4.1.20)

Unlike Dad, Jeannette only quits her job when she has another one lined up. She is more grown up than he is.