Study Guide

The Glass Castle Society and Class

By Jeannette Walls

Society and Class

I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster. (1.1.1)

This is the first line in the book, and it sets up quite a class difference between a society woman and a homeless woman. It's shocking to learn that they're two members of the same family.

We might enroll in school, but not always. Mom and Dad did most of our teaching. (2.4.12)

Most children get their education from pubic schools, but the Walls family exists outside of society in many ways, including this one. Early on, the Wallses educate their children in the school of life.

Mom always said people worried too much about their children. Suffering when you're young is good for you, she said. (2.5.15)

Mom's parenting style is both a rebellion against her own mother and a rebellion against society as a whole. She thinks kids are too sheltered, so she is fine not giving her own children any shelter at all. Why does she think this stuff?

The nurses and doctors kept asking me questions: How did you get burned? Have you parents ever hurt you? (2.1.14)

To an outsider, Jeannette looks like she comes from a household of neglect and abuse. Heck, to an insider, it can look like that at times. But some people in society feel the need to check out the family. No one tries too hard to figure out how the kids are being treated, though.

"Ugh," [Mom] said. She disapproved of chewing gum, she went on. It was a disgusting, low-class habit, and the nurse should have consulted her before encouraging me in such vulgar behavior. (2.1.25)

This line characterizes Mom as someone who wants to appear classy. Letting your three-year-old cook hot dogs: fine. But chewing gum: tacky. Yeah, Mom's a bit of hypocrite.

"Try not to look down on those other children," Mom said. "It's not their fault that they've been brainwashed into believing silly myths." (2.9.3)

This is Mom's reasoning for not telling her children about Santa Claus. Does she have a point here? There is something a little weird about telling your kids there's some old dude who'll bring you whatever you want from Toys 'R' Us once a year, after all.

Mom believed that children shouldn't be burdened with a lot of rules and restrictions. (2.14.8)

You don't say. This is something Jeannette repeats over and over again, rationalizing her mother's laissez-faire parenting style as a response to restrictive parenting trends. It seems like there must be a difference between letting your kids have freedom and basically leaving them completely on their own.

If things got tight, Mom kept reminding us that some of the other kids on Little Hobart Street had it tougher than we did. (3.8.2)

Mom is the last person that children should be looking to for perspective on society. Yes, some people have it worse, but this family could have it so much better if they'd just try.

"Look at the way you live. You've sold out. Next thing I know, you'll become a Republican." She shook her head. "Where are the values I raised you with?" (4.9.7)

Mom disapproves of Jeannette becoming a society columnist in New York City because Mom has spent most of her life living outside of society and wants nothing to do with it. Just as Mom rebelled against society, Jeannette rebels against Mom and becomes the opposite of who Mom wanted her to be—at least on the surface.

I was convinced that if all these people found out about Mom and Dad and who I really was, it would be impossible for me to keep my job. So I avoided discussing my parents. When that was impossible, I lied. (4.9.11)

Mom refused to mold herself to society, but Jeannette ends up compromising herself to fit in. Maybe Mom had a point in that last quote.