Jeanette Walls's memoir depicts her life as the daughter of self-destructive parents whose dreams alone manage to keep the family intact for most of her childhood. Before delving into the book, teachers can have a brief lesson on the memoir form and how it differs from a comprehensive autobiography. Students can analyze how The Glass Castle is structured, the narrative point of view, and the reliability of the narrator.

Although many of Walls's tales are humorous, The Glass Castle examines topics that some students may find troubling, such as poverty, homelessness, child abuse, and sexual assault. These controversial subjects relate to the central themes of forgiveness, difficult childhoods, and lost dreams. To help process this difficult content, students may find it beneficial to record their thoughts and reactions to Walls's experiences as they read the book.

1. Summarize The Glass Castle

Jeannette Walls's recount of her unconventional, poverty-stricken childhood in her memoir The Glass Castle is often funny on the surface, yet tinged with sadness beneath. Her book is filled with anecdotes from her unique, nomadic childhood, as her family bounces from various places in the desert to the impoverished town of Welch, West Virginia. Then, finally, Walls is able to settle down and make a home for herself in New York City, but only after she finds the courage to say goodbye to her family. Throughout the book, Jeanette looks back on her life and how the choices her parents made affected her while also reflecting on the embarrassment and consequential guilt she feels because of them.

Content Warning: This memoir contains profanity, alcoholism, sexual themes, and incidents of child neglect.

2. Identify Objectives for Teaching The Glass Castle:

  • Understand Jeanette's loyalty to her parents, despite their destructive behavior.
  • Explain how societal expectations impact the decisions of the characters.
  • Follow and provide key examples that highlight Jeanette's character development.
  • Consider both the positive and negative influences of Rex and Rose Mary on their children.
  • Identify points in which hopes and dreams are a driving force for the family.

3. Pinpoint Key Facts and Literary Elements

Key Facts

  • Publication Date: 2006
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 1010
  • Recommended Grade Band: 10-11
  • New York Times Bestseller
  • The Christopher Award
  • American Library Association's Alex Award

Literary Elements

  • Foreshadowing
  • Imagery
  • Irony
  • Personificaion
  • Symbolism

4. Understand Themes and Motifs

  • Forgiveness — Jeanette repeatedly forgives her parents for the choices they made that adversely impacted her and her siblings. Oftentimes, it does not seem as if Rex and Rose Mary deserve forgiveness, but, even after she loses her childish naivety, Jeanette always finds it in her heart to do so.
  • Children — The Walls children are forced to fend for themselves and often make smarter, more rational decisions than the adults. They protect each other far more effectively than their parents do, and their parents' lifestyle choices leave them to grow up in extreme poverty.
  • Lost Dreams — The Glass Castle—a house built with walls entirely made out of glass—is Dad's dream and his motivation for many of the choices he makes. However, the dream is never realized, and he never comes to terms with his unfulfilled hopes.

5. Explore Related Works

Theme of Forgiveness

Theme of Childhood

Theme of Lost Dreams

6. Employ Films and Other External Resources

7. Consider What Your Students Will Love

  • The highly interesting and entertaining anecdotes.
  • Jeannette's success at the end.

8. Anticipate What Your Students May Struggle With

  • Disturbing scenes such as when Jeannette is molested.
  • Jeannette's alcoholic father.

9. Order The Glass Castle Resources from Prestwick House:

Resource Format
The Glass Castle Paperback Student Edition
The Glass Castle Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Glass Castle AP Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set

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