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American Dream in The Glass Castle

On the American Dream

According to The Epic of America, James Truslow Adams defines the American Dream as “dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement” (Adams 404). This definition suggests that the American Dream is a “passion for material well-being”, but the notion on which America was founded is much simpler than the dream than what the Walls’ were chasing after. In The Glass Castle, the American Dream appears again and again in many different ways, but the best reference to the American Dream is the title itself. As the title of the memoir, the symbolic Glass Castle easily sums up most of the tensions and interests of the book and explains as to why everything seems so fragile. The Glass Castle symbolizes the illusions that the Walls’ children, specifically Jeannette, must break to mature and follow her own path.

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Three out of the four Walls’ kids were swept up in the materialistic values created by their father, however they did not lose sight of their true goals. The Walls’ kids didn’t seem to realize they were following someone else’s American Dream and not chasing after their own until eventually the illusion of the Glass Castle shatters when the kids had the last straw and Lori moves to New York City, eventually followed by Jeanette and Brian. For years, the children were blinded by Rex Walls’ American Dream of a grand, transparent palace built in the desert with solar panels for electricity. The Glass Castle embodies how Rex and Rosemary would like to live, self-sufficient, and without the control of the government, which is out of the question. This shows the impossible contradictions in the American Dream that for one to be in on the dream, one has to have money as well.

Rex’s plans for the Glass Castle showed his genius mind and how he was far ahead of his time, however his inability to be a proper father for his children showed just how fragile his promise of the Glass Castle was, as it is in fact, glass. In the memoir, it is the author’s father, Rex Walls, lifelong dream to build “a wonderful and special house” for his family that is “self-sustaining and runs on solar power made up of entirely glass panels to illuminate it” (Walls 25). The idea of the house is exceptional, unique and comes from a sober Rex’s mind, but it could never be built because he needed money that he never got. Rex unsuccessfully tries to finance the Glass Castle by building another invention, The Prospector, which was going to find gold for them and “once he finished the Prospector and struck it rich, he’d start work on [their] Glass Castle” (Walls 15). The search for gold of The Prospector is another reference to the American Dream when many ambitious Americans went west during the Gold Rush in search of wealth and hopes of better opportunities to chase their dreams.

Rex and Rosemary did have the correct mindset for reaching their goal as “if the American dream is to come true and to abide with us, it will, at bottom, depend on the people themselves” (Adams 410). The only problem, however, was the way that Rex and Rosemary tried to reach their dream. In hopes of furthering their father’s dream, also once theirs, in Welch, Brian and Jeannette even start to dig a pit for the foundation of the palace. The illusion, specifically for Jeanette, immediately shatters when Rex tells her to fill the pit up with garbage, as to say, the dream itself, is no more than trash. As the last piece of the Glass Castle shatters, Jeannette leaves for New York as her father tries to revive the dream by showing her new blueprints, as Jeannette seems to finally realize “while [they] have been absorbed in [their] tasks, the world has also been changing” (Adams 406). She finally becomes aware that she has to let go of the Glass Castle and achieve her own American Dream. The symbol of the Glass Castle, courtesy of Rex Walls’ dream, is a way of sobering up, as Rex Walls’ was the town drunk; the choosing of the book’s title pays respects to Rex Walls’ brilliance, magnificent dreams and illusions, despite the unrealism and how broken they were.

The author’s parents’ dreams are actually quite similar, in that both reflect the unrealistic ideals of adventure and self-sufficiency of the glass castle. This was their American Dream. However, there seems to be a huge hypocrisy in the memoir as Rex and Rosemary are both materialistic hungry but refuse to do anything to fulfill their materialistic desire. Rex wasn’t concerned with keeping steady jobs and Rosemary couldn’t care less about taking care of her children because both of them believed their personal freedom was more important than responsibilities and rules. However, adventure and freedom is not essential to the American Dream as much as conforming to society is. There seems to be a certain extent one can strive for freedom and adventure to achieve the American Dream, however, Rex and Rosemary went too far as “such a habit of mind does not ignore values” (Adams 407), as they neglected the simplest of things such as providing food for their kids. Although, the American Dream is open for question as to what values, it should be obvious that the simplest of needs should at least be taken care of.

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The Glass Castle will always remain in Jeannette’s childhood but she finally lets go of her father’s dream when the illusion shatters as she comes to terms with the fact that the castle will never be built. The way Jeannette and her siblings were brought up in their childhood is somewhat similar to the life that many American lived before the American Dream blossomed, the closing of the frontier. However, because of the hardships they dealt with due to the selfishness of their parents, the children, ironically, were the most mature and responsible in the family and “bred a strong individualism” (Adams 409). In a twisted way, Rex’s dream helped the children achieve their American Dream as most dreams evolve from broken hearts or promises.

Works Cited

  • Adams, James Truslow. The Epic of America. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1931.
  • Walls, Jeannette. The Glass Castle: A Memoir. New York: Scribner, 2005. Print.

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