Archetypal Analysis of The Glass Castle (2023)

Studying The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls from an Archetypal Perspective.

After reading the fabulous novel The Glass Castleby Jeannette Walls (as seen to the right), I have come across

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many elements of archetypal characters and symbols that are noteworthy. The Glass Castle,in short, is a memoir that revolves around the life of Jeannette Walls, and how she grew up in the worst of conditions, met the strangest of people, and had the most peculiar and poor parents ever. Of course, this was all Jeannette knew, and she went along with her parents ways until she was a teenager, which was when she realized she needed to escape from her dingy life, and live in New York as a newspaper writer. To define the focus of this analysis, an archetype is “a typical character, an action or a situation that seems to represent such universal patterns of human nature” or a “universal symbol, [which] may be a character, a theme, a symbol or even a setting” (Literary Devices)

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One of the archetypal characters in the book is the main character’s father, named Rex Walls. I believe Rex represents a Villain archetype, particularly because of his irresponsible behaviours and actions that set back his family’s progress financially. A profound example is when Rex finds and steals money, in order to pay for booze and cigarettes (as seen to the left), from his kids, who were saving up money for nine months to escape their life in Welch, West Virginia. Moreover, Rex alsolies to his family to get money from them. In one example, Rex, who builds a contraption to find gold and supposedly make millions, is arguably an alcoholic, and Jeannette recalls that “Dad drank hard liquor only when we had money, which wasn’t often, so life was mostly good in those days.” (Walls 23). Rex becomes too easily distracted by his destructive habits, using the little amount of money they sometimes have on alcohol, and does not focus enough time on actually using his contraption called the “Prospector” to find gold and support his family.

On this note, Rex Walls, in my opinion, also serves as a Mentor figure for Jeannette throughout the book. Jeannette loves her father; she looks up to him (as seen below). As I read the book, I began to notice how their relationship both developed and regressed, and how their relationship was the strongest together compared to the other family members. On a

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particular website, I found some evidence of this relationship, as it points out that “Jeannette adores and looks up to her father: she trusts that there is some kind of sense or system behind his crazy plans. She is a child. She trusts her Dad.” (LitCharts). Jeannette is young and naive; she likes to believe there is a concrete solution to all of the problems their family runs into, and that her father always knows how to handle any situation. I think the author of The Glass Castle chose to have such a significant bond between these characters because, looking back, her relationship with her father is something that she profoundly recalls as being an important milestone in her life. At the end of the novel, over a year after Rex’s death, the family drinks a toast to him, and her mother declares “’Life with your father was never boring.’ We raised our glasses. I could almost hear Dad chuckling at Mom’s comment in the way he always did when he was truly enjoying something.” (Walls 288). Jeannette is truly impacted by her father throughout her life, and many of the lessons he taught her are still fresh and active in her life, thus, showing the way Rex Walls was a prominent mentor.

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Rex is also, in my opinion, an example of a Scapegoat archetype (as seen to the left), in that he is blamed at various times for their family’s state. For instance, while everyone is living in New York, and Maureen is sent to jail, the family all gets into a huge fight over whose fault it was, and “Lori blamed Dad for creating a sick environment” (Walls 276). As one can see, the relationship between all the family members is not positive, and that creates many problems. The family dynamic is consistently like this in the entire book; they constantly fight about who ought to do something to help the family, and who ought to not be so selfish about money and bad habits.

Another archetypal character is Jeannette’s mother, Rose Mary, who is also a Villain archetype. She also sets the family back, but in multiple ways. First of all, I noticed that Rose Mary has a strong, unbreakable set of values that prevent them from making money, such as refusing to sell her million-dollar inherited property in Texas, and keeping all their valuables, including her paintings, instead of selling them for food money. She also is strict on how selective her kids are, as she retorts to Jeannette about

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the maggot-infested ham, “’Don’t be so picky,’ she told me. ‘Just slice off the maggoty parts. The inside’s fine.’” (172). Jeannette’s mother is so focused on conserving little things like parts of ham, however, she is too selfish to give up her land or her paintings to allow her family to thrive. Sometimes, Rose Mary can be very bitter, to the point that she reminds me of an archetypal witch in a fairy tale. Digging around on the internet, I found some interesting evidence to support this claim, one being from a blog by Taylor Povey, stating “Rose Mary blames the children for her own failure as an artist even though she lacks the ambition and drive to become an artist” (English made Elegant). I feel like this evidence is accurate because although Rose Mary claims to be an amazing artist (as seen above), she never really evolves out of her dormant-self, and she never seizes her potential to make good money with her art.

The four kids, particularly Jeannette, Brian, and Lori, are of the Innocent archetype in this book. Their innocence is shown through their eagerness to believe anything their

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parents tell them, such as the Dad’s goal to build the kids a glass castle (literally!) using “Dad’s engineering skills and mathematical genius were coming together in one special project: a great big house (picture to the left) he was going to build for us in the desert.” (Walls 25). The kids became so excited about the possibility that their Dad would build this amazing house for them, thus, showing their innocence and childish nature towards everything at that stage in their lives. However, as the kids grow older, they start to lose their innocent archetypal characteristics, and they begin to realize that their parents are not extraordinary at all, rather, they are irresponsible and even destructive.

One archetypal symbol I found while reading fairly early on in the book was fire (as seen below). As an Archetypal Analysis of The Glass Castle (7)archetypal symbol, fire “represents knowledge, light, life, and rebirth”, as well as “the ability to transform, love, life, health, control, sun, God, passion, spiritual energy, regeneration” (Archetypes and Symbols). Near the beginning of the memoir, Jeannette recalls boiling hot dogs, causing her dress to catch fire, and getting severely burned. For weeks after the incident she “became fascinated with it. […] Whenever neighbors burned trash, I’d inch closer and closer, feeling the heat against my face” (Walls 15). Jeannette’s innocent and heroic archetypes are being shown in this case because of her quick rebound into admiring the thing that harmed her previously, thus, admitting her victory against the fire. Fire shows to be a regenerating element in this case because Jeannette feels rather refreshed and stronger after the burning incident.

To conclude, there were several archetypal character types in The Glass Castle, including Rex Walls representing the Villain, the Mentor, and the Scapegoat, Rose Mary showing to be the Villain archetype, and the kids showing the Innocent archetype. I also picked up on an archetypal symbol in the book, which is fire.

Works Cited

Walls, Jeannette. The Glass Castle: a memoir. New York: Scribner, 2006. Print.

Povey, Taylor. “English made Elegant.” The Glass Castle: Archetypes and Symbols. N.p., 01

Dec. 2015. Web. 10 July 2017.

“The Glass Castle Part 2: The Desert Summary & Analysis from LitCharts | The creators of

SparkNotes.” LitCharts. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 July 2017.

“Archetype – Examples and Definition of Archetype.” Literary Devices. N.p., 11 Mar. 2015.

Web. 12 July 2017.

Lawrence, Lisa. “Archetypes and Symbols.” Archetypesandsymbols. N.p., n.d. Web. July


Photos retrieved from:

Glass castle book cover:

Beer and cigarettes:

Father and daughter:



Glass castle:


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