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Forgiving the Contradictory Behavior of Rex Walls in The Glass Castle

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Bad parenting occurs when the guardian of a child does not act out their duties and responsibilities when raising that child. There are many reasons why a parent is considered bad. Bad parents abstain from affection from their child, lack support in their child, take up excessive or extreme discipline, or are unwilling to provide any necessary resources for their child. On the contrary, a good parent will help their child understand who they are and will provide any necessary resources for their children. Journalist and author, Jeanette Walls, wrote a memoir focusing on her childhood and the many traumatic experiences called The Glass Castle. Specifically, in The Glass Castle, Jeanette highlights a lot of her memories with her father, Rex Walls. Quite a rambunctious character, Rex Walls has made many mistakes and questionable decisions while raising her and would be considered by many as a “bad parent”, but would Jeanette consider him a bad parent? Rex Walls is constantly forgiven and recognized by Jeanette as a memorably important father figure despite his abusive childhood, countless failures as a father and destructive characteristics because of the special moments and high-values he experiences with her throughout her life.

Rex Walls is an important person in the life of Jeanette because he taught her many positive life morals and educated her throughout her childhood, creating a special bond between them. Despite his hard character, he is evidently a very intelligent person in the memoir, an “expert in math and physics and electricity.” He even took it upon himself to “read books on calculus and logarithmic algebra and loved what he called the poetry and symmetry of math”. Rex’s enriched understanding of math and science allowed him to share much knowledge with Jeanette, even from a young age. She has learned much from him and that has helped her later in life because of him. She consistently is mentally a higher level than her peers in school when she can be and has always been fascinated by the science behind her father’s research and inventions. In educating his children, Rex also managed to teach them important morals. When Rex brought Jeanette to a hot spring to teach her how to swim, he says while continually throwing her in, “If you don’t want to sink, you better figure out how to swim”. Though this seems very cruel to do with a young kid at such a young age, this lesson has stuck with Jeanette throughout her life and has been vital to her experiences as an adult when she continues to move past her own hardships. In another particular moment, on Christmas, Rex gifted Jeanette a star by telling her that she could claim any star she wanted. He taught her “no one else owns [the stars]. You just have to claim it before anyone else does . . . claiming a star as your own has every bit as much logic to it” . Though this could be claimed to be a cheap way to avoid buying Christmas presents, that fact is insignificant because it is still a special moment between Jeanette and her father. Teaching moments create bonds between children and their parents, as well as preparing them for the future.

Despite Rex’s exceptional education, he is still a man with many self-destructive flaws and parenting mistakes but they are often justified and forgiven by Jeanette. Rex experiences severe alcoholism and clues in his personality, such as his tendency to destroy things around him and obvious mood-shifts point towards the feasibility that he suffers from being bipolar. Why would Rex Walls be forgiven as a good father figure when on numerous occasions he has destroyed important things, stolen from his own children, and failed at being a good fatherly figure? He is likely forgiven and accepted because his behavior can be linked and explained to childhood trauma that Rex experiences. It has been suggested that Rex has suffered from an abusive mother during his childhood due to her involvement in an encounter with Jeannette’s brother, Brian. Rex Walls was not just abused sexually, it is also suggested that he was unloved and neglected when Rosemary Walls says, while scolding Jeanette for mocking the house of one of her childhood neighbors, “Unloved children grow up to become serial murderers or alcoholics.” Then she promptly “looked pointedly at Dad and then back at [Jeanette],” imposing the thought that because Rex Walls’ alcoholism is directly correlated to being unloved as a child. Rex’s negative actions further have a reason to be forgiven because he always wants to be a good father and his goal is to make his family happy. This is the reason for blueprinting the Glass Castle and why Jeanette has not given up hope on him when everyone else does give up on him. He made everything seem like an adventure to her. As explained by Deepthi C P, “it seems that he still tries to bestow knowledge to his children through his psychotic, illogical, perverse and inverted ways. Rex’s intent is to benefit his children, even when the wrong outcome is produced. Even when Jeanette is older and has long since been a little more distant from her father living in New York City, he proves his worth when she falls short of paying for college and he miraculously earns enough money just for her to finish her education. As statedly perfectly by Deepthi C P, “Rex was the pedestal through which she achieved the life she dreamt off”. She will always have gratitude for that.

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The most significant proof to Jeanette Wall’s acceptance of her father as a decent father figure is simply the dedication of The Glass Castle to him. In general, this memoir is centered mainly around Jeanette’s experiences with Rex, what she learned from it, and how she turned out after the legacy of Rex Walls. The name itself, “The Glass Castle”, refers to the plans that Jeanette’s father created. It represents his represents his hope for a “magical fantastic life which he will provide for his family and thereby please his children”. These plans were more significant to Jeanette than they were to anyone else, especially after they had given up on him. This title had been created in memory and honor of her father. Near the end of the story, Rex Walls becomes suddenly ill and shortly after passes away. This is traumatic for Jeanette, she describes how she

Shortly after her father’s death, Jeanette explained that “I found myself always wanting to be somewhere other than where I was. If I was at work, I’d wish I were at home. If I was in the apartment, I couldn’t wait to get out of it. I felt best when I was on the move, going someplace rather than being there. I needed to reconsider everything”. Jeanette then left her first husband.

The book shortly ends after a concluding scene of Jeanette with her family centered around a Thanksgiving feast. They are reminiscing about the legacy left behind by Rex Walls.

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Forgiving the Contradictory Behavior of Rex Walls in The Glass Castle. (2022, November 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 1, 2024, from
“Forgiving the Contradictory Behavior of Rex Walls in The Glass Castle.” Edubirdie, 25 Nov. 2022,
Forgiving the Contradictory Behavior of Rex Walls in The Glass Castle. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 1 Mar. 2024].
Forgiving the Contradictory Behavior of Rex Walls in The Glass Castle [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Nov 25 [cited 2024 Mar 1]. Available from:
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