The Glass Castle: Section 2, Chapters 17-19

Summary – Section Two, Chapters Seventeen, Eighteen and Nineteen
Their home at this time was filled with animals. It is related how at one point Dad bought home an injured buzzard, which they named Buster. They could not afford pet food, however, and the animals had to eat the few scraps the family left. Mom believed that the animals should not become dependent on them, and thought self-sufficiency was admirable in all creatures.
She also thought nature should take its course and this included not killing flies in the house as these were food for the birds and lizards. In turn, these were food for the cats. She also did not want poison in the house to kill flies as she thought this could not be good for humans either.
The narrative shifts to that winter when Dad took them to the Hot Pot, which was a natural sulfur spring in the desert north of the town. At this time, Jeannette could not swim and her father decided she should learn that day. He took her into the middle, which was reputed to have no bottom, and she inhaled water. He took her to the shallow part to let her recover and then took her back into the middle. He said, ‘“sink or swim”’ and time and again he had to rescue her. He also returned her to the middle. After a while, she realized this and propelled herself away from him. He shouted to her that she was swimming and when she got out he did too and tried to hug her. She would not have anything to do with him, or her mother who had been floating on her back throughout this time. Her father kept telling her he loved her and would not have let her drown, but said he had to teach her that one had to learn to swim to avoid drowning.
In Chapter Eighteen, Jeannette explains how her father kept his job for nearly six months (and this was longer than his previous ones). They quickly ran out of food after this and he was often out looking for food or work and the children usually kept the truth of their hunger to themselves. They were always hungry, though, and at school Jeannette would slip back into the classroom at recess to take something from someone’s lunch bag that would not be missed. If she played in a friend’s yard, she would ask to use the bathroom and on the way she would take something to eat from the kitchen.
At home, she and Lori ate the last piece of margarine with sugar and this was the last piece of food in the house. Their mother reprimanded them and Jeannette raised her voice and said how she was hungry. Her mother looked startled, as she had stopped pretending it was an adventure, and then started to cry and shout that they should not blame her. She also said she did not like living like this.
When Dad came home, he and Mom argued and he asked her to ask her mother for money to help develop the ‘cyanide-leaching process’ he was working on to separate gold from rock. She said how her mother had offered for them to live with her if they could not cope and this angered him. The argument continued the next day and he said she could find work as she had a teaching degree, and she replied that she was an artist. Their row culminated in her hanging out of the window as he held on to her. She accused him of trying to kill her and he protested that he had stopped her jumping.
The following day, in Chapter Nineteen, Mom got up with the children (instead of sleeping in late as she usually did) and walked over to the Intermediate School. She applied for work and was accepted immediately. Lori’s teacher had recently left and Mom was assigned to this class. She was popular with the students as she did not discipline them or care if they were late. She also did not mind if they did not do their homework and her only rule was that they could not hurt others. Some of the children who had been considered ‘problem kids’ or ‘slow’ started to do well and some followed her about like ‘stray dogs’.
Even though she was popular she hated teaching. This was because her mother had been a teacher and had pushed her into teaching so that she had something to ‘fall back on’ if she did not become an artist. Mom saw becoming a teacher now as an acknowledgement that her mother had been right. She used to pretend to be sick and the onus was on Jeannette and her siblings to get her up and dressed in the morning. Lori told her she would grow to like it, and Mom said how she was a grown woman and asked why she could not do as she wanted.
The principal thought she was a terrible teacher and threatened to fire her. Because of this Jeanette, Lori and Brian would go over the students’ homework and tests and would grade just about anything but essay questions. Lori also helped Mom with her lesson plans and corrected her spelling and maths. Jeannette then explains how Lori understood their mother better than anybody else and did not even mind when Mom disciplined her in order to show the principal she was capable of doing so.
Analysis – Section Two, Chapters Seventeen, Eighteen and Nineteen
Mom’s preference for self-sufficiency in animals is described in Chapter Seventeen and the wording invites us to see that she also preferred this in her children. It is of interest, though, that she readily accepts help from her children when she is having difficulties in her work. One might argue, then, that the author allows us to see such hypocrisies and once more lets us make the negatively critical judgement.