The Glass Castle Fact or Fiction

The Glass Castle “When you’re writing a book that is going to be a narrative with characters and events, you’re walking very close to fiction, since you’re using some of the methods of fiction writing. You’re lying, but some of the details may well come from your general recollection rather than from the particular scene. In the end it comes down to the readers. If they believe you, you’re OK. A memoirist is really like any other con man; if he’s convincing, he’s home.

If he isn’t, it doesn’t really matter whether it happened, he hasn’t succeeded in making it feel convincing,” says Samuel Hynes, author of The Growing Season: An American Boyhood Before the War. The memoir genre has sparked controversy since it first evolved. As Hynes stated, “it doesn’t really matter whether it happened. ” It depends whether or not the author is convincing, and whether the readers believe it. Except for the author, no one can tell whether the story is true or not. This is what supports the argument that Jeannette Walls’ memoir, The Glass Castle, is not all true. Anyone who writes a memoir is asking to be called a liar,” says Walls herself.

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A memoir is a narrative composed from personal experience. But in a novel like The Glass Castle, which tells of events from when Walls is three years old, how much of the story truly is personal experience? James Frey, author of the memoir A Million Little Pieces, admitted to falsifying his memoir. There have been many other accounts of false memoirs in the past, and in the article “Truth and Consequences,” Walls provides several examples. “Folks in Limerick, Ireland, claimed that Frank McCourt made up whole sections of Angela’s Ashes.

Sean Wilsey’s stepmother sent a letter to the publisher of Oh, the Glory of It All claiming that the book contained more than 30 “actionably defamatory statements of fact. ” And last month, Augusten Burroughs was sued by members of his adoptive family, who charged that in his bestselling memoir Running with Scissors, he had “fabricated events that never happened and manufactured conversations that never occurred. “” According to these accounts, memoirs are not always reliable. Autobiographies and memoirs are often used interchangeably. However, there is a difference.

Autobiographies are chronological events that occur throughout the author’s life. While memoirs are similar, they often include exact events, places, and dialogue. Reliance is an important component involving memoirs. Perhaps a memoir was true; just how far does memory go? Anyone can claim to having and extraordinary memory. People may remember tragic events such as breaking a leg when they were younger, but surely they would not remember the conversation occurring around them, or what exactly the doctor said. Walls opens the novel with her earliest memory: cooking hotdogs and severely burning herself.

She was three years old. She recalls her conversations with the doctors. “Look, I’m half-mummy,” (Walls, 10). “Mom says I’m mature for my age, and she lets me cook for myself a lot” (Walls, 11). She “remembers” conversations from when she was merely 3 years old; can you? It is less than likely that those exact conversations actually occurred. In the event that she did not remember the conversations from so many years ago, she must have had to make them up to embellish the story. This stirs the question: what else did Jeannette Walls fabricate in this “memoir”?

From the time they were born, the Walls children were destined to live a troubled life because of their “eccentric” and nomadic parents. By the time she settled in New York, it was impossible for Jeannette to count how many places she had lived throughout her life. “We were always doing the skedaddle, usually in the middle of the night. I sometimes heard Mom and Dad discussing the people who were after us…Sometimes he would make mysterious references to executives from Standard Oil,…and FBI agents who were after dad for some dark episode that he never told us about,” (Walls, 19).

Walls also discusses the many episodes of her father Rex’s alcoholism, abuse, and times of poverty. There were also two occurrences where father was stealing money from the children. There were often times where there was no food in the house, and Jeannette and her sister Lori resorted to eating margarine mixed with sugar. Rex tied himself to his bed in order to beat his addiction to drinking, and also tried pushing his wife out of a window. Rex and Rosemary referred to their escapades as adventures, and never filed for welfare.

Though Jeannette knew that her parents were not raising them in a safe, steady environment, she shooed child services away. The family did nothing to change their lifestyle, and that seems unrealistic. Many of these events seem outrageous, pathetic, and unbelievable. In the same article, Jeannette discusses her favorite memory. “One of my most cherished memories was of Christmas when I was five. My parents had no money for presents, but Dad took each of us children out into the desert night and gave us any star we wanted.

My brother–who is a year younger and has a steel-trap memory for most things–didn’t recall the incident at all. ” If she has all of these distinct memories, why can’t her brother, with a “reliable” memory, remember them? In the prologue of the novel, Walls recalls seeing her mother digging through a dumpster. “Why didn’t you say hello? ” “I was too ashamed, Mom. I hid” (Walls, 5). Though she seemed to be embarrassed by her mother, she had nothing to do with her for so many years. It seems suspicious that Walls hid her history for so long, and suddenly comes out with this hit novel.

In addition, Walls is now a gossip columnist. She is able to write gossip columns, which are not always true, so she must have been able to falsify some aspects of The Glass Castle. One of the biggest events of the book that appears fabricated is the fact that Maureen snapped. “Maureen stabbed Mom…Maureen shuffled into the courtroom, shackled and wearing an orange jumpsuit. Her face was puffy, and she looked dazed, but when she saw us, she smiled and waved. ” It appears odd that Maureen snapped, although she was the youngest child, and therefore spent the least amount of time under Rex and Rosemary’s so-called “care. Jeannette wrote that Maureen mostly lived with neighbors.

She was also the youngest. Jeannette, Brian, and Lori turned out just fine, which is strange, considering what they had been through. These facets make the memoir seem even more unreliable. Author Ann Patchett wrote, “It’s amazing how you remember everything so clearly,” a woman said…”All those conversations, details. Were you ever worried that you might get something wrong? ” “I didn’t remember it,” Lucy said presently. “I wrote it. I’m a writer. ” (Truth and Beauty).

It is very difficult to recall events that occurred years and years ago, and the reliance of the author’s memory is always questionable. Except for the author, no one can tell whether the story is true or not. This is what supports the argument that Jeannette Walls’ memoir, The Glass Castle, is not all true.

Works Cited

  1. Walls, Jeannette. The Glass Castle: A Memoir. New York: Scribner, 2005.
  2. Walls, Jeannette. “Truth and Consequences. ” Publishers Weekly 252. 37 (19 Sept. 2005): 74. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed.
  3. Jeffrey W. Hunter. Vol. 299. Detroit: Gale, 2011. Literature Resource Center. Web. 12 Apr. 2013.

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The Glass Castle Fact or Fiction. (2016, Oct 27). Retrieved from