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  • Chloe Mastour

The Glass Castle: A Memoir on the Laws of Non-conformity

Updated: Oct 12, 2021

Jeannette Walls’ (“Jeannette”) power for lyrical storytelling is what makes her childhood story so memorable. With every dog-eared page and re-recited sentence, I came to understand that The Glass Castle is one of those books that will stay with you long after you have read it.

Along with the unbelievably bizarre details that come to underscore her family’s non-conformist philosophy, Jeannette’s story is a nuanced account of sadness, inspiration, playful lightheartedness, as well as a subtle haunting quality that seems to cast its shadow over every line.

The odd family dynamic in which Jeannette and her three siblings were raised can best be evaluated through the lens of conformity, or better yet, conformity going up in flames. Literally.

Conformity offers refuge to those who choose to relinquish their freedom to a group or ideology larger than themselves in return for a sense of security that comes with safety in numbers. Humans are characterized by a superlative dependence on culturally transmitted information. Early civilizations copied methods that provided food and shelter from other civilizations because they proved effective. Conformity has ensured survival, and by the laws of Natural Selection, it has long been human nature to conform.

Like any social system, conformity has its dissenters: the non-conformists, who would rather be socially ostracized than be a slave to a society their values do not align. Non-conformity can have dangerous consequences, but such dangers can be worth the risks; without it, people risk losing their freedom and individuality. The eternal debate of conformity versus non-conformity is presented in Jeannette Walls’ memoir. Jeannette’s parents, Rex and Rose Mary Walls are bona fide non-conformists. They live, raise their children, and operate in society according to how they see fit. Although Rex and Rose Mary’s refusal to conform to social norms poses undue hardships on their children, conforming would have posed a more serious threat: losing the freedom to live according to their values.

To conform or not to conform. Like the Joshua tree, Jeannette decides to embrace her “unique” upbringing and share her struggle through the writing of her memoir. The world would be boring without non-conformists like the Walls family; after all, conformists seldom make history. While non-conformity lands the Walls family in trouble, their adventures together are much safer than subduing to the masses in the act of abandoning the principles that guide their actions. Besides, throughout the memoir, a chief constant at play was the love (however unconventional in nature) between Jeannette and her family. In demonstrating the permanence of family, The Glass Castle does not hold back on the immense detail needed to convey a sense of camaraderie that was born from otherwise unfortunate circumstances.

If praise can be expressed for the entirety of Jeannette’s memoir, it deserves to be showered heavily on the poignancy expressed in her concluding passages; carrying the entirety of an irregular childhood, temporarily misguided adulthood, and an acceptance of the influence of her parents, her artistic appreciation for her bittersweet past was brought to life in a truly original and heartfelt rendition, and I encourage you to flip open The Glass Castle until you can no longer put it down.

Feel free to watch the movie:

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