Who is Lori Walls in The Glass Castle?

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Who is Lori Walls in The Glass Castle? What did Lori Walls do, and how did she escape the chaotic life the Walls family lived?

Lori Walls in The Glass Castle was the oldest of the four Walls siblings. Lori, who wanted to be an artist, was the first Walls sibling to run away from home, and later helped her brothers and sisters get to New York.

Read more about Lori Walls in The Glass Castle.

Lori Walls: The Glass Castle’s Oldest Child and Caretaker

Lori was conceived a few months after the wedding. A year later, their second child, Mary Charlene, was born but died nine months later from sudden infant death syndrome. Two years after Mary Charlene’s death, Jeannette was born. Rose Mary called her the replacement child. Brian came along a year later. He was born in mid-seizure and couldn’t breathe. Rose Mary said he was likely a “goner,” but Brian lived, and the seizures stopped. 

Rose Mary was either unable or unwilling to follow the rules, so the Walls children started helping her with her job. Jeannette cleaned her classroom, Lori helped write her lesson plans, and all three of them helped grade homework. 

Lori had been proofreading Rose Mary’s writing since she was seven, and the work she did was exceptional. Rose Mary thought Lori was brilliant, and the two grew closer. When they weren’t working on assignments, they would draw or work on other art projects together. 

An Eye-Opening Discovery

Jeannette, Brian, and Lori enrolled in Emerson Public School, a nice school in a nice neighborhood with lush grass and banana trees. All three children were placed in gifted reading groups upon entry. The school also had a nurse, and the Walls children were given vision and hearing exams for the first time. This was how they found out Lori was nearsighted. 

Rose Mary wouldn’t hear of getting glasses for Lori. She thought glasses only made poor eyesight worse and that Lori needed to strengthen her eyes through use. But the school said Lori couldn’t attend without them. 

When Lori received her glasses, she looked at the world outside with wonder. She’d never seen leaves on trees, words on billboards, or birds in the distance. She was seeing the world for the first time, and she cried with joy. 

Lori Walls in The Glass Castle became obsessed with her newfound vision. She started painting and drawing everything she saw and decided she wanted to be an artist, too. 

An A for Effort

The child welfare man never came back, but his visit was enough to force Rose Mary back into teaching. She was hired immediately in an elementary school in Davey, a few miles north of Welch. She had to carpool with another teacher, an unpleasant woman named Lucy. Whenever Rose Mary got out of the car, Lucy sprayed Lysol on the passenger seat. 

Rose Mary’s teaching performance was the same in Davey as it had been in Battle Mountain. She was lax about grading and discipline, and she had to be coerced to even go to school. Some mornings, she would hide in bed refusing to go like a child. The kids would drag her out and get her ready before Lucy became impatient and left her behind. 

Despite her antics, Rose Mary was making money, and her paycheck was a blessing to the household. On payday, they’d cash the check and pay off the monthly bills. Rose Mary put space heaters and a refrigerator on layaway and paid a little each month. They’d stock up on groceries and have enough money left over to survive the rest of the month. 

But soon the food was gone, and so was the money. Jeannette could never get a straight answer from Rose Mary about where the money went. She knew Rose Mary had to buy little gifts for herself, things she said made you feel rich, like crystal vases. But even accounting for those splurges, there should have been money left over. Jeannette and Lori came up with a budget and tried to persuade Rose Mary to let them handle the finances, but she refused. By the end of each month, Jeannette was back to digging in garbage cans for lunch. 

A Desire for More

Lori and Rose Mary returned home late that summer. Lori was like a new person. At camp, she was just like all the other kids—fed, showered, artistic, and full of youth. It was the first time Lori had felt normal, and she realized that if she left Welch, she could live a normal life. 

Rose Mary was also caught up in a dizzy glee. She’d loved her time away and said she was done living her life for other people. It was time she started living for herself. She was quitting her teaching job to paint full time. 

Jeannette argued that they needed her salary to survive, but Rose Mary said she was tired of always being the one who had to work. The kids could work if they wanted money. She had more important things to do. Still, Jeannette thought she was bluffing, but when school started, Rose Mary refused to get out of bed. She pouted and said she didn’t feel well. Jeannette was furious. She told her mother to get over it and act like a mother. Rose Mary’s whining turned to anger. Jeannette was being disrespectful, and Rex would teach her a lesson when he got home. 

After what had happened that summer, Jeannette knew Rex owed her and wasn’t worried about being punished. But when she got home from school, Rex yelled that she better show her mother some respect. Jeannette yelled that neither of them deserved her respect. Rex threatened to beat her if she didn’t apologize, but she stood her ground. She expected Rex to back down. He’d never risk their relationship by beating her. But Rex took off his belt and smacked the back of her thighs six times. 

Jeannette ran from the house and wandered the woods for hours. She made two decisions that day. The first was that no one would ever lay a hand on her again, and the second was that she was going to leave Welch, like Lori wanted to. She decided she would save up all her money between now and the end of high school, then leave and never come back. 

Lori Walls in The Glass Castle Sees A Light at the End of the Tunnel

One day, two filmmakers from New York City arrived in Welch as part of a cultural appreciation tour. Lori showed them some of her drawings, and they said she had real talent. If she wanted to be a serious artist, she should move to New York and go to art school. 

The description of New York City as a land of misfits appealed to Lori and Jeannette, who had never truly belonged anywhere. The girls made a plan. Lori would leave for New York as soon as she graduated and get settled. Jeannette would join her as soon as she could. They merged whatever money they could save to help Lori get an apartment. 

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: Lori Walls in The Glass Castle Plans Her Escape

Jeannette wasn’t working at the jewelry store anymore, but she was babysitting, tutoring kids, and doing their homework for a fee. Lori started commissioning personalized posters for students. She had a knack for artistic writing and design, and she sold them for $1.50 each. Word of mouth spread so fast, she had more orders than she could handle. 

The girls told Brian about their plan, and even though he was younger and couldn’t be included, he donated his landscaping earnings to the plastic piggy bank they’d named Oz. They hid Oz in their room and didn’t tell anyone about the money. 

As Lori’s graduation date zoomed into view, Jeannette was consumed with visions of what life would be like for them in New York. Lori, on the other hand, was scared. She’d made it to the final round of the National Merit Scholarships, but to take the test, she had to hitchhike to a nearby town. A truck driver got fresh, and she was too rattled to perform well. With no scholarship, art school was still just an empty dream. 

Then, Lori discovered that a literary group was giving a scholarship to the student who created the best artistic representation of a literary icon. For a full week, Lori created a bust of William Shakespeare that was almost life-like. 

The night she was finishing the bust, everyone cheered her on. Rex stumbled in later, drunk and surly. He told Lori that Shakespeare was a phony and hadn’t written any of his plays. He took one look at the bust, then used his thumb to wipe off Shakespeare’s lying mouth. He said he would help her write a paper exposing Shakespeare as a fraud that would set the literary world on fire. 

Lori was broken. She didn’t have the heart to fix the bust and smashed it into a blob of clay.  

The Final Blow

Lori and Jeannette decided Lori would still move, even if she hadn’t found a school to attend. She’d work and figure it out along the way. 

As usual, Rex didn’t understand why everyone was so bent out of shape about the bust. He said he wasn’t trying to ruin Lori’s plans for New York, but he added that she was a fool for wanting to go. She’d end up living on the streets, becoming a drug addict, and working as a prostitute. When everyone ignored him, he said he didn’t know why he even bothered to come home.

By the time Lori’s graduation came around, the three kids had saved up nine months of earnings. Jeannette came home to add her recent babysitting pay to Oz and found it smashed open. The money was gone. She couldn’t believe Rex would be so low as to steal his children’s money. When Lori found out, she cried, defeated. But Lori Walls in The Glass Castle wasn’t going to give up.

Lori waited up all night to confront Rex, but he never came home. It was another three nights before he stumbled in. The children confronted him about the money, but he denied it. He threw a few dollars on the ground and passed out. Lori was hopeless. There was no way she could leave without money, but Jeannette wasn’t giving up. If Lori never got out, they would all be stuck in Welch forever. 

Who is Lori Walls in The Glass Castle?

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Jeannette Walls's "The Glass Castle" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The Glass Castle summary:

  • The author's unbelievable childhood as her absent parents went on alcoholic binges
  • How Jeannette and her siblings escaped their parents to strike out on their own
  • The complicated relationship Jeannette had with her parents before they died

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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