Who is Maureen 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 Maureen Walls in The Glass Castle? What was Maureen’s story, and how did she deal with Jeannette and other family members?

Maureen Walls in The Glass Castle was the youngest of the Walls siblings. Maureen had trouble fitting in with her other siblings. She was very outgoing, and often went to the houses of friends for food and shelter.

Read more about Maureen Walls in The Glass Castle.

Maureen Walls in The Glass Castle: Youngest Sibling Finds Her Way

Two months after the move, Lilly Ruth Maureen Walls in was born. Two days later, Rex checked Rose Mary and the baby out of the hospital Rex Walls style. Jeannette held the baby on the drive home and promised her new sister she would always look after her.

The addition of Maureen Walls in The Glass Castle did nothing to change the Walls’ way of life. She was only a few months old when it was time to skedaddle again. Rex had been driving through Blythe with the whole family when a police car pulled up behind them. Their car wasn’t registered or insured, and Rex had stolen the license plates off another vehicle. He said if the police pulled them over, the whole family would be arrested, then led the police on a chase through town. 

He made a few quick moves, then turned down an alley and hid in a vacant garage. They ditched the car and walked home. The next morning, Rex announced they were moving to Battle Mountain, Nevada, where an unearthed supply of gold was located. Battle Mountain was their ticket to riches. 

The Loosening of the Family Bond

Jeannette Walls’ sister Maureen had a hard time finding a place in her family. She was spending so much time with her friends and their families, Jeannette felt like she was becoming removed from her real family. Unlike her siblings, Jeannette Walls’ sister Maureen loved it in Welch. Her friends’ families thought she needed protecting and did their best to save her. They were religious families, and Maureen was frequently baptized. She was even attending pentecostal meetings with snake-handlers. 

To keep Maureen included in the Walls family, Jeannette and her siblings tried to show her special attention. They bought her a child’s kitchen set for her seventh birthday with money they’d saved up from paper routes and lawn work. They told her stories about life in California when she was a baby. They tried to talk to Rose Mary about her increasing religious zealousness, but Rose Mary said everyone was free to find their own way to heaven. 

Jeannette was growing impatient with Rose Mary’s indifference to everything. She still had manic mood swings and frequently preferred to hunker down in bed instead of going to work. Toward the end of the school year, Rose Mary revealed that the program she’d been hired to teach was shutting down because she hadn’t completed the assessment work. She sobbed in bed and complained about hating her life. 

Jeannette was disgusted with her mother, but Lori defended her. Lori understood how hard it must be to be married to a man like Rex. Jeannette said their mother could handle their father just fine if she were a stronger woman. She was sure all Rose Mary had to do was put her foot down, but Jeannette would learn that those words were easier said than done.

When the money ran out, they’d go without food for lengthy periods. Jeannette and Brian foraged whatever they could find, like fruit from trees, but it wasn’t enough. The children were so thin, the kids at school made fun of them. Jeannette hid in the bathroom at lunch and waited for girls to throw their lunch bags away. She rifled through the garbage, amazed at how much food other kids wasted, and took her spoils into the stall to eat. She was sure Brian was subsisting in the same way, but they never spoke of it. 

Leave No One Behind

Jeannette and Brian had been corresponding through letters since she left. Although life was moving forward for her and Lori, things in Welch were getting increasingly worse. 

Rex was always drunk except when he was thrown in jail for a night. Rose Mary was successful at living for herself and was more or less withdrawn from the family. Maureen was practically living at her friends’ homes. And Brian was sleeping underneath an inflatable raft because the roof in their bedroom had collapsed from water damage. 

Jeannette and Lori wondered if Brian would like the city. He was comfortable in the outdoors and never seemed to have a problem with Welch. Also, unlike the girls, Brian had friends. But after Jeannette called and told him about the apartment and the ease of finding work, Brian was convinced. He took the same bus to New York City the day after his junior year of high school. He started working at an ice cream parlor close to The Phoenix offices, and at night, he’d wait for Jeannette to finish her work so they could go home together.

Lori wanted Maureen to move to New York, too, but Maureen was only twelve years old. Lori said she would take care of her and make sure she went to school. When Lori told Maureen her plan, Maureen was thrilled. Rose Mary was also thrilled, but Rex accused Lori of stealing his family and said she was no longer his daughter. 

One winter day, Jeannette Walls’ sister Maureen walked off the same bus from Welch and moved into Lori’s apartment. Brian was living in Midtown Manhattan by this point, and with his address, they found a good school for Maureen to attend. 

With all the children together again, they organized weekend dinners at Lori and Maureen’s. They’d make big feasts and reminisced about their crazy life in Welch.

Maureen Walls in The Glass Castle Slips Through the Cracks

While Lori, Brian, and Jeannette continued to move up in their careers, Maureen struggled. She graduated from high school and enrolled in one of the city colleges, but she didn’t take it seriously. Eventually, she dropped out and moved in with her parents. She started working random jobs that never lasted and accepted the kindness of men who wanted to care for her. 

The longer Maureen Walls in The Glass Castle stayed with her parents, the worse her life became. She stopped working, stopped leaving the apartment, and took up smoking and reading as her daily activities. But her relationship with Rex was strained. She called him a worthless drunk, and he shot back that she was pathetic and should have been drowned at birth. 

Jeannette tried to bring Maureen back to life, but she saw that her sister was too far gone. Maureen chain-smoked while rambling about Mormon cults in Utah, even accusing Jeannette of being part of one. Jeannette was sure she was on drugs, but she couldn’t convince Maureen to seek help. Rose Mary wouldn’t help either. She thought everyone was making too big a deal. 

After another six months, Maureen snapped. Rose Mary told her that she would have to move out and learn to fend for herself. In response, Maureen stabbed her. Maureen Walls in The Glass Castle was arrested, convicted, and sent to a mental facility Upstate. A year later, she was released and bought a ticket to California. She wouldn’t allow anyone to see her off, so the morning of her departure, Jeannette woke early and whispered to the air, “I’m sorry, Maureen.” She’d let her sister down.

Who is Maureen 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

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