Rex and Rose Mary Walls: Parenting in Constant Chaos

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 are Jeannette Walls’ parents, Rex and Rose Mary Walls? How are they portrayed in the book The Glass Castle?

Rex and Rose Mary Walls are the parents of Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle. Jeannette catalogs the experiences of her family in her book, including the neglect she faced at the hands of her parents.

Read about Rex and Rose Mary Walls and their relationship, as well as how it affected the Walls children.

Rex and Rose Mary Walls: Family Drama

Jeannette Walls’ parents, Rex and Rose Mary Walls, fought often. Once, Rex tried to run down a pregnant Rose Mary with his car in the desert after they’d argued about how far along she was. There was the time Rose Mary and Rex argued about money and whose responsibility it was to support the family. The fight was so loud, it brought out the entire neighborhood and ended with Rose Mary dangling from an upstairs window after she tried to jump out. 

There were also times when the fights were started by Rex after stumbling home drunk. He’d scream at the kids and destroy the house, and often, he became violent and threatening to Rose Mary. For example, after the family had moved to a house in Phoenix that Rose Mary had inherited, Rex broke all of the family heirlooms and threw Rose Mary on the ground. They each grabbed a knife, but within minutes, they were laughing and back in love. Rex and Rose Mary Walls may have loved each other, but their relationship made life difficult for their children.

Christmas in Phoenix

The Walls typically celebrated Christmas after the holiday to take advantage of discarded decorations and presents. But on their first Christmas in Phoenix, Rose Mary decided they would celebrate on the actual day instead of a week after, as was their custom. She took the children to the thrift-store, giving them each a dollar for presents. They bought an almost-dead tree and decorated it with Grandma Smith’s antique ornaments. 

Rex cracked his first beer Christmas morning and didn’t stop. By the time they were ready for midnight mass, he was fall-down drunk. Rex disrupted the sermon, calling the Virgin Mary a sweet Jewish girl who got pregnant. He said Jesus was the world’s most popular bastard. They were quickly escorted out. 

At home, Rex was still belligerent. He opened a gift from Rose Mary: an antique lighter. Swaying drunkenly in front of the tree, Rex said he wanted to really light things up. He held the flame to the tree, which caught immediately. The family grabbed blankets and water. They knocked the tree down and stomped out the fire, breaking many of the ornaments and destroying the presents in the process. Rex laughed through the whole thing. Rose Mary and Rex Walls were unable to give their kids the Christmas Rose Mary had promised.

The Past Catches Up: Rose Mary and Rex Walls Move to New York

Three years after moving to New York, Jeannette heard a strange story on the morning radio news. A van had stalled on the New Jersey Turnpike, creating a headache for the morning commute. Clothes and furniture had fallen from the van and were strewn about, and a dog was running wild among the traffic jam. Jeannette thought it was a strange story but forgot about it.

Later that night, Jeannette found out that Rose Mary and Rex Walls had moved to New York. Jeannette knew right away that the people from the van were none other than her parents. Jeannette didn’t join in Rose Mary’s glee about the news. She was used to being on her own and didn’t want any interference. Even so, she went to Lori’s to see them the following day. 

Jeannette Walls’ parents Rex and Rose Mary Walls spoke a mile a minute about their trip to New York and their adventures during the day. All of the kids were there, but none of them joined in the merriment. When Brian asked why they’d moved to New York, Rex thought it was a silly question. Obviously, they’d come to be a family again. 

Rex and Rose Mary Walls: Parenting in Constant Chaos

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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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