Was There Sexual Abuse 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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Is there sexual abuse in The Glass Castle? Did Jeannette Walls and her siblings experience sexual abuse?

There are several examples of sexual abuse in The Glass Castle. Both Jeannette Walls and her brother Brian experienced sexual abuse from their adult family members.

Read more about the examples of sexual abuse in The Glass Castle, and how Jeannette and her siblings survived.

Evils of the Past: Sexual Abuse in The Glass Castle

There are several instances of sexual abuse in The Glass Castle, and examples of sexual abuse in The Glass Castle occur to Jeannette and to her brother, Brian. On a cold winter’s morning, Rex and Rose Mary drove away from Erma’s house and headed back to Phoenix. They wanted to pick up the rest of their stuff and get the children’s school records. Jeannette could tell both her parents were excited to be leaving. 

Jeannette wondered if her parents would come back. Now that the children were older, she feared they’d become too big a burden. A week past and her parents were still gone. Erma was more critical and mean without Rex around and hit the kids with a wooden spoon. One day, she called Brian into her room to mend his pants. She’d been drinking all morning from a bottle she kept in her housecoat. After a minute, Jeannette heard Brian squirming and whining. She ran to the room and saw Brian crying and Erma on her knees molesting his privates. This is one of the disturbing instances of sexual abuse in The Glass Castle.

Jeannette screamed for her to stop, and Lori came running in. Erma scolded Jeannette and reached back to slap her, but Lori stopped her arm and tried to calm things down. After Erma slapped Lori, the two got into a fist fight, and Lori punched Erma in the face. 

After that, the children weren’t allowed to come out of the basement. They weren’t allowed to use the bathroom upstairs, so they had to go at school or outside. When a snowstorm hit, Erma wouldn’t give them coal for the basement stove. Whenever they weren’t at school, all four kids piled under the covers in their clothes and coats to stay warm. 

When Rex and Rose Mary returned, Erma told them what had happened. Rex stomped down the stairs and went into a tirade about disrespecting their grandmother. He said Brian should stop being such a sissy. The children wondered if Erma had ever done something like that to Rex. None of them wanted to think about it, but they all agreed it would explain a lot

The Downward Spiral Continues 

At the end of their second winter in Welch, Erma died of cirrhosis. Rex slipped into a deeper state of despair and stayed out even longer than before. After four or so days, Rose Mary would send Jeannette to find him. 

Jeannette went from one bar to the next until she found him. One time, Rex was in the seediest bar in town and too drunk to function. The other patrons helped throw in him the back of some man’s truck, and he drove Jeannette and Rex back home. 

Shortly after Erma’s death, Uncle Stanley burned their house down after falling asleep with a cigarette. He and his father moved to a small apartment in town. The apartment had indoor plumbing, and the children would bathe there on weekends. 

Jeannette was waiting for her turn in the bath one afternoon while watching television with Stanley. His hand started to move up her thigh, and she saw that he was masturbating. Rose Mary was in the other room. When Jeannette ran to tell her what was happening, Rose Mary said it was sad how lonely Stanley was, and besides, sexual assault is all about perception. “If you don’t think you’re hurt, then you aren’t,” she said. Jeannette stopped going to the apartment to bathe.  Even though this was a case of sexual abuse in The Glass Castle, Jeannette’s mother didn’t acknowledge it or try to help her.

Was There Sexual Abuse 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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