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“I’m worried about you,” I said. “Tell me what I can do to help.”

“You want to help me change my life?” Mom asked. “I’m fine. You’re the one who needs help. Your values are all confused.” – The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

On Wednesday, Strings Music Festival will present a one-hour theatrical adaptation of Jeannette Walls’ best-selling memoir, The Glass Castle. This performance strays from our typical music concert and I thought it appropriate to address one of the themes of the book. If you haven’t read it, perhaps my editorial below will entice you to read the book, attend the performance, or both.

Poverty continues to exist in America and countless organizations across the nation are devoted to providing food, shelter, and clothing to the poor. But before we try to solve the poverty problem, first we must look at why it exists. Some say there aren’t enough jobs or that wages are too low. Others say the government’s definition of poverty is inaccurate. The list goes on, but most agree that external factors, such as unemployment rates and welfare, may contribute to some of the poverty problem. However, we also must take into consideration the internal factors, individual psychological make-up, that may lead to poverty.

In Jeannette Walls’ memoir The Glass Castle, she tells her own story of growing up in poverty. Yet, none of the typical assumptions seem to apply to her. Her parents both had jobs, and chose to leave them. Her mother owned a house and land where they could live at no cost. Her mother also inherited some land that may have been worth as much as one million dollars. So why did the Walls never have enough food to eat or adequate shoes on their feet?

Internal factors may explain some of the reasons. Jeannette’s parents, Rex and Rose Mary, ultimately quit their jobs because they had bigger dreams. Her mother wanted to be an artist and so quit teaching so she could focus on painting. Her father wanted to be an entrepreneur, so he quit working for the mines to design new inventions for gold mining. But her mother never became a famous artist and her father never did build the glass castle.

Rex and Rose Mary Walls needed some guidance to make their dreams come true. With some instruction, Rex could have moved from the design phase to the implementation phase. Perhaps he really could have struck it rich with some help on how to turn an idea into reality. Rose Mary could have used some advice on owning a house or perhaps being a landlord. Once the family moved from their house, she could have rented it to have a stable source of income each month. She could provide for her family and have free time to work on her art. But Rex and Rose Mary Walls chose not to seek help, or heed advice, and instead opted to live in the moment, ultimately leading to a life in poverty.

While individual psychological make-up can lead a person to poverty, it can also let her escape. In her memoir, Jeannette illustrates this point once she is old enough to have some freedom from her parents to make her own decisions. She works many jobs and saves all her money. She takes her schooling seriously and seeks out mentors who help her dreams to come true. She puts together a plan, follows through, and ends up with food on the table and a bed to sleep in every night.

Jeannette sums up the pull between external and internal factors near the end of the book:

One day Professor Fuchs asked if homelessness was the result of drug abuse and misguided entitlement programs, as the conservatives claimed, or did it occur, as the liberals argued, because of cuts in social-service programs and failure to create economic opportunity for the poor? Professor Fuchs called on me.
I hesitated. “Sometimes, I think, it’s neither.”
“Can you explain yourself?”
“I think that maybe sometimes people get the lives they want.”
“Are you saying homeless people want to live on the street?” Professor Fuchs asked. “Are you saying they don’t want warm beds and roofs over their heads?”
“Not exactly,” I said. I was fumbling for words. “They do. But if some of them were willing to work hard and make compromises, they might not have ideal lives, but they could make ends meet” (pg. 256-257).

Jeannette Walls

Poverty is not the only theme of The Glass Castle. The book also touches on other topics, including child abuse, sexual harassment, and alcoholism, all of which form a starting place for discussion. If you haven’t read the book, the one-hour theatrical verbatim performance, will give you all you need to know about the story. Afterwards you will be able to participate in a full discussion on the themes.

Glass Castle Events:

November 1, 6:30pm Library Hall: Interactive drama-in-education discussion of The Glass Castle with seasoned theatre professionals from The American Place Theatre.

Free – RSVP to jlay@steamboatlibrary.org

November 2, 6:30pm Strings Music Pavilion:  A 90-minute with pre and post show discussions. 

$15 for adults; $10 for teens – buy tickets online at stringsmusicfestival.com, by calling (970) 879-5056 x 105, or by visiting the Strings Music Festival Office or the Bud Werner Library front desk.

November 3, Soroco High School: An Outreach performance with students who have studied The Glass Castle will include workshops with actress Sarah Franek and education specialists from The American Place Theatre.

Posted on October 31, 2011
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Comments [3]

  • 3 Nov, 2011 Strings Music Festival says:

    In last night’s discussion of The Glass Castle, actress Sarah Franek also touched on internal factors. She mentioned that Jeannette felt extremely loved by her family, especially by her father. She also had very strong relationships with teachers and other role models. Her self-image was also high; she didn’t associate herself with garbage when the other kids called her garbage. Do loving relationships lead to a high self-image? Did Jeannette’s high self-image allow her to pull herself out of poverty? Why do some have what it takes to change and others do not? Add your thoughts to the discussion.

  • 4 Nov, 2011 Anonymous says:

    This departure from Strings usual musical presentation is worthwhile and hopefully will spark a greater appreciation of what others are enduring as well as a greater appreciation of how fortunate we are to live where we do.

  • 8 Nov, 2011 Erin says:

    You can also share your comments on The American Place Theatre website: http://www.americanplacetheatre.org/roster/show/the-glass-castle. Others from around the country have seen the Glass Castle Performance and the discussion continues.

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