The American Dream is dead

The American Dream is dead. The age-old concept has finally come to rest, as an impossible ideology that only worked for our ancestors. Unless born into wealth, even those with the grandest valor will be tossed to the curb, say those who have never heard of Jeannette Walls. Her critically acclaimed memoir The Glass Castle demonstrates the resilience and self-sufficiency necessary to improve our standing on the unforgiving social hierarchy. In a tale of perseverance against personal and economic hardships, Jeanette struggles to provide for her siblings and build a successful future. After being beaten down time and time again by her dysfunctional family and unfavorable circumstances, Jeanette escapes to New York and makes a name for herself as a famous journalist. The Glass Castle accentuates the need for balance between having faith in the unknown and having the grit to accomplish your goals.
As a toddler, Jeannette severely burns herself while attempting to boil hot-dogs. When asked why she is left unsupervised, Jeannette responds, “Mom says I’m mature for my age and she lets me cook for myself a lot” (11). She knows that in the Walls’ household, sometimes the children will get burned by their parent’s negligence, but they still have to find a way to eat.
Jeanette’s main struggle is dealing with her father’s (Rex Walls) alcoholism and mental instability. As a young child, Jeanette envisions Walls as her role-model, but as she grows up, more of his faults are revealed. Rex is a stubborn iconoclast and free-thinking scientist who refuses to conform to society. Her dad resembles Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, switching between a reliable, kind father and a complete monster. Jeanette holds on to the idea of him being good, and is often disappointed.
Jeannette’s unconventional childhood teaches her to grow up with the scrappy attitude necessary for survival. Days go by with brother Brian and her running around barefoot outside, simply enjoying nature. When Jeannette gets older, her dad decides that she should learn how to swim, so he rounds up the family, and they journey to the nearest hot spring. Like any “good” father would do, he throws her in the water and lets her figure it out herself. Rex’s flawed reasoning is, “…One lesson every parent needs to teach a child is ‘if you don’t want to sink, you’d better figure out how to swim'” (66). In our demanding society, only the best, brightest, and hardest working individuals find themselves at the top. Today’s famous names are the people who took their innovative (and sometimes slightly wacky) ideas and fought with all their might to make their creations well-known and widespread. This ideology follows Jeannette in her life and symbolizes how she has to become self-sufficient at a very young age.
Americans have a reputation for their relentless optimism. We often hear stories in the media of powerful influences crawling their way up from their treacherous pasts; people who truly embody the spirit of the “American Dream.” Both Rex and Jeannette have dreams of their own that would get them through the toughest years of their lives. Rex envisions a magical castle of glass for his family to live. Those shining walls would soothe the pain from poverty and erase any hurt caused by Rex’s actions. He thinks that all the times he wasted money on alcohol, didn’t pay his bills, and abused his family will be forgotten once he is able to finally give them a life of luxury. However, he held onto his dream a little too tightly, which shattered a better, more realistic life he could have given his family. Once Jeannette realizes Rex’s mistake, she moves onto the bigger and better dream of becoming a journalist in New York City. Knowing that being “perfect” is an unattainable concept, Jeannette continues to work to give herself the best life she could. When Jeannette is offered a job to write about the behind-the-scenes lives of important people, she takes the chance to reflect on both her life and the lives of others: “I wanted to let the world know that no one had a perfect life, that even the people who seemed to have it all had their secrets” (270). With all the hardships she has to endure, Jeannette manages to build her own glass castle by holding onto her dreams while still being rational and rooted in reality.