Literary Devices In Glass Castle

“The Glass Castle” is a memoir written by Jeannette Walls, recounting her challenging childhood and growing up with unpredictable, eccentric and dysfunctional parents. Jeannette Walls uses several literary devices in her memoir to give a deep and vivid account of her experiences. She conveys the nuances of her upbringing and family dynamics. The key literary devices utilized in The Glass Castle are as under:

1- Metaphors

Walls uses metaphors extensively to paint vivid pictures and underscore particular themes. For instance, she describes her mother’s passion for painting with the metaphor “When Momma painted, she was in a rapture.” This conveys her sense of reverence and transcendence in art.

The glass castle itself is a metaphor for the huge dreams but ramshackle reality of Walls’ father. The “skedaddle screen” she invents as a girl is a metaphor for avoiding difficult situations. Her comparison of her father to a lion highlights his fierce spirit. Other metaphors include “hot blood of rebellion” and her mother being a “moth to a flame” regarding Santa Fe. Here is the extract of her work, wherein she has used metaphor : –

“My father was the glass castle, always becoming, never arriving”

In the passage, Jeannette Walls uses the metaphor of the ‘glass castle’ to describe her father’s unfulfilled promises and dreams. She calls her father a ‘glass castle’. Walls implies that he was an illusion constantly in the process of being built but never fully formed. This metaphor conveys the sense of disappointment and disillusionment that Jeannette feels towards her father’s unfulfilled promises and her own tumultuous childhood.

2- Similes

Similes are also prevalent in Walls’ writing, further bringing visual life to her experiences. She describes dumpster diving as “like Christmas” due to the bounty inside. The shadows on their house walls make them look “as thin as underfed cattle.” Her mother’s electrified hair is “like a spider web that’s caught in a gust of wind.” Walls also uses similes to underscore hardship, like saying their house in Phoenix felt “as cold and damp as a cave.” Following are the extract wherein the Walls has used the literary device simile: –

“I had planted a grand garden that I envisioned being filled bumper to bumper with blossoms, like a Monet painting, but what came up was scraggly and undernourished”

Walls uses the simile ‘like a Monet painting‘ to express her own hopeful imagination juxtaposed with the disappointing reality of what her garden actually looked like. When she says ‘like a Monet painting’, she draws a comparison between her idea of a perfect garden and the beautiful impressive garden scenes painted by famous French impressionist artist Claude Monet. Her use of this simile dramatically highlights the contrast between her grand expectations and the stark reality.

3- Personification

Walls personifies abstract concepts to make them more visceral. For example, she writes “fear had too tight a grip” on her mother, the wind “clawed at the chicken wire” on their shack, and that hard times “preyed on” her father’s doubts. This technique infuses more emotion and intimacy into Walls’ experiences. Here is the example: –

“The stars twinkled and winked at me like old friends”

Walls personifies the stars as old friends giving them human like qualities that make them seem more tangible and relatable. This personification not only creates a sense of warmth and familiarity but also underscores the intangible and largely unchanging aspect of the stars themselves. She refers the stars as “old friends,” to add a sense of comfort and endurance to the image suggesting that they have been a constant presence in her life throughout its challenges.

4- Alliteration

Alliteration or repetition of consonant sounds can make writing more musical. Walls uses alliteration at poignant moments, like describing debris swirling “in dust devils” during a windstorm and the “hot red light of the setting sun” as they arrive in the desert. She also describes her mother “hunching her shoulders” in a vivid scene. Here’s an example of alliteration in the book:

“The mountain mists swirled and twirled like ballerinas, their ethereal grace a stark contrast to the rugged terrain below”.

The author uses the alliteration to describe the mountain mists comparing them to graceful ballerinas. The repetition of the ‘tw’ sound creates a soothing and musical quality that enhances the imagery of the scene. She uses this alliteration to create a sense of wonder and awe in the reader’s mind and to draw attention to the beauty and fragility of the natural world.

5- Imagery

In the memoir, the use of imagery serves to engage the reader emotionally and to create a more immersive reading experience. She uses the vivid and evocative language to draw the reader into the world of her memories and makes them feel more real and tangible. The imagery also serves to convey the emotional experience of the narrator adding depth and complexity to the narrative. Through the use of imagery, Walls is able to craft a powerful and moving memoir that explores the complexities of growing up in an unconventional household. Here is an example of imagery in the book:

“The desert was a vast, unforgiving expanse, a sea of sand that stretched out in every direction, like a scorched and starved creature”.

While using the imagery, Walls describes the desert comparing it to a vast and unforgiving creature. The use of the word ‘sea’ to describe the sand creates a sense of vastness and emptiness, while the comparison to a ‘scorched and starved’ creature highlights the harsh conditions of the desert environment. The imagery in this passage not only creates a vivid picture of the desert but also conveys the emotional experience of feeling small and insignificant in the face of such a vast and unforgiving landscape.

6- Hyperbole

As many memoirists do, Walls employs hyperbole or exaggeration at times to emphasize struggles and strengthen impact. While using exaggeration and overstatement, Walls conveys the emotional intensity of her experiences and the unpredictable nature of her childhood. The hyperbole also serves to emphasize the impact of key events on the narrator making the reader more emotionally invested in the story. Here’s the example of hyperbole from memoir: –

“My father was a genie in a bottle, conjuring up madness with every rub of his humming hands”.

The literary technique of hyperbole has been used in the memoir to describe her father’s hands comparing them to a magical genie that can conjure up madness with every rub. The exaggeration of the father’s hands creates a sense of mystery and wonder, which emphasizes the impact he had on Jeannette’s life. The use of hyperbole in this passage not only creates a vivid image but also underscores the emotional intensity of the narrator’s experiences.

7- Motifs

Certain motifs or recurring elements also lend symbolic significance. Fire appears throughout as both creative and destructive. Walls associates fire with her mother’s passion but also burnt-down houses. Birds represent freedom and whimsy but also Walls’ feeling of being trapped. Food motifs trace the feast-or-famine nature of their lives. Here’s an example of the motif of the glass castle:

“Home was a sad, sad place, a castle made of glass that crumbled and shattered with every breath of wind”.

Walls uses the motif of the glass castle to describe the fragility of her childhood home. The use of the word ‘sad’ is to describe the home emphasizes the instability and futility of the glass castle, which is prone to shattering with the slightest breeze. The comparison of the home to a castle also underscores the idea of security and protection, which are central themes in the book.

8- Foreshadowing

Walls uses foreshadowing to hint at the book’s themes. For instance, the opening scene of the book shows Walls’ mother rummaging through the garbage, which hints at the familial dysfunction and poverty that becomes central to her story. Following is the example of foreshadowing in the book: –

“My father’s enthusiasms were as ephemeral as the desert sunsets, disappearing without warning”.

In the above context, Walls uses foreshadowing to hint at the instability and unpredictability of her father’s behavior. The use of the word ‘ephemeral’ to describe the sunsets creates a sense of fleetingness and uncertainty and the comparison to her father’s enthusiasms underscores the idea that his behavior is equally unpredictable. This foreshadowing creates a sense of tension and anticipation as the reader wonders what will happen next with her father.

9- Flashbacks

Much of “The Glass Castle” is told through the use of flashbacks, with Walls often jumping back and forth between past and present. This technique allows the reader to witness the stark contrast between Wall’s grown-up life and her childhood. For example: –

“I remembered the time my father had taken me to the Grand Canyon, how he had pointed to the vast expanse of rock and canyon below and told me, ‘This is your inheritance, kid. This is what you’re working with”.

Here the literary device ‘flashback’ has been used to describe a pivotal moment in the relationship of Walls with her father. The use of the past tense and the phrase ‘I remembered’ creates a sense of nostalgia and reflection. The description of the Grand Canyon and the father’s words develop a sense of awe and wonder.

10- Irony

There’s an element of irony in Walls’ parent’s unconventional beliefs and the results of those beliefs. Despite their high regard for self-reliance and non-conformity, their lifestyle resulted in squalor, poverty, and child neglect, which directly contrasts with their ideals. Here’s an example of irony in the memoir: –

“My father was always saying that we were going to move to a magical place where he would build us a beautiful house with big windows and a view of the mountains. But we never moved anywhere. Instead, we stayed in the same dingy apartment, surrounded by the same dingy city”.

The writer has used the irony to highlight the disconnect between her father’s promises and the reality of their situation. The use of the word “magical” to describe the imagined place contrasts with the dinginess of their actual surroundings, creating a sense of irony. The repetition of the phrase “but we never moved anywhere” emphasizes the disappointment and disillusionment that Jeannette feels towards her father’s unfulfilled promises.


In summary, Walls leverages literary devices masterfully in The Glass Castle to enrich her narrative. The metaphors, similes, hyperbole, alliteration, and other techniques deepen the emotion, visualize the scenes, accentuate themes, and give deeper meaning to this poignant memoir. The literary devices enable Walls to vividly render her upbringing for readers in a compelling, immersive, and unforgettable way.

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