The Glass Castle: Section 2, Chapters 14-16

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Summary – Section Two, Chapters Fourteen, Fifteen and Sixteen

Dad found work as an electrician in a barite mine and left early and came home early. He taught the children how to play cards and when he was not there they invented their own pastimes. Jeannette’s favorite was exploring in the desert.
 
When her father had money, he would take them to the Owl Club for dinner on a Sunday. At this time, he rarely went out drinking and after dinner they would all stretch out on the benches and floors of the depot and read. They had a dictionary in the middle of the room for the children to check words. If they did not agree with a definition, Jeannette and her father would write a letter to the publisher. If they responded to defend their position, Dad wrote back an even longer letter and this continued until they stopped hearing from ‘the dictionary people’.
 
Jeannette’s mother read everything including works by Charles Dickens and William Faulkner. Her father preferred science and math books. The children read whatever their mother brought home from the library. Jeannette used to like the Laura Ingalls Wilder stories and the We Were There series; her main preference was Black Beauty, though.
 
Chapter Fifteen outlines how the children were enrolled at school and Jeannette was now in second grade. She already knew the subjects Miss Page taught, but she did not want to look too keen again as she wanted the other children to like her. Her father accused her of ‘coasting’ and sometimes made her do her arithmetic homework in binary numbers. Before class, she usually changed it back to Arabic numbers but one day she did not have time and Miss Page asked if her work was supposed to be a joke. Jeannette tried to explain it was binary numbers, and how computers used them, and Miss Page stared at her. She also made her stay late and complete her homework to her satisfaction.
 
Many of her fellow schoolchildren lived in the same poor neighborhood as them, and the area was known as the Tracks. Jeannette and her siblings were allowed to go ‘pretty much anywhere’ and were only chastized for ‘talking back’ or for disobedience. They also had to come in when the streetlights came on and Mom told them to use commonsense.
 
When Jeannette was out playing, she often found beautiful rocks and started a collection. She and Brian also liked to go to the dump and they found and took home toxic and hazardous waste put it in a shed that they re-named their laboratory. They mixed things together but nothing happened so the next day they unscrewed some of the lids and threw in lit matches. Finally, one of the mixtures caught fire and ‘a cone of flame’ shot up. They were knocked to their feet and as they got up they noticed one of the walls was on fire. She managed to squeeze her way out of the shed and called for help and Dad heard and rescued Brian. He did not tell them off, but said how it was a coincidence that he was coming by at that time. He pointed to the top of the fire where there was ‘an invisible shimmery heat’ and said how that zone was known in physics ‘as the boundary between turbulence and order’.
 
Chapter Sixteen recounts how the children were not given an allowance and when they wanted money they collected used beer cans and bottles and received two cents each for these. She and Brian also collected scrap metal and when they had money they went to the drugstore for candy.
 
On their way home, they liked to spy on the Green Lantern, which was a large dark green house that Mom said was a ‘cathouse’. Jeannette could not work out what happened in there and her mother would not explain so it remained ‘a place of irresistible mystery’. One day Brian went over to talk to one of the women who was on the porch and after this he used to wave to them.
 
Analysis – Section Two, Chapters Fourteen, Fifteen and Sixteen 
The place between turbulence and order that Dad points out to Brian and Jeannette is a significant aspect of this work. This is because it may also be seen as symbolically representative of Dad’s life and, in turn, of the way the children are raised.
 
As though to represent the element of order in their upbringing, the intelligence and high level of education that the children are expected to attain is referred to in these chapters too. This comes when Jeannette tells of how her father expected her to do her maths homework in binary numbers. She also demonstrates that her teacher did not comprehend what she and her father fully understood.
 
 
 

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