The Glass Castle: Section 3, Chapters 49-51

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Summary – Section Three, Chapters Forty Nine, Fifty and Fifty One

 
She refused to go with him to other bars after this and over the days he asked for $20 and then another one. He also cashed a check meant for Mom and with a month to go before her return, they had run out of money. For the first time, she realized what her mother was ‘up against’.
 
She found work in a shop called Becker’s Jewel Box and said she was 17. Becker hired her on the spot for $40 a week. She enjoyed the job, but was furious that he did not trust her when she was on her own. When a woman came over from another of his stores, she told Jeannette that she was also paid commission on her sales. He told her she was only an assistant and not a salesperson and the next day she stole a watch (as retribution and because she liked it). She returned it, however, when she realized she would never be able to wear it.
 
In Chapter Fifty, Jeannette recounts how Lori returned in late August and was glowing. While away it occurred to her that if she left Welch and her family ‘she might have a shot at a happy life’. Mom came back shortly after and told them she had been living her life for other people and intended to quit her job and devote herself to art. Jeannette explains she had also changed over the summer and told her mother to go back to work, and added that if she wanted to be treated like a mother she should act like one.
 
Her father reprimanded her for this and Jeannette asked them why they did not act like parents. They argued and he insisted she apologize, but she would not. He took off his belt and told her to bend over. She thought if he beat her he would lose her forever and called his bluff. Nevertheless, he hit her six times on the thighs.
 
She walked out of the kitchen and saw her mother outside the door. Her mother said nothing, but Jeannette could see her triumphant expression. She went out and ran into the woods and made two important decisions. The first was that this was the last whipping she would have. The second one was that, like Lori, she was leaving Welch. She did not know the details, but started saving and bought a plastic piggy bank. She put in $75 from her job and this was the beginning of her ‘escape fund’.
 
Chapter Fifty One recounts how two men from New York (City) showed up at their school in the fall and they were different to anyone they had ever met. They had been sent as part of a government program ‘to bring cultural uplift to rural Appalachia’. One weekend they showed a Swedish film and afterwards Lori showed them some of her illustrations. They told her she was talented and said she needed to go to New York if she was serious about being an artist.
 
Lori began to see it as the Emerald City, ‘where she could become the person she was meant to be’.
 
Jeannette decided she wanted to go there too and they came up with a plan that winter. Lori would leave in June after graduating and Jeannette would follow as soon as she could. They started saving together and both worked at various jobs to do so. Brian also pitched in with money from work such as gardening. This all went into their piggy bank, which they now called Oz. They kept this in their bedroom and could only get to the money by breaking it.
 
The narrative cuts to Dad and to how he bought a new car. At weekends they loaded the car with Mom’s paintings and tried to sell them at craft fairs throughout the state. These visits reminded Jeannette how easy it was to move on.
 
Analysis – Section Three, Chapters Forty Nine, Fifty and Fifty One
 
The plans to leave Welch are introduced in the chapters and it is telling that Lori continued to use The Wizard of Oz as a means to explain her dream of leaving home and escaping the family life she detested. This was a favorite book of hers as a child and its influence remains in the naming of the piggy bank as Oz and in seeing New York as the Emerald City.
 
This gives this autobiography the element of a fairy tale once again, as it did also in the descriptions of Erma and in Lori’s statement that ‘ding-dong the witch is dead’ when asked to say something about her Grandma. By drawing on the fairy tale, the author highlights the unreality of their childhood and also the possibility of having a happy ending despite the surface evidence.
 
 

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