In The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, Walls utilizes a myriad of rhetorical devices to depict her unconventional and seemingly dysfunctional family. One of the most prevalent rhetorical devices used by Walls throughout the novel is situational irony. One of the characters that most epitomize this irony is the father of the family: Rex Walls. Despite Rex’s above average intelligence, Jeannette even stating that her father has “engineering skills and mathematical genius” (Walls 25), a large aspect of the memoir focuses on her father’s inability to hold a reliable job, an inability that, to some, would borderline sheer incompetence in terms of him sustaining his family.
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A more specific example of this situational irony lies in the scene where Brian reflects on his birthday. He recalls that “Dad and Ginger went to the bedroom…so dad made [him give] Ginger the comic book, telling him it was the gentlemanly thing to do” (Walls 79). Given the fact that Brian is still a child, and cannot rationalize the magnitude of his father spending their already meager income on a female escort, and his qualms of having to give away his comic book to Ginger creates a sense of irony. The juxtaposition of Brian getting upset over a comic book whilst his Dad commits adultery in the same building as him showcases the constant irony that the characters display.
Throughout The Glass Castle Walls’ tone develops as she, herself, develops throughout the memoir. Scenes where she is younger have a childish tone to them. In the quote “Mom also believed in letting nature take its course. She refused to kill the flies that always filled the house; she said they were nature’s food for the birds and lizards. And the birds and lizards were food for the cats.” (Walls 64), Walls is very clearly aiming for minimalism in her word choice and word complexity. Compositionally, the quote almost becomes a run-on sentence, akin to one a child would make.
Structurally, the same can be said for the syntax throughout the memoir. Jeannette Walls keeps the storytelling simple, yet condensed. Akin to the tone, the syntax develops as Jeanette ages throughout the memoir. Sentences are kept at a minimal length. The sentence “mom ran into the room,” (Walls 9) best describes this intentional childlike minimalism. The syntax is kept short and compact, similar to how one would recall very early memories from life; condensed and remembering the gist of most scenarios. As Walls ages, however, the syntax changes; her memories and character have more depth, and thus her syntax reflects this in the form of being longer and more complex. Comparing one of the earlier mentions of her mom to a quote about her mom that occurs in one of the later chapters of the memoir “Mom stared at the ceiling, miming perplexed thought. “I’ve got it.” She held up her glass” (Walls 288), it is clear that the complexity of the syntax is greatly increased as the age of Walls increases.
Right at the start of the novel Jeannette Walls uses ethos to establish the credibility of the following text throughout her memoir. “I’d like to thank my brother, Brian, for standing by me when we were growing up and while I wrote this. I’m also grateful to my mother for believing in art and truth and for supporting the idea of the book; to my brilliant and talented older sister, Lori, for coming around to it; and to my younger sister, Maureen, whom I will always love. And to my father, Rex S. Walls, for dreaming all those big dreams.” (Walls 1). The way in which Walls mentions her brother ‘standing by’ her as she wrote the memoir and her mother ‘supporting’ the book is an attempt at convincing the reader that, not only are the contents of the memoir true, but they have also been validated by the very same people who are described in that memoir.
Walls evokes a sense of pathos in the line “After every game, Robbie wanted to dance with me again. It went on that way for a couple of hours, with Robbie getting sloppy drunk, losing to Dad, and groping me when we danced or sat at the bar between games. All Dad said to me was “Keep your legs crossed, honey, and keep ’em crossed tight.” (Walls 211). Not only is it clear that Jeannette is being used as a means for her father to gain the upper hand in a game of pool, but Rex’s utter disregard for a stranger sexually assaulting her, via groping, elicits a sympathetic response from viewers, not only because of the physical violation she is receiving, but because of her objectification from the other bar members, including her own father, no less.
Jeannette Wall’s portrayal of her life throughout her memoir is greatly complemented by her knowledge of when to utilize simplicity and complexity within her storytelling. Her knowledge of such creates an effective and compelling piece of literature
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