Parental Neglect in The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

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Parental Neglect in The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • The Glass Castle: The Effects of Physical Parental Neglect
  • The Issues Faced by Neglected Children as Shown in The Glass Castle
  • Conclusion


'Parental neglect refers to a condition characterized by parental failure to attend appropriately the physical, psychological, and social needs of the child' (Khaleque 1). One deeply damaging and under-recognized type of abuse is parental neglect. In Jeannette Walls' book, The Glass Castle, Jeannette's parents' neglect nearly results in her death multiple times with explosions, fires, and downright dangerous living quarters. Neglecting a child has serious consequences including social deficiencies, mental problems, ignorance, and physical problems.

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The Glass Castle: The Effects of Physical Parental Neglect

Physical parental neglect leads to unsafe environments which can cause serious injury. Physically neglected children's parents ignore the child's environment and circumstances. Neglect may not initially present as very urgent, but when the child finds themselves in a dangerous situation with no help from their parents, this causes a dangerous, possibly lethal problem. When a child becomes severely injured or finds themselves in a traumatic situation it is known as a childhood traumatic event and on occasion will cause PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). These issues called ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) group together all traumatic events such as abuse and parental mental illness. People with more than one ACE have worse health outcomes. Natalie Burke with TED talk states, "The higher your ACE score, the worse your health outcome. For a person with an ACE score of four or more, their risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was two and half times that of someone with a score of zero. For hepatitas it was also two and a half times" (Burke). ACEs are dangerous and not only increase your likeliness of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and hepatitis, but also depression (4x as likely), suicidality (12x), lung cancer (3x), and ischemic heart disease (3 ½x). ACEs hold a severely high risk of fatality stemming from the fact that the patient is twelve twelve times as likely to have suicidality and three and a half times the likelihood of getting ischemic heart disease, the number one killer in the United States. In the Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, Jeannette comes close to death multiple times purely because her parents decided they didn't care to watch her, "So we mixed up a batch of what Brian called nuclear fuel, pouring different liquids into a can. When I tossed in the match, a cone of flame shot up with a whoosh like a jet afterburner" (Walls 61). In fact her father said, "It's a place where no rules apply, or at least they haven't figured them out yet. You-all got a little too close to it today" (Walls 61). Her father doesn't bother watching his children and they almost kill themselves mixing chemicals and lighting them on fire. He even admits that they came close to death in his own metaphorical way. Physical parental neglect can be survived. If someone has been physically neglected they can live a full, self-sufficient life, but emotional neglect does not result in the same positive outcomes.

The Issues Faced by Neglected Children as Shown in The Glass Castle

Neglected children may suffer from ignorance, mental problems, and may not receive adequate social exposure. Children when neglected are often scarred for life and they are worse off because they do not know how to behave. They often develop problems such as aggression, or insecurity because the parents do not bother to teach their children how to act or think for themselves. Youths with exceptionalities may not get the help and support they deserve. As Abdul Khaleque states, 'Individuals who perceive themselves to be rejected by their parents or by other attachment figures tend to develop problems with: (1) anger, hostility, aggression; (2) dependence or defensive independence; (3) negative self-esteem; (4) negative self-adequacy; (5) emotional instability; (6) emotional unresponsiveness" (Khaleque 2). Children who feel neglected often lash out because they become subconsciously aware that they should feel cared for in a loving way. Low self esteem results from children feeling inadequate and unwanted. The emotional instability they experience removes any sense of normality from their lives, leaving them emotionally unresponsive. In The Glass Castle the Mother emotionally neglects the children multiplus times she even wants to stop working, "‘You can't quit your job', I said. ‘We need the money.''Why do I always have to be the one who earns the money?' Mom asked. ‘You have a job. You can earn money. Lori can earn money, too. I've got more important things to do.'" (Walls 218). The Mother shrugs off all of her duties and throws them on her children not considering the stress she causes them. Putting the financial stress of the whole family on the children's shoulders may cause copious stress. Which can lead to depression and anxiety which will mentally damage them and hinder their adult lives. While emotional abuse may mentally scar for life and physical neglect can kill, they can both be survived as Jeannette Walls proves.


In The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls shares her stories and experiences of neglect, abuse, and alcoholism and their impact on her life. Walls' personal exposure to parental abuse left deep, lasting emotional and physical scars. Rosemary and Rex Walls' deliberately neglectful choices created heinous social and psychological problems that have lasted Jeanette her entire life. Abuse in the form of neglect is an issue that touches us all. We want to pretend it doesn't exist or apply to us, but it does. This problem will not end until we admit the problem, and we purge the world of its existence.

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