If you have not seen the film The Glass Castle already, by now you know about it and probably heard of its difficulty among critics and box office. Based on the 2005 memoir by Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle focuses on Jeanette’s upbringing with her dysfunctional, traveling family. Her father is an alcoholic with a hot temper that can’t hold down a job, and her mother is a painter simply focused on her own interest. The family constantly is on the move from city to city, living in their car, moving truck, tents, and eventually, their abandoned house that they rebuilt. As the film moves from the present (1989) to the past (the 1960s and 1970s), we watch Jeanette and her siblings grow up, realizing that their promised Glass Castle and happy life will never happen as long as they stay trapped in their parents’ house. As they reach adulthood, each sibling leaves the house, with or without their parents’ consent. It comes to the point where Jeanette herself has nearly isolated herself from her parents as she lives on her own, makes a name for herself in journalism, and eventually gets engaged.
Jeanette views and interactions with life become entirely different, almost as if she is a different person altogether. When her parents re-enter her life, it is difficult for her to be around them, let alone forgive them for the trouble they caused in her and her siblings’.
For some of us, life was pretty easy going in terms of family dynamics. Some of us had great parents, a loving family, and even had Christ at the center. I am one of those people. While I am grateful for the life I have been blessed with, others cannot say the same for themselves. I have met people over who have had it a lot harder, from growing up with abusive parents to having a father or mother walk out on them.
As seen my review, there were some conflicts that were difficult to analyze, one of them being forgiveness. In this article, I will be focusing on forgiveness but not in a typical way. We are often told as Christians that no matter what, you have to forgive as you have been forgiven by God. While forgiveness is one of the major points of being a Christian as well as a number of other faiths and principles, it is one that is definitely not easy to do.
**Please be advised that this article does contain major spoilers of The Glass Castle and also some suggestive content. Reader’s discretion is advised.**
In the film, The Glass Castle, there are countless scenes and moments where Jeanette’s father’s actions are horrendous and appalling. One that greatly struck me was when he was trying to teach Jeanette how to swim by throwing her into the pool and when he falls back into drinking after promising her that he would give it up. However, out of all these moments in the film, the scene that had me absolutely enraged was when she and her siblings confronted their father about their grandmother (his mother) sexuality assaulting their little brother. Rather than confronting their grandmother, he did nothing and just continued to find a house.
To further understand this type of family dysfunction, I interviewed someone with a similar background to Jeanette who chose to remain anonymous. A particular part of their life they opened up about was very similar to the situation regarding Jeannette’s brother.
“[My mother] sat me down in front of the room and made me tell my dad what had happened. I just started to cry because it was so humiliating. She explained it to my dad and he was really quiet… I remember my dad confronted my grandfather and he denied all of it. From then on, my grandfather never talked to me, even when we visited and my parents noticed, but that was the extent of it. They never talked about it. They didn’t ask me how I was or how I felt… Years went by and I remembered when I was 16 or 17 because what happened to me was when I was 10. I heard my dad asking my mom in Spanish if I ever remembered and my mom responded that she doesn’t remember. I had my back turned to them as I was washing the dishes and I was crying that they would just sweep it under the rug.”
In another scene with the Walls family, Jeannette’s father begins abusing his wife, and the kids try to stop him. It comes to the point where even the mother begins defending her husband from her kids. My interviewee as well went through another similar situation.
“[My father] didn’t really come home drunk a lot. It was more when he came home in a bad mood or when my parents would argue…[my siblings and I] would hide in the back room because it was so violent… I saw a lot. I remember my parents arguing and I just went to my room. Where my bedroom was down the hall, you had to pass my parents’ room. One night, I forgot to close the door and I saw my dad literally dragging my mother to her bedroom…he had his arm around her neck and the rest of her body was dragging. She was trying to fight him to let her go and I made eye contact with her and it was scary… he was very abusive and would hit her.”
Throughout most of Jeanette’s adult life, she did not find it in her to forgive for countless reasons, despite her mother’s plea. Regardless of some of the surprising qualities her father had, it was still hard to view them as redemptive compared to everything else he put his family through. Still, through his good qualities, Jeanette makes the decision to visit her father and reconcile the past to the point where even he is asking for forgiveness. In the end, despite all the pain and hardship, she forgives him. Even I, a Christian, was asking, “How did she find it in herself to forgive him?” In a number of reviews I read about the film, critics were asking the same question, and they criticized it for being too forgiving.
As I sat in the theater during the closing credits, I began to really think about what forgiveness was. As seen with her father, Jeannette may have forgiven him, but she did not disregard his actions and poor parenting nor does she replace her trust in him. Forgiveness is the beginning of reconciliation as the walls of hatred are brought down. It does not make everything better immediately. It is a process between both parties and with oneself. It took Jeannette years to forgive her father and despite the struggle, she does in a very powerful way. The interviewee had a similar voice when confronting her father before his passing.
“Two months before my father passed away, he called me. I think he knew his time was coming and I have a feeling what happened when I was 10 was bothering him after all this time and he asked me ‘I wanted to check in with you if there is anything you want to say to me or anything that has happened in the past that you want to talk about?’ I asked why he was asking this and he said he didn’t want to leave loose ends. I immediately started crying and even began shaking. I said, ‘You did nothing to protect me. You did nothing as if it was unspoken and that didn’t even matter.’
He calmed me down and said it was not his intentions. I responded that it didn’t matter because life went on and we’d continue to visit grandfather. He then said, ‘Your mom and I were not sure how to handle it and your mom suggested to not bring it up at all.” which was so like my mother. I told him, “That’s not the way it works. I’ve been carrying this around a long time….God has protected me to not allow this to affect my marriage but this was never dealt with.’ For my dad, there was closure and at least I knew why they didn’t say anything. I never found out that my parents or anything inside our family did something to my kids, I don’t give a crap if they are in relation to us, I will press as far as the law will allow us to go because I will not allow my kids to go through what I went through when we didn’t talk about it.”
Despite the difficulty of confronting her father, she also found it in herself to forgive him before his time.
“I believe with all my heart from the age of 8 years old, God’s hand was on me. The roots of bitterness and resentment were deep in my family to the point where they wouldn’t go to funerals to pay respects. I saw from a young age what was going on and knew that God’s hand was over me to not hold a grudge. I wouldn’t say forgiveness came easily for me, but it kind of did because I am not a grudge holder… What happened to me with my father, other women I have known have had bitter views towards men and still do. But again, I think God has protected me and it has in no way affected the relationship I have with my husband.”
When one has a deep and true understanding of God’s sacrifice on the cross, forgiveness and the reason we are called to forgive are deeply recognized. While there is little to no mention of God in The Glass Castle, forgiveness plays a vital role in the overall film let alone in the life of Jeanette Walls. While people like Jeanette and my interviewee have been able to find forgiveness in themselves after years of struggle, it cannot be said for others and that is why stories such as these are very important. While we may never know the struggle of someone trying to forgive, the stories like Jeannette’s are absolutely important and need to be heard from women and men alike, children and adults.
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