Living in a country where people have the freedom to define their own destiny, based on the choices made over a lifetime, means that no one has the power to define who you are and what you choose to pursue in life. Glass Castle, written by Jeannette Walls, is a powerful true story about a young girl who does not allow the challenges of growing up in poverty define who she becomes as an adult. Her childhood was plagued with people defining her worth by what they saw and assumed rather than truly understanding that within the poor, tattered young girl was a bright, creative mind wanting nothing more than to survive and be safe. Learning was something she believed in and made time for as she was growing up, but it was pure survival that kept her going from day to day. Jeannette’s memoir reinforces the fact that no person should be labeled based on socioeconomic status because wealth does not define character and value.
Pride and self-awareness is something that lives within us. I believe that it is that same pride and self-awareness that feeds us from within and helps us move from one point of social status to another as it drives us to learn and grow. People do not choose to be born into poverty, but those who experience that life and choose to rise above that lifestyle do so by being aware that they have the power to change their life experiences. Jeannette begins her memoir by describing a moment when she spots a homeless woman sifting through a dumpster in search of food and necessary items. Embarrassment and frustration sets in when Jeannette realizes the woman is actually her mother. Rather than stopping to help her mother or ensure her mother’s needs are met, Jeannette continues on to her party praying her family secret will never be shared with others. Even though Jeannette is now considered a respected, educated member of society, what no ones knows is that she was once a child of poverty being raised by the very woman digging trash out of the dumpster. That poor, dirty woman was the same mother who attempted to keep Jeannette and her siblings safe and loved as they moved from one place to another trying to outsmart the welfare system and stay off the radar of others who were judging their existence. At the end of the novel Jeannette reflects on the fact that her parents, even when offered support from their children, did not want to rise out of the life of poverty because it was a life that they knew and understood. I have had the experience of going to school with students who struggle with having their basic needs met at home. Those kids are in my honors classes and working hard to get good grades so a free college education can be an option for them. Those same students share stories of siblings and family members who dropped out of school and choose to live on the system like their parents because that was all they knew and all they aspired to be.
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