If you look at fire — really look at a fire — you will see a sort of haze at the top. A place where you can see what’s beyond, but it’s rather unclear. In “The Glass Castle”, written by Jeannette Walls, Rex Walls says that this zone “was known in physics as the boundary between turbulence and order” (61). This hazy boundary can be used to describe what the Walls’ family life is becoming. The kids don’t usually know when or what their next meal will be, and the parents are never guaranteed to come home.
I like to call this place Middleville. Turbulence is when you can’t see any future, just the hot “snapping yellow flames” (61). Order is when everything is clear, you can gaze out into the desert with the warm air breathing on your face and know what’s coming. The Walls’ family remains in Middleville, they don’t know what’s next or how to plan for anything that’s coming, they are just trying to make it through the present.
In any household, it is important to have a mealtime, and provide meals for the family. In the Walls’ household, this mealtime is rare, but not completely inexistent. There was one instance where “an extra-big royalty check came in. [Their) mom bought (them) a whole canned ham” (172). They ate this ham for about a week until it was full of maggots because they had no refrigerator.
Although this may seem like they are spiraling into turbulence, it is an improvement from other meals they’ve been forced to swallow.
The ham gave them a quick vision of what their future could be like if both of their parents brought money into the house. When there appears to be absolutely no order within the household, the kids resort to outside sources to re establish this boundary. Jeannette realized that other students at her school often threw away large amounts of food, so she began to forage in the trash cans for anything she could get. She said “[t]here was, at times, more food in the wastebasket than she could eat” (173). Maureen, Jeannette’s younger sister, resorted to visiting friend’s houses for dinner. She “would show up at their houses around dinnertime” and “had plenty to eat” (173). For the kids, this constant, yet unorthodox supply of food is what maintained some order in their house, but if any of these outside sources managed to fall through, they could tumble right into turbulence again. Their only hope is to try to make themselves comfortable in Middleville, remaining very close to the fire burning below.
There are a few instances when the parents begin to push towards turbulence, and the kids are forced to figure out how to re-establish some order yet again. One winter, the parents decided to go to Phoenix to pick up some of the stuff they’d left behind. Jeannette’s younger brother, Brian, asked “Do you think they’ll come back?” (145). The kids were forced into uncertainty. They managed to take care of each other, even when the temperature dropped and they weren’t allowed to use any coal. “[W]e’d climb under the covers with our clothes on and our homework there” (147). In the summer, their mom “had to spend eight weeks up in Charleston taking college courses to renew her teaching certificate. Or so she said” (208). She gave Jeannette two hundred dollars to budget over those eight weeks. This change of power was viewed by Jeannette as a chance to prove she could bring the house to complete order, however her dad had other plans. She started off sticking to her budget until her dad broke her down, begging her for money for beer and cigarettes. She hesitantly handed over whatever he asked for and they landed right back on the boundary between turbulence and order. Jeannette was forced to get a job at a jewelry store just to get by. This teetering in Middleville is very common in their household.
It appears to be impossible to maintain order in the Walls; household, but all of the kids do their best to at least slide by. They find ways to remain fed, warm, and taken care of, even when their parents are not around. They are very creative, and find ways to remain in Middleville, which is probably the best this family can do. The parents tend to be the ones leaning towards turbulence, not providing food, leaving, spending money where they shouldn’t. The kids fight their way back to some order by foraging for food, taking care of each other, and making their own money. They pull their parents onto the boundary between turbulence and order. “It’s a place where no rules apply, or at least they haven’t figured ’em out yet” (61). All they’ve figured out is how to survive.