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Masculinity and Rex Walls in The Glass Castle

The assimilation of harmful masculinity into the life of Rex Walls in The Glass Castle has served to afflict not only his life but that of his family. Rex Wall’s interpretation of masculinity i.e. pure strength, full control, and a lack of emotion have a predominantly overblown effect on his life. Furthermore, this perception of masculinity has caused subconscious stress and paranoia for Rex, endangered the assets and livelihoods of his family, and caused undue danger onto his children as he tries to conform to his perceptions of strength. 

Although Rex’s rampant paranoia is not in direct relation to the masculine aura he has forced himself to project, it can certainly be attributed to the more subtle undertones of a man who has spent a full life being forced and eventually forcing himself into a role of pure and unflappable strength. Rex’s paranoia is especially evidenced by his constant and nomadic lifestyle which is often fueled by his paranoia. The following quote is Rex’s daughter’s description of Rex’s habit of sporadically moving his family without warning to a new location. “[S]kedaddle, usually in the middle of the night[…] make mysterious references to executives from Standard Oil […] and FBI agents who were after Dad [Rex Walls]”, (Walls 19) The tiring and subconscious task of continuous “perfection” forces Rex’s fears and trepidations to be repressed and compounded into a much stronger beast than they previously had been. The continuous lack of security within his mind drives Rex to tremendous lengths such as constantly moving his family, thusly inspiring irrational fear and paranoia within them as well. 

Additionally, his masculinity which inspires him to control all things creates a deep tension between himself and his wife who has requested control of at least some of their assets. The following quote describes how, despite not having a job, Rex believes he should have control of the funds of his family even if he wastes them. “He saw himself as the head of the household, and he maintained that the money should be turned over to him” (Walls 76) This becomes a strong point of upset for his children who, because of this, often do not have food. Regardless of this, Rex maintains that their family is better this way, insisting that his wife would waste the money as well. This is due to his inability to accept that a woman, who is by his definition not masculine, could have better judgment than him and another shortfall of his perception that masculinity is the only possible form of power. This further weakens his bonds to his family.

Rex’s belief that masculinity must be hard-fought through survival and isolation further endangers his children when he forces his children to swim for their lives in a deep and isolated spring, claiming that it will make them “better” as shown in the following quote.“Dad [Rex Walls] picked me up and heaved me back into the middle of the Hot Pot. ‘Sink or swim!’ he called out. [...] gasping for air, and reached out to Dad. But he pulled back, and I didn't feel his hands around me until I'd sunk one more time.”(66) He later claims that he would not have truly endangered his child, but this does not excuse his behavior as it can still leave a lasting psychological effect. This calloused way of teaching leads to his children being stronger and recklessly freer than their peers, but also distrusting of him and others as well as emotionally unstable. 

In conclusion, the assimilation of harmful masculinity into Rex Walls has harmed him and those whom he holds closest irreparably in countless, permanent ways as it has many in our society. It forces a gruff and perilous lifestyle onto children and adults alike, leaving them without emotional relief.