Thursday, 27 March 2014

Digital Identities

American Studies Blog: Digital Identities

Write a post illustrating and analysing the various digital identities available to Americans today. What can this tell us about the meaning of identity for American in the future?

According to Philip J. Windley, a digital identity ‘is the data that uniquely describes a person or a thing and contains information about the subject’s relationships’. This suggest that in theory any action by individuals during their use of the internet constitutes the creation in some part of their digital identity. In this context, the latest Pew report's assertion that over 87% of Americans use the internet suggests that exactly the same number of people also possess a digital identity, regardless of whether they are aware of this or not. However, when discussing digital identity there’s a need to recognize that it can broadly be broken down into two types 1) Online Identity/Social Media that a person consciously and deliberately construct, and which may be true or false; and 2) An identity that is constructed by corporations based on information they track about individuals. In addition, there is also a need to recognize that one's online identity consists of the following features: 1) A Public Identity i.e. the things about yourself you are happy to let everyone know and 2) A Private identity - things about yourself you choose to share with few or any other people.

Any discussion of digital identities needs to try to answer several questions: to what extent are such identities representative of one’s identity in real life?; how much of a creation are they of the individual?; and finally, what of the problem of identity theft and the development of fake digital identities online? It is obviously possible that a person's digital identity can be manipulated by others in a variety of ways, ranging from something as simple as a photograph being posted online without the individual's knowledge, to hackers accessing someone's information and spreading it online. In addition, it can be said that the creation of a digital identity is influenced by the interface individuals have with websites such as Facebook; this has been studied by academics such as Joanne Garde-Hansen. In light of this, it seems absurd that an article in Forbes Magazine commented on how prospective employers have started to examine Facebook profiles as a means to establish who someone is as a person. Clearly, digital identities are inherently unstable and easily manipulated, so it makes no sense whatsoever for employers to judge people based on such information.

What we can learn about the development of digital identities from the study of the rise of digital natives and digital immigrants written by Marc Prensky is that the meaning of identity in America is most likely going to change drastically, with the majority American population possessing both an physical identity and digital identity, and that people will have a real struggle trying to reconcile these two into a single identity.


Digital Identity

The idea of having an identity that is digital is a new, yet established concept that resonates within the majority of people especially Americans; the internet represents traditional American values and ideology through its expression of freedom, new territory and pioneering. The internet is also highly dominated by Americans due to the fact that Americans have created the majority of popular internet services such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr,, Instragram, Pinterest, WhatsApp, Amazon, Google, Craigslist, YouTube, Vine, Ebay, Netflix, Reddit, Skype, 4chan, iTunes, LinkedIn, Wikipedia and Blogger itself, to name a few.

When one thinks of identity, they generally think of the classic categories of origin, sexuality, gender, class and wealth. This traditional form of identity is somewhat irrelevant since these factors do not have to be transferred onto ones digital identity; in reality one might be a twenty four year old, white, English man, however, online he could declare his identity as a Mexican woman in her thirties. It is then that problems arise with digital identities as risks being higher the more digitally involved one becomes. Although the positive effects of the digital revolution are endless, it cannot erase the critical problem that is knowing with whom one is reacting. Though there are attributes associated to ones digital identity, these attributes and identities can be changed, masked or dumped and new ones created.

There is currently no means to precisely determine the identity of a person in the digital world. Despite the many authentication systems that aim to address these problems, there is still a need for a verified identification system that we may never have. Although there is this great risk of false identity over the Internet I find it must be true that the pros exceed the cons and is therefore why people continue to use the Internet despite its consequences; Michael Hagen, CEO of IDchecker, states in a lecture entitled Digital Identity states “For hundreds of years we augmented ourselves, using glasses, hearing aids and artificial limbs to overcome our biological limits. More fully integrating digital technology enables us to truly transcend them. Instead of just our five senses, we will develop new senses and develop new ways of interacting with reality, people and tools. This will have an even larger impact on the way we live and work together.”


Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Digital Identity

Technology in the last 10-20 years has almost completely taken over the world. The United States has remained at the forefront of technological advances, with brands such as Apple and Microsoft leading the way. Many use social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr to keep in touch with people, which others may use sites such as YouTube and Instagram for recreational use. More and more time is being spent online, with people creating personal and business accounts, meaning that more of our lives is being lived on the internet than ever before. The below graph shows which social networking sites are frequently used by US adults, and how much news they receive from using them.


Founded in 2004, Facebook has easily become one of the most used social media websites in the world. People use Facebook for many different reasons, ranging from keeping in touch with friends and family, to promoting and getting work for businesses. Within the US alone, 64% of Adults use Facebook, with 30% of those using it to get news and information. The below graph details a breakdown of what kinds of news people find out about on Facebook on a daily basis.

These online social networking sites allow the individual to portray themselves as they wish to be seen, as you can create a new online identity and persona for yourself which you can hide behind. However, this can be dangerous, as it allows for people to speak freely which although may seem a good idea, can lead to negative things such as cyber-bullying and racism. People often seem more outspoken and braver when they can hide behind the safety of a computer screen, as they are not in direct contact with the person they are attacking. This can make 'policing' the internet a difficult task, as most cases of online harassment may go unnoticed unless they are reported by the victim. The victim may however not feel comfortable reporting what has happened, or feel like it is such as issue because it's a fairly taboo subject which many aren't fully aware of. Nonetheless, cyberbulling is an issue which has arisen from the ability of anonymity online.

Having an online digital identity is a very American idea, as it connects to Crèvecœur's ideas of remaking yourself and becoming a new person. You can reinvent yourself again and again, through online gaming and forums, erasing the old version of yourself and starting anew. People who have had a tough time in the 'real world', for example have been bullied for their weight, can recreate themselves online in a way they would like to be seen, making them feel comfortable and better about themselves. However, this could lead to addiction, and a toxic way of living. With technology becoming increasingly mobile, users can take the internet with them wherever they go. In January 2014, 90% of Americans owned a mobile phone, and of that, 63% of users use their phones to go online. This means that people can quite literally take their digital identity everywhere they go, and can become addicted to checking and updating it on a frequent basis. Here is a breakdown of what US adults use their mobile phones to do, most of which involve using the internet and updating digital identities. 


To conclude, with increasing technological advances, more and more time is being spent on the internet, whether it be for work or recreational use. The internet can be used anywhere the user desires thanks to the growing popularity of smartphones and tablets, however this can create a negative effect, as people become disconnected from each other and purely begin to live their lives online. 

Digital Identities in America

Today in America there are a number of digital identities available. These identities can be personal, such as Facebook; professional with a LinkedIn account; or form a community based on similar interests, such as forums.

A Pew survey in September 2013 revealed that 73% of Americans above the age of 29 use social networking sites. 71% of those adults use Facebook. This shows that the majority of Americans have a digital identity. Looking at the breakdown of the statistics, it can be seen that social networking defies the boundaries of gender, race and income, as the the percentage of users are similar across all those categories. For future generations this could mean that those aspects of a person's identity will no longer matter, which could lead to less sexism, racism and classism. For a digital identity, these things do not matter, because they are physical. If a person does not want to present themselves as male, black, and rich, they can present a different identity and others do not have to know that they are lying. Therefore, I think they will become less important as identifiers. The only identity that will matter will be whether someone is online. Unfortunately, this could have effect on America's poor. If the poverty-stricken cannot afford internet, then there is a danger that they will be ostracised from the rest of the American community as they will not be able to be a part of it.

The only category which does not show similar results is the age category. 90% of 18-29 year olds use social networking, but only 46% of those over the age of 65 do. This ties in with Prensky's ideas of there existing a divide between "digital immigrants" and "digital natives", the "natives" being the young generation who have grown up with the internet as a  feature of their lives, and the "immigrants" people who have had to learn how to use it. Older people are less likely to have learnt, as it is akin to learning a new language, which can get more difficult as the brain ages. Presnky does worry that this will create an irreconcilable divide between the old and the young, as the older generation will not speak the "language" of the new generation. He sees this as something that will create a drastic change for the future of education in America. Prensky believes that the "digital natives" should be taught in a way that mirrors the working of the internet. For example, it should be recognised that they can concentrate whilst multitasking, that information should be delivered in a game-style format, and that graphics should be used more than text.

A concern among people who use social networking sites is that an identity they do not want might be created. Someone could post embarrassing pictures of them on Facebook, or hack their accounts and write offensive things under their name. Misuse of digital identity becomes more worrying when you consider that job searching and professional networking is starting to move online, through the use of sites such as LinkedIn. LinkedIn allows American to present a professional digital identity. A Lab42 survey found that 42% of LinkedIn users update their profile information regularly, and 37% update their profile picture regularly. This shows that whilst perhaps not as much of a feature as other sites in people's lives, a large number of Americans think it is important to keep their LinkedIn profiles up to date. As job hunting and networking increasingly becomes an online thing, as it might do in the future, identity theft should become a more serious issue. A digital identity depends more on trust than real-life identities do, because it is often the case that you will never meet the person you talk to online, so there is no way to verify whether what they tell you is the truth. Sites such as YouTube and Google are starting to recognise this need for verification and are asking for people to enter their full names in order to post a comment. However, there is as of yet no way to make sure that people are entering their real names.

Another reason for creating a digital identity is in order to form new communities based around shared interests or hobbies. Through the internet, people with similar interests can form a community without having to live close to one another. This aspect of the internet, as found by a Pew survey, is more important to Americans between 30-64 years olds, than it is to younger Americans. Younger Americans prefer to use the internet to keep in touch with friends they have already made. Therefore, the internet is useful for both creating new communities and strengthening established ones. Despite worry from "digital immigrants" that social networking might be breaking down the ability to form relationships, the Pew research found that in fact Facebook users are more likely to be trusting, form close relationships and revive old ones. This further suggests that "digital immigrants" do not understand the way "natives" function, which could cause problems in the future.

Digital Identity

Over the last decade, Digital Identity has become a more prominent way of defining Americans, as the influx and constant adaptation of technology continues. The United States of America is the country that is leading the way in this digital new age, with companies such as Facebook, Youtube and Google all originating from there. However there is a worry, especially from ‘Digital immigrants,’ that this reliance on technology is unhealthy for the future generations of Americans.

You only have to look as far as the amount of worldwide users there are on these networks: with Facebook attracting 1.23 billion people, iTunes 500 million and Twitter 243 million. Obviously this includes other nations in its scope, however the USA is the largest contributor of users to these sites, with more than 40% Americans using Facebook everyday. As it is a fairly recent phenomenom, social media is a system that attracts young people, therefore it is clear that the main users of social networking are younger Americans, or ‘Digital Natives’ (those who have been brought up with computers as an essential part of their lives), suggesting that the future of America and American citizens will continue to be broadcast online. When you consider that Facebook is a company that hasn’t even been active for a decade (it was launched in 2005), the speed in which it has accelerated into an essential part of day to day activity suggests that this will continue to increase over the next few years.

For a country as vast and diverse as the US, social media does help to establish a more unified identity. Over the past few weeks of the course, we have studied the tensions between black and white, male and female, rich poor; however, America’s presence online is not governed by these identities. John Perry Barlow wrote in his 1996 Declaration of Cyberspace Freedom that “we cannot obtain order by physical coercion,” something that I believe to be true, as you are physically hidden on the Internet and protected behind a screen. It is a great benefactor to the US that someone in Maine can have an uninterrupted conversation with someone in Hawaii, when this distance would previously have been a huge inconvenience. The freedom and equality that is available to Americans online, seems to be the only place where physical, gender or sexual identity is not important; they can in fact, simply be one American talking to another.

The worry in this is that a reliance on technology and the Internet can only go so far before the next generations of Americans become addicted and overly dependent on it. The future of America would appear to be driven by technology and there is a worry that the identity of Americans will be determined by machine over mind. In an article in The Atlantic, observations of American children concluded that they would rather be indoors staring at a screen, whether it be a television, a phone, an iPad etc, rather than outdoors socializing with other children. According to the article 90% of American parents believe that some good can come from the usage of smart technology from an early age and by 2010, two-thirds of American children had used a touch screen device between the ages of 4 to 7.
Whilst there has been an emphasis on learning on apps and websites, there is a risk that the next generation of Americans will have grown up without sufficient interaction with other people their age. Along with the ability to do educational course online and work from home online, there is a possible prospect of a human being going through life believing that they do not need to physically interact with other people when they can get everything they need through a computer. This proposes a worrying new American identity that has been named “the zombie effect,” where people can essentially switch off from reality, and through the use of a screen, live their lives online.

This is one of the more radical ideas of a Digital identity, but one that is not inconceivable when you consider that acceleration of modern technology and the dependence that this generation, and the next, will have on it.


Thursday, 20 March 2014

American Studies Week 10 Blog: Healthcare

American Studies Week 10 Blog: Healthcare

Find and analyse any website or web video opposing or criticising US healthcare reform (“Obamacare.”) What arguments are made? Can you empathise with them?

In an article entitled ‘9 Reasons Why Many Liberals Absolutely Hate Obamacare’, Michael Snyder provides a pretty damning assessment of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. He notes that whilst the preceding U.S. healthcare system was undeniably ‘a complete and total mess’, Obamacare has been a ‘colossal fiasco’ that cannot adequately be described by words such as ‘disaster’ and ‘catastrophe’; even terms as strong as these fail to capture the enormity of the opportunity missed by the current U.S. administration. To support his damning verdict, Snyder puts forward nine main reasons why Americans in general and Liberals in particular hate Obamacare.
Several of these criticisms are levelled at the Obamacare website ( that was supposed to guide people into the system. Snyder claims that the website has been a ‘colossal technical failure’, which has led to those trying to gain access to care experiencing all sorts of problems. As just one example of the way it has proved ‘nearly impossible to sign up for health insurance policy,’ he highlights the case of Janice Baker who, as reported by USA Today, had to wait seven hours to enrol into Obamacare. He also notes that in several regions of the country the website offers the option of purchasing insurance from only one company, and goes on to repeat the claim made by the Washington Post that many people who believed that they had successfully enrolled had in fact not done so at all. Snyder also believes that many liberals are ‘absolutely mortified’ by the fact that it cost over 93 million dollars to construct a website that has, so far, only produced negative results.
Snyder is also critical of Obamacare for other reasons: these include the fact that (1) It has caused insurance premiums to skyrocket;  (2) Employer-based insurance cover is being reduced; (3) Obama broke the promise he made publicly that people could keep their current insurance programs; and (4) The new system has caused many doctors to lose their jobs because of government cuts to Medicare.
Snyder also argues that people find Obamacare extremely complicated and suggests that this is not surprising given that the document creating it is over 11 million words long. He concludes by stating that while it seems as though Obamacare is here to stay, the manner of its implementation proves that ‘our politicians in Washington D.C do not seem to really care about us’.
Whilst these criticisms levelled at Obamacare appear to be justified, it seems as though they can also be countered quite easily. For example the arguments raised in relation to the website are flimsy, as it could be easily be said any new website us likely to experience problems in its early stages and that such problems are usually only temporary. After all, has there ever been a case where a massive government website has not experienced major problems leading to a media furore in the first year after its launch? With regards to the increases in premiums, there is evidence to suggest otherwise (such as the case of Julie Boonstra) and we have to remember that under Obamacare the government subsidizes part of the costs for those earning up to a maximum of 400% of the Federal Poverty Level. It could also be argued that attributing the blame for people having their insurance policies cancelled solely to Obamacare is unfair, given that it is the insurance companies that are responsible for carrying out the cancellations. Finally, it has to be said that Obamacare, despite its problems and the delays in its implementation, has to an extent achieved the aim of making healthcare available to many more people by preventing healthcare companies from discriminating against those who have pre-existing conditions etc.
However, it has to be admitted that Snyder’s arguments do highlight a certain lack of foresight by the Obama administration, since it clearly failed to realize the possible negative impacts that healthcare reform would have on many people. We have to understand that people will naturally be confused and worry if their insurance is suddenly cancelled and it has not helped that the Obamacare website has failed on multiple occasions. To a degree, then, the Obama administration should be held accountable on the grounds that it should have been more prepared to deal with problems regardless of whether they were expected or unexpected.
Despite its positives, it is of my opinion that Obamacare cannot be seen as a permanent solution to the problem of healthcare in the United States. For example, it is hard to argue against Michael Moore’s notion that the ‘individual mandate’ that is the basis of the Obamacare, is simply a ‘pro-insurance-industry plan’ that helps fill the coffers of the insurance companies. It has also failed to tackle what is perhaps the most crucial problem of healthcare in the United States, which is its astronomical cost. Unless spending in this area is  reduced, people will continually be forced to pay high medical bills or go without medical treatment, which they would not need to do if they lived in any other country in the Western hemisphere.
To conclude, it is hard to sympathize with all of the claims that Snyder makes, but he does have some justification for some of what he says. From a personal perspective, I believe that healthcare should take its place under the umbrella of Locke’s inalienable rights to ‘Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness’. Therefore I agree with Michael Moore’s view that there is a need for a system along the lines of the ‘Medicare-for-all’ model, in which the government institutionalizes healthcare as a public service and makes it universal. Though many Americans will undoubtedly claim that such an system is socialist and will endanger their constitutional values, they seem to forget that they already have various state institutions in the form of fire fighters and the police, whilst they only have to look over Atlantic Ocean to witness that a public health service does not necessarily result in a socialist country with no ‘freedom’.

Other Sources

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

"Creepy Uncle Sam"

I chose the anti-Obamacare advert entitled “Creepy Uncle Sam”. The video was created by Generation Opportunity, a Koch Foundation-funded anti-Obamacare group. Their aim with the $750,000 campaign is to create adverts in order to convince college students to relinquish the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges. According to Generation Opportunity, Evan Feinberg, the adverts are promoting an “Opt Out” option, where young people would “…have to pay a fine, but that’ going to be cheaper for you and better for you”. 

The advert depicts a young woman going to her OB/GYN for an exam but has her doctor replaced by a ‘creepy’ oversized Uncle Sam, who emerges between the woman’s legs as ominous circus music plays in the background, ending with the tagline “Don’t let the government play doctor”.

Generation Opportunity’s strategy appears to have unnerved the majority of its viewers, regardless of whether they are students or if they believe in the cause. One argument for this video is that there are of course some valid points for why the Obamacare system is flawed, but this advertisement video is surely the wrong way to go about it; one viewer writes “I'm speechless that this anti-Obamacare basically suggests the female patient gets raped. This is beyond having a position against it... this is down right creepy.”

Overall, although the group Generation Opportunity is entitled to their opinion and to express this opinion, they have not productively nor effectively done so through this video. You could argue they have disconcerted what supporters they did have and further turned people towards being in favour of Obamacare as a result.

Anti-Obamacare Advert - Is it all lies?


American's For Prosperity say they are committed to educating citizens about economic policy and gaining citizen activists, which are the core of their organisation. Without the aid of activists, they would not gain anything. The activists help by writing letters and signing petitions to those who make laws,  AFP claims this is done in order to uphold freedom and prosperity. They boast over 2 million activists scattered in all 50 states, with over 90,000 Americans making financial contributions to the organisation to help them with their work. AFP have an online petition on their website, urging for US citizens to sign it to get the idea of Obamacare overturned.

This video by American's For Prosperity, tells the story of Julie Boonstra, a Leukaemia patient who was told that her health insurance had been revoked due to the effects of Obamacare. She goes on to talk about how the cost of her treatment is so high, that she can't afford it anymore, but due to the severity of her Leukaemia, without this treatment she will die. This plays at the viewers heartstrings, especially as the video shows her with her family and enjoying life. She believes that Obamacare is not the answer, and that her trust in Obama was misplaced and she feels lied to.


However, it seems that this video is misleading to the viewer. Cenk Uygur pulls Boonstra's video apart, as he discovered that her story may actually be false. He claims that she has actually wound up better off, and on a much better health plan than that she was originally on, which is actually cheaper but she gains more from it, and even managed to keep the same doctor. Uygur even worked out by gaining Obamacare, she saves over $1000 a year, although still receives exactly the same treatment.

Uygur's video concludes that most anti-Obamacare videos are based on lies, because there isn't any, or enough evidence to prove that it is actually damaging to the lives and the welfare of US citizens. He says that these stories have been fabricated merely just to get ignorant viewers to empathise with these cases and decide to join their cause, despite having no grounds to fight on. So is Obamacare really a good idea? The evidence would suggest yes, but there will always be people fighting against things like this. Maybe they just don't like change.


Anti Obamacare video

This video is an advertisement paid for and made by a group called Americans For Prosperity. They examine what the Affordable Care Act could entail for Americans by looking at Canada, which has a government-run healthcare system paid for out of the people's taxes. This is a good idea, as looking at a nearby country with a similar system is a good way of seeing what problems could arise. Shona Holmes, a Canadian, reveals that she would have had to wait up to six months to get an appointment she needed, although an American doctor told her that if she didn't receive treatment she would be dead within that time. I  feel that Americans are right to be worried about this aspect of the ACA. In a healthcare system that everyone has access to, it is almost unavoidable that waiting times would be longer. In the UK, the NHS maximum waiting time for treatment is 18 weeks. For someone with a life-threatening condition, that amount of waiting time could mean death, so I understand why Americans would be worried about it. Especially if they look at models such as Canada and the UK, they do see long waiting times.

However, part of the reason for the waiting times is that everyone can afford the treatment they need. In America, if someone gets sick or is injured, they need to either have insurance coverage or enough savings to pay for the treatment. If they don't have the money, they don't get treated. Surely it is better for everyone to have the opportunity for healthcare. Although America has the most advanced care and world's leading hospitals, as well as spending twice as much on healthcare as the UK, so it is possible that under Obamacare America would be able to avoid problems such as long waiting times.


The anti-Obamacare video that I have looked at is a parody advertisement, detailing the main problems with the new healthcare system set up by the President. ‘More than a Glitch’ pokes fun at the heartwarming, family-orientated videos that were released around the time of both of Obama’s elections by featuring a diverse selection of people that would be affected, as well as a diverse selection of problems they will encounter.
The tagline that the video uses is that Americans think they will be “covered,” but, as the voiceover explains, this is not quite true. There is a clear agenda that “your doctor will be chosen for you,” a problem that has been fiercely debated, and that once one has been chosen for you, the waiting list will go on for an unknown period of time as these waiting lists are “unavailable for an extended period of time.” The video even shows a man in a waiting room and invites him to “make himself comfortable.”
When the website was launched, it crashed almost immediately, adding fire to anti-Obamacare campaigns like this one. It repeatedly shows a screen that is not responding to people inquiring into the plan; while this is a problem that has now been fixed, it is an easy joke for a Republicans to aim at them.
The video is suggesting that the people behind Obamacare are not responsible for fulfilling any of the “hopes and dreams” or medical procedures needed by users of the site, however this seems a strange accusation when private practices are only responsible when huge sums of money are included.

When a list of reasons of what is wrong with Obamacare are rattled off at the end, they seem to be based on imagination rather than fact. Long waiting lists and low quality care are cited as damaging factors, however this has not appeared to be a problem in Europe where a similar health care is used. The reason that sticks out on the list is “loss of money,” which would affect the top 1% of earners in the USA, but would benefit the larger proportion of the country who struggle to avoid care. The following reasons of frustration, anger and hopelessness are poor grounds for scrapping plan. Overall the main problem seems to be long waiting lists, unfamiliar doctors and a loss of money, yet anyone who has done research of foreign countries with similar plans would surely not have these worries.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

The Glass Castle Review

I found a review for Jeanette Walls ‘The Glass Castle’ from, written in 2008. The website describes itself as “an online book club designed to make finding great books easier while enjoying the camaraderie of other book lovers.”

The website describes the book as a “powerful read” and not only because of the extraordinary ‘rags to riches’ story, but also because of Jeannette Wall’s clear-cut writing style which allows the audience to experience her life as though you were entangled in the middle of it. Another point that the reviewer notes is Wall’s lack of judgment throughout the book; her father is an alcoholic, her mother is highly irresponsible, and their lifestyle is wandering and poverty stricken, yet the reader does not necessarily feel hatred for the parents. We see them through Wall’s eyes, so we instead pity them and judge them as deeply flawed human beings with bouts of some charm and appeal.

The review is quite short and gives one criticism that they felt at times that the book was repetitive with its constant theme of neglect as the father loses another job, fleeing again in the middle of the night, and the mother being continually self absorbed. However, the reviewer then somewhat rescinds this criticism as they state “Then I realise, someone lived this life and survived; an amazing story”.

Overall, the review is positive towards ‘The Glass Castle’ and summarises it as “a must read to those who enjoy a good memoir, but will also appeal to those who like character driven novels and a good story.”

The Glass Castle Presentation Outline

  • Introduction - What do you consider to be poverty? Poverty in the US.
  • Did the Walls family choose poverty, or was it a result of unfortunate circumstances
  • The idea of selfishness - Distrust of the state?
  • A nation of helping yourself? The American Dream being challenged.
  • Social issues: Alcoholism, Abuse, Mental Health
  • Loss of Childhood. In what ways does Jeanette Walls' childhood differ to one you would typically expect in America?
  • Conclusion. The relevance of the Glass Castle now. Was the Glass Castle a fair and accurate representation of poverty in the United States?

Glass Castle NY Times Review

The review I have found for Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle is from the New York Times in 2005, written by Francis Prose.
The reviewer describes the book as one of ‘outrageous misfortune,’ an accurate heading for the stories told within. The words ‘outrageous’ and ‘misfortune’ could be seen as oxymorons to one another, but as Prose suggests, the endearing thing about The Glass Castle is how it is a bleak story told through the eyes of an optimistic child. Although any adult reading the book will be able to identify disturbing and negative themes running throughout, Walls has an interesting way of making us see how “she and her siblings were convinced that their turbulent life was a glorious adventure.”
This is something the reviewer compares to the fables of the Brothers Grimm, whose fairytales detailed the lives of “plucky” children who would escape the perils of an evil stepparent. The Glass Castle is a memoir, however still manages to convey some sense of fantasy in the wild adventures that Walls and her family get up to, such as the cheetah at the zoo and the stargazing. The fact that the title of the book is The Glass Castle, harks back to this magical idea that their father hopes to create. Much like the American Dream, the glass castle is always out of reach. Moreover the book ends fairly positively, apart from the death of their father, all the children bar Maureen, have gone on to live prosperous lives, far better than those of their parents.
The review focuses mainly on the plot but does pick out moments that have particular resonance. The vulnerability of Rex Walls is detailed in the scene where he “gives her” Venus as a Christmas present, a moment Prose describes as an “especially lovely scene.”

All in all, the review is positive towards The Glass Castle and says it achieves in being what the writer set out to write. It “falls short of being art,” says Prose, however the “outrageous misfortune” experienced by Jeannette Walls is clearly written in an interesting and charming style.

Glass Castle presentation outline

  • Introduction
  • Poverty-stricken Americans are marginalised
  • Tension within poor American communities
  • Poverty and the 'American Dream'
  • Discussion of whether people 'choose' to live in poverty, including the question: Do you think The Glass Castle represents the view that poverty is something that can only be escaped through hard work and individual drive, not by welfare and government aid? And do you agree with this view?
  • Poverty and pride
  • Shame of poverty-stricken background
  • Social problems and negative stereotypes - alcholism
  • Social problems - abuse
  • Discussion of the question: Do you think that Jeannette Walls portrays a negative stereotype of poor people?
  • Conclusion

American Studies Week 9 Blog: Glass Castle

American Studies Week 9 Blog: Glass Castle

Find and analyze an online review of The Glass Castle.

Francine Prose’s review of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, although published in the prestigious New York Times, unfortunately consists of little more than an introduction to the book and so fails to offer any real critical insight into its nature or quality. But given that the review was written in 2005, just after the work was published, this perhaps is not much of a surprise, as it is clear that Prose’s most important purpose was to encourage readers to buy it. A brief summary of the review will provide evidence to support this judgment and then to allow for a critique of it using the benefit of hindsight.
Prose’s review can be broken down into two main components: 1) Praise for Jeannette Walls, and 2) A sustained attempt at highlighting the inability of Walls’s parents to take care of their children. Beginning her review by claiming that memoirs are our “modern fairy tales”, Prose immediately begins to praise Walls, asserting that the title of her novel is fitting, given that it evokes “the architecture of fantasy and magic”. She continues in this vein by stating that it is admirable that Walls refused “to indulge in amateur psychoanalysis” of her parents, and that her work is even comparable to Harry Crews’ memoir, “A Childhood”. However, she saves her greatest praise for last, claiming that Walls has “succeeded in doing what most writers set out to do – to write the kind of book they themselves most want to read”, and that despite it falling “short of being art, it is nonetheless “a very good memoir”. 
In her attempt to depict the inability of Walls’s parents to come to terms with the demands of raising their children, Prose begins by providing a brief characterisation of both Jeannette’s parents, Rex Walls and Rose Mary Walls, before noting multiple examples of their attitude of neglect recounted in the memoir. However, it is perhaps her statement that “The Glass Castle” which gives the work its title is but a “carefree façade with which two people who were unsuited to raise children camouflaged their struggle to survive in a world for which they were likewise ill equipped,” that best encapsulates her message. Interestingly, though, Prose also praises the parents for home-schooling their children and is critical of the education system, stating that “it suggests something about our education system” that the children turned out to “academically ahead of local kids” on the occasions in which they did attend schools.
            The chief problem with Prose’s review is that its focus is too narrow, meaning that she does not pick up on the issues of poverty, alcoholism and mental health that play a huge role in shaping the childhood experiences of Walls. Thus, whilst highlighting the horrific experiences of Walls childhood, she fails to alert the reader to the obvious correlation between social issues and dysfunctional families. In fact, what she appears to do is to portray the Walls family as a unique and isolated case of a dysfunctional family, whose problems were entirely the result of the individual deficiencies of her parents that made them unsuitable to be parents. This leads to her inadvertently diverting the attention of potential readers to what Walls truly wanted to highlight, as well as suggesting that dysfunctional families were not common in that period. However, this was not the case, as Walls clearly depicts the poor conditions of the areas in which her family resided, and of the  several dysfunctional families who suffered from similar problems to her family by living in such conditions. In Prose’s defence, however, it should be noted that she does manage to comment on issues such as rape and the vulnerability of children, but again she only touches on them briefly, although it should be noted that they also do not receive extended treatment by Walls.
            To conclude, it can be said that Prose’s review is a good starting point if one wants to encourage someone to devote time to reading this memoir. As a book review, though, it should be said that it is not of the highest quality, with it only partially discussing the issues central to the novel. However, what is perhaps most serious is that despite appearing to offer a synopsis of the book, Prose fails to mention two of its main characters, Walls’s younger brother and sister, who played a huge role in the author’s early life. Omitting their side of the story, which is very affecting, means that readers of the review are not aware of some of the most powerful material contained in this memoir.