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In the late 1960s, the author spent nearly two years on the ward for teenage girls at McLean Hospital, a renowned psychiatric facility. Her memoir encompasses horror and razor-edged perceptions, while providing vivid portraits of her fellow patients and their keepers. "Searing . . . captures an exquisite range of self-awareness between madness and insight."--Boston Globe.
"Tough-minded . . . darkly comic . . . written with indelible clarity."—Newsweek
"[A]n account of a disturbed girl's unwilling passage into womanhood...and here is the girl, looking into our faces with urgent eyes."—Diane Middlebrook, Washington Post Book World
1. The voice that narrates Girl, Interrupted may at first strike readers as cool, intellectual, rational, and controlled, qualities normally associated with sanity. It is a voice full of humor, characterized by an understatement that leaves much to the imagination. How, as we go deeper into the book, does the voice play against what it is describing--or heighten it? What is the overall effect of this voice?
2. At what point, if any, does your perception of the narrator (whom for convenience we call "Susanna") change? Does Susanna's "unreliability" as the narrator suggest something about the nature of madness itself?
3. What does the author accomplish by juxtaposing her actual medical records and case notes with the narrative? How do these documents contribute to your impression of Susanna's psychic state? How would this book be different without them?
4. The narrator reveals little about her life before entering McLean Hospital, and the only biographical information we receive appears rather late in the book. Why do you think Kaysen has chosen to do this?
5. The narrator describes her sojourn in McLean as a journey into a "parallel universe, " one of many that "exist alongside this world and resemble it, but are not in it." What resemblances or analogies does Kaysen find between madness and everyday reality? How are the laws of these two universes different? How does one pass from one universe into another?
6. Kaysen gives us two ways of experiencing her parallel universe. One way is to make us understand how madness feels; another is to show how madness is treated (or, more accurately, controlled). What effect does she create by giving us twoopposing ways of understanding insanity?
7. Most of the early sections of Girl, Interrupted are devoted to the narrator's observations of her fellow patients. To what extent, if any, do these women seem "crazy" to you? What difference do you see in the book's treatment of "Susanna, " the character, and its treatment of the other patients?
8. How does Kaysen describe McLean's "keepers"--its nurses, doctors, and therapists? How do you account for the difference between the hard-bitten full-time staff and the wide-eyed student nurses?
9. In many ways McLean seems like an orderly place whose patients might easily be bored, slightly neurotic college students killing time in the dorm. Madness, real madness, creeps in insidiously, taking both reader and patients by surprise. At what points do we see madness intruding into McLean?
10. At certain points the author suggests that there is something comforting, and even seductive, about insanity. What might make madness comforting to a young girl in the late 1960s--or, for that matter, to anyone at any time?
11. A girl named Daisy kills herself in between hospital stays. Is this foreshadowed by what we already know about her? Why this patient, rather than another? To what extent is the behavior of any of these characters foreseeable?
12. Susanna has no apparent reaction to Daisy's death, but after Torrey, another patient, is released into the custody of her neglectful parents, she has an episode of what her case report calls "depersonalization" [p.105] and mutilates her hands to see if "there are any bones in there" [p.103]. Why? What is she looking for underneath her skin? What is the effect of the graphic physicality of this chapter?
13. The narrator sums up her release from McLean in the following way: "Luckily, I got a marriage proposal and they let me out. In 1968, everybody could understand a marriage proposal." What does this passage say about the choices available to female psychiatric patients--and, by extension, to any woman--at the time this book takes place?
14. The narrator describes 1968 as a time when "people [outside the hospital] were doing the kinds of things we [the patients] had fantasies of doing" [p.92]; a patient's paranoid "delusions" might turn out to be accurate descriptions of the U. S. government's clandestine activities. What other connections does Kaysen draw between her characters' disturbance and the social paroxysms of their time? In what way is this book a document of the 1960s?
15. How does the narrator feel when she meets Georgina and Lisa in the outside world, years after her release? What comparison can we make between the way Susanna sees their lives and the way she sees her own?
16. How does the madness of the 1960s compare to the private and collective neuroses of Freud's Vienna--or to the spectacular symptoms (Multiple Personality Disorder, False Memory Syndrome) of the 1980s and '90s?
17. One reviewer has noted that someone with Susanna's symptoms would today be given "60 days in-patient [treatment] and a psychotropic magic bullet. In 25 years, the cultural metaphor... has changed from incarceration to neglect." Is "neglect" preferable to "incarceration"? How do you think Kaysen might answer such a question?
18. Another critic begins her review of Girl, Interrupted with the observation: "When women are angry at men, they call them heartless. When men are angry at women, they call them crazy" (Susan Cheever, "A Designated Crazy, " The New York Times Book Review, June 20, 1993). In what ways is Girl, Interrupted a book about the sexual constructs of madness? What role does the narrator's gender appear to have played in her diagnosis and treatment? How do gender relations inside McLean mirror those in the outside world?
19. What is the significance of the Vermeer painting "Girl Interrupted at Her Music" that appears in the last chapter? How did Susanna feel about the painting the first time she saw it? And how did she feel about it later, after her hospitalization? Why does the gaze of the music student in the painting so haunt her?
Posted December 9, 2011
"...Kaysen initially was admitted to McLean for treatment of depression, but ended up being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, and some of the files that have been scanned into the book are quite interesting to look at. Academically, there is a lot more known about mental illness now than there was while Kaysen was being treated at McLean, but there are still a lot of common misconceptions, and that makes me feel like at least some of the stigma still exists against this type of thing. That's one of the reasons I think I like this book so much; Kaysen and the other in-patients she talks about don't really conjure up images of men in white coats, straitjackets and padded walls - they're in the moderate security ward. They don't seem necessarily crazy, for the most part, and I found myself really caring about them..."
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1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 28, 2002
I think that if it followed the storyline the movie had, it would of been *that* much better, but granted they couldn't due to the fact that the book was written before the movie. It was an OK book, it jumped around a lot and didn't flow to smoothly, but I did enjoy having the bits of reports from the doctors in that, it made it more personal and easier to imagine happening.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 3, 2002
This book is about a girl who was sent to a mental institution for two years. In this book she describes what she was diagnosed with, how life at McLean was, and what she went through in those two years. This book shows that she was sane in an insane world. I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it to anyone. (middle school +)Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 4, 2002
This was a really good book. The movie touched on a lot a of the subjects covered in the book, but, there were also many things changed from the book to the movie. The book also had many more different characters that were often talked about. Although the movie is not an exact duplicate of Kasen's work it still worthwhile to watch, and so is the book very worthwhile to read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 28, 2001
Posted July 27, 2000
Posted January 23, 2000
This get into the insitfull mind of a teen who is disturbed and has onone... she in the story points out the trammas all the other girl go through in a fight to find herself and be happy.. This book is a real as you can get...Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 10, 2000
This book was reccomended to me by my English teacher a few years ago, and I loved it from the moment I picked it up! I not only enjoyed reading about Susanna's situation, but found the other characters in the book to be extremely interesting and each added something new to her stay at the hospital. I've told my friends to read this book, they've responded to it in the same ways I have. This is a great book, one I have read again and again. You'll want to as well.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 8, 2010
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Posted September 30, 2009
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