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Literature Study GuidesGirl InterruptedApplied Topography Summary

Girl, Interrupted | Study Guide

Susanna Kaysen

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Girl, Interrupted | Applied Topography | Summary



Susanna compares the psychiatric hospital to a prison. Visitors have to enter through a series of locked doors to reach the visitors' area, a nice living room and kitchen. However, the place reveals its prison-like nature once you turn a corner and end up in a long hallway lined with patients' rooms and staff rooms segregated on opposite sides. The bathroom is on the staff's side, as is a chalkboard that announces the arrival and departure of patients. The TV room at the end of the hallway is the girls' favorite gathering place where they can smoke and be social. Further down that same hallway is the small, windowless seclusion room where patients are locked away if they are out of control. Patients who seek privacy can request time in the seclusion room, and some do so.


The theme of separation and detachment is illustrated by the spatial layout of the psychiatric hospital. The mental ward is separated from the world outside by several layers of locked doors that lead to a visitors' area, which, in turn, is separated from the mental ward where patients' quarters and staff areas are further segregated on opposite sides of a hallway. The physical description of the girls' floor at McLean is eerily reminiscent of prison life, stressing the fact that although Susanna may have submitted herself voluntarily, she cannot leave of her own accord. All authority on the ward belongs to the staff, even authority over the girls' bodies, as the bathroom is on the staff's side of the hallway. As in a prison, there is no privacy. Even in the seclusion room, the girls are visible to the staff and can't leave without the staff's permission.

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