Girl, Interrupted | Study Guide

Susanna Kaysen

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Girl, Interrupted | Bare Bones | Summary



Susanna describes the mental ward at McLean as both a prison and a refuge. The girls have no freedom or privileges, but they also have no responsibilities and no expectations to fulfill. Their parents pay a hefty fee, so the hospital takes care of them.

A new patient joins the ward. Torrey is an amphetamine addict who has been living with her family in Mexico. Unlike the others, she receives regular visits form her family members. However, her parents blame her for the family's issues, including her mother's alcoholism. McLean feels like a reprieve to Torrey from her family's abuse and her neighborhood, with its abundance of drugs and violence.

When Torrey's parents decide to bring her home, the girls pool money so she can escape. However, Valerie is on to them and drugs Torrey so she cannot escape. The girls are devastated; Susanna suffers a mental breakdown. She begins scratching off the skin on her hand, searching for her bones. She calms down only when Valerie dispenses heavy medication. Susanna states the she is finally certifiably crazy, which means that she won't have to leave the hospital's safety.


Although the girls feel imprisoned at McLean, they continue to see it as a refuge from the harsh outside reality. At McLean, Torrey finds reprieve from an abusive home in a dangerous environment that fosters drug abuse. To Torrey, McLean means freedom from an oppressive situation that has driven her to her predicament. When her parents take her back to Mexico, she feels imprisoned all over again. In the upside-down world of the mental ward, freedom equals oppression, and imprisonment equals reprieve.

While locked up at McLean, the girls are free from any responsibilities; they don't have to deal with their families, go to school, or get jobs. As a result, they can be who they really are. Yet the question remains: Who are they, really? They don't have a purpose, goals, dignity, or self-worth; all they have is their place at McLean. When the girls fail to help Torrey escape and she is forced to go back home, they cannot help but realize that they are at the mercy of their wardens and families. No matter how smart and ingenious their attempts at manipulation, no matter how strong their sense of rebellion, they are helpless. Any sense of power, any hope for escape, is an illusion. So Susanna suffers a mental breakdown, metaphorically digging to the bone to find a personality nobody can take away from her.

Susanna has hit rock bottom. Her mental breakdown proves that her stay at McLean is justified, and it is also a turning point. Accepting her illness turns out to be the first step toward recovery.

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