Literature Study GuidesGirl InterruptedCalais Is Engraved In My Heart Summary

Girl, Interrupted | Study Guide

Susanna Kaysen

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Girl, Interrupted | Calais is Engraved in My Heart | Summary



The arrival of a new inmate, Alice Calais, prompts a disagreement over the pronunciation of her last name. Is it "Callous," as Alice claims, or the French "Call-ay," as Lisa Rowe insists? Alice is shy and unsophisticated. She is unaware that her last name is the name of a French city of historical significance. She has never eaten honey. At first, she seems perfectly well adjusted, yet after a few days, she erupts so violently that she ends up in maximum security, a locked floor with small seclusion rooms filled with people curled up on bare mattresses. The girls visit Alice in one of these rooms and see her walls covered with excrement she has smeared on them. Returning to their ward after the visit, with its relative freedom and "normalcy," feels like coming home.


Alice Calais's arrival at McLean illustrates once more that deciphering truth and reality can be difficult. The spelling of Alice's last name, Calais, suggests that it should be pronounced like the French city, yet Alice insists on a different pronunciation. She appears to be friendly, the opposite of "callous," but her well-adjusted demeanor gives way to violence. Clearly, Alice is walking proof that appearances can be deceiving. Her calm demeanor hides furious rage.

The contrast between the girls' ward and the maximum security floor shows the girls that their circumstances could get worse. Their isolation from the outside world doesn't compare to the utter isolation in the maximum security ward. Although the doors to their cells remain open, the patients there are isolated within themselves. Their sense of relief at returning to their ward is tempered by their fear that at any moment they might be headed to maximum security, too. Nothing is certain in the mental hospital, not even the relative stage of one's own madness.

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