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Girl, Interrupted | Study Guide

Susanna Kaysen

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Girl, Interrupted | Fire | Summary



Polly is an inmate on the psychiatric ward who set herself on fire. Susanna notices that her scars do not change with time; they remain an inflexible shell behind which the real person hides. Susanna compares different forms of suicide, stating that they are all easier to deal with than fire, mainly because it is possible to reconsider. You can put the gun down before you pull the trigger; you can stop taking pills or throw them back up; but you cannot reverse the damage after you set yourself on fire. Polly's chosen form of suicide has elevated her to a hero, particularly because she seems at peace with her decision. However, one morning Polly keeps screaming, "My face!" Susanna realizes that while everyone else may recover from their illnesses, Polly will forever be trapped in her scarred skin.


Polly's situation illustrates the complexities and horrors of mental illness. Polly enjoys hero status among the girls because she chose a particularly violent and painful method of suicide. Enduring that much pain, it seems, earns her the girls' respect. When Susanna observes that the scar tissue doesn't change with time, she first thinks of it as a protective shell that allows Polly to be friendly, calm, and even-keeled. However, when Polly suffers a mental breakdown, Susanna realizes that the scar tissue is not a refuge, but a trap. Susanna and the other girls can recover from their affliction and move on, but Polly is forever defined by the one moment in which she attempted suicide. The desperation that must have driven her to this act will forever remain a part of her.

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