Girl, Interrupted | Study Guide

Susanna Kaysen

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Girl, Interrupted | Girl, Interrupted | Summary

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Summary

Susanna describes her first visit to the Frick collection in New York with her English teacher. Back then, when she approached the Vermeer painting she thought of her teacher's kiss and her bad grades. It seemed as if the girl in the painting looked at her and warned her: "Don't!" Susanna feels that she did not heed the warning and, instead, engaged in a relationship with the teacher, failed biology, and eventually descended into madness.

Returning 16 years later to the museum while in a troubled relationship with a wealthy boyfriend, she sees the girl in the painting differently. She feels the girl looks inward sadly, hoping someone will see her, trying to escape the life in store for her. When Susanna shares her analysis, her boyfriend accuses her of selfishness and a lack of knowledge about art.

The memoir ends with a medical form stating Susanna has recovered.

Analysis

The girl in the Vermeer painting Girl Interrupted at Her Music is a surrogate for Susanna herself. When she first visits the Frick Collection as a teenager, the girl, like Susanna herself, seems bright, alert, and hopeful. She ignores the teacher's teachings, hungrily looking for new and exciting experiences. Susanna believes the girl is trying to warn her not to follow a particular path. Her younger self is quite aware of the turn her life is about to take, yet is unable to heed her own warnings.

Sixteen years later, Susanna sees the painting in a different light; seeing herself in the troubled girl, Susanna breaks down crying. The boyfriend, in turn, invalidates the truth of her emotional reaction. Yet it's clear to Susanna the girl in the painting is looking out at the audience, which suggests the painting is meant to engage the viewer in a personal, emotional dialogue that allows for shades of meaning. This is precisely the effect of the memoir, with its "parallel universe" and ambiguities, upon the reader.

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