Girl, Interrupted | Study Guide

Susanna Kaysen

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Girl, Interrupted | Stigmatography | Summary

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Summary

Susanna takes a leap in time to discuss her future after McLean. She says in job applications she made while still at the facility, her address alone gave away that she was spending time in a mental ward. She fears that she will carry this stigma with her forever. Susanna muses that people stigmatize mental patients for fear that they, too, might be crazy, and she wonders if she will ever be able to live down her history. She decides to keep her diagnosis to herself because it raises too many questions. She also avoids mentally ill people and other expatients because she cannot deal with the unsettling questions they ask.

Analysis

A mental patient may not show any physical signs of illness—no cast or bruises—but is nonetheless unable to shed the stigma of illness, because a prolonged stay in a mental institution creates either a suspicious blank spot or a telltale signpost in one's résumé. While a broken bone will heal and leave no mark, a "broken mind" will forever carry the stigma. It becomes a hurdle to overcome with any future endeavor, even one as simple as applying for a driver's license or an apartment lease. Susanna Kaysen provides the actual letters written by doctors that allowed her to obtain her license and telephone. The letter that helped her obtain a phone is dated 1968, near the time she was released from McLean. The one to help her obtain a driver's license, however, is dated nearly five years after her discharge, suggesting that even after many years have passed, she must still account for her history of mental illness.

The author suggests that stigmas are so powerful because they are caused by people's fears. Taking the idea that everyone is a little mad one step further, she suggests people stigmatize mental patients because they are afraid that they themselves might be a little crazy. Ironically, Susanna herself stigmatizes mental patients and does not want to associate with them for fear that she might slip back into the abyss of depression. Life after her stay at McLean seems destined to be marked by denial, secrecy, and self-loathing.

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