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Girl, Interrupted | Study Guide

Susanna Kaysen

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Girl, Interrupted | The Prelude to Ice Cream | Summary



Susanna mentions other famous inmates of McLean, all of them famous songwriters and poets, such as Ray Charles, James Taylor, and Sylvia Plath. She wonders what it is that makes poets prone to madness. Perhaps "when you're sad you need to hear your sorrow structured into sound," she thinks.

McLean is situated in an affluent neighborhood in Belmont, Massachusetts. Occasionally the girls are taken on excursions to an ice cream parlor in town. An elaborate system of privileges based on a patient's behavior decides the nurse-to-patient ratio for these outings.


Knowing that many well-known songwriters and poets were patients at McLean makes Susanna wonder if the complex rules of poetry and music governing "meter and cadence and rhythm" are attractive to the mentally ill because they provide a comforting structure and order to the chaos of a distressed mind. Susanna's own preoccupation with patterns seems to support this suggestion. After all, she, too, is a poet. However, it seems possible to turn this thought upside down and wonder whether the realities of life are too much for a poet who sees patterns, structure, and order in places others do not. In other words, Susanna seems to ask whether the mad become poets, or whether poets are driven mad.

The girls are grouped based on a complex nurse-to-patient ratio, depending on a patient's sanity level. The ratio is meant to keep the girls safe in the outside world, while at the same time it keeps the world safe from them, illustrating the theme of detachment and separation.

While the girls know and understand this balance, the Belmont community is unaware of the complex system of rules that defines their lives. If six patients are out with three nurses, the Belmont community might see a pattern of two-to-one, when really, one of the girls might be accompanied by two nurses, while the rest of them might be on group privileges. Unaware of the rules at McLean, the sane world doesn't recognize the patterns hidden behind the excursions. Yet again, this idea illustrates the theme of a parallel universe; this one, the rules by which the girls live that goes unnoticed.

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