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Literature Study GuidesGirl InterruptedThe Secret Of Life Summary

Girl, Interrupted | Study Guide

Susanna Kaysen

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Girl, Interrupted | The Secret of Life | Summary



When Susanna learns that she has a male visitor, she figures it's not her boyfriend, her father, or her English teacher. It turns out to be James (Jim) Watson, a scientist who won the Nobel Prize for his work in DNA research—discovering, as she calls it, the secret of life. He is visibly uncomfortable in the hospital environment, while Susanna has grown used to it. Jim suggests she run away with him, yet Susanna refuses. There would be too many obstacles, and any vision of a life outside seems hazy and complicated compared to life in the hospital.


Susanna lists several people who were once close to her and who no longer come to visit. Although Susanna does not say so, they seem to have abandoned her. Her father is "busy," her boyfriend "[is]n't her boyfriend anymore." She wonders, "How could a person who was locked up have a boyfriend?" People do not want to interact with those confined in a mental institution. Susanna's comment from the very beginning of the memoir comes to mind: people don't wish to cross the threshold to the mental ward for fear that perhaps they might end up crazy, too, as if mental illness was contagious. Even Watson, the one representative of the outside world who does cross the threshold to visit her, is visibly uncomfortable and wants her to leave with him. While his suggestion to live with him in England might be born from a real concern about her welfare, it is impulsive and absurd. Susanna, the mentally ill one, reacts reasonably, telling him that the obstacles are too great and that she should stay in McLean to heal and recover.

In this section of the memoir, the world seems turned upside down: those who are sane act unreasonably, yet those who are insane act reasonably. Susanna has adjusted to life on the ward and has accepted that it is best for her to stay there. While at first glance this belief seems to suggest she has removed herself from the outside world and no longer wants to live in it, a second look reveals this is the only reasonable course of action. She understands her need to cope with her depression and is willing to face her demons rather than run away.

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