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Literature Study GuidesGirl InterruptedThe Shadow Of The Real Summary

Girl, Interrupted | Study Guide

Susanna Kaysen

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Girl, Interrupted | The Shadow of the Real | Summary



Susanna's therapist has died, and Susanna is sad because she enjoyed her sessions with him. She realizes he tricked her into talking by prodding her with false claims she had to set straight. In one session, Susanna likened the three cars he drove as expressions of the three parts of the psyche (id, ego, and superego) identified by Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis. The irresponsible id finds expression in the sports car, the reliable ego finds expression in the station wagon, and the power-driven superego expresses itself in the sedan. Telling her that her awareness of her illness makes her a prime candidate for analysis, he flatters her into being analyzed. To make her regular visits to his office easier, she receives destination privileges that allow her to go to his office and back without supervision, as long as she calls when she gets to her destination. When she receives ground privileges, because her therapist dislikes the constant phone calls, she discovers a system of tunnels underneath the hospital. They are warm and smell clean. Her therapist likens them to the womb, yet Susanna disagrees and compares them to Plato's allegory of the cave. Like the shadows seen by the men in Plato's cave, the tunnels are mere representations of the real thing.


The fact that Susanna is aware of her mental disorder and able to analyze it makes her a candidate for therapy, and therapy points the way to recovery. To facilitate her therapy sessions, she receives privileges that signal her growing sense of responsibility. She can be trusted with destination privileges, and following rules is the first step to successful reintegration in society. It's no accident that she discovers the tunnels below the hospital at this stage of her recovery. Metaphorically, the tunnels represent McLean. Her therapist likens them to the womb, a place of warmth and safety, suggesting that McLean shelters the girls from the outside world. Susanna, however, compares them to Plato's cave, in which prisoners can see only shadows on the wall cast by a fire, falsely assuming the shadows are the real thing. Susanna suggests that the tunnels underneath McLean, some with signposts and some without, represent the maze of the real world outside. She is fascinated and wants to explore them, suggesting that she is getting ready to fend for herself in the world.

Susanna and her doctor interpret the meaning of the tunnels differently. This discussion illustrates once again the theme of the difficulty in establishing an objective truth. Furthermore, Susanna suggests that everyone is manipulated by subconscious forces, so the line between sanity and insanity is not as sharply defined as people may assume.

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