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Girl, Interrupted | Study Guide

Susanna Kaysen

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Course Hero. "Girl, Interrupted Study Guide." June 14, 2017. Accessed December 18, 2017. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Girl-Interrupted/.

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Girl, Interrupted | Toward A Topography of the Parallel Universe | Summary

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Summary

Girl, Interrupted begins with an image of the author's actual case record, which introduces the personal background of the memoir's subject. Susanna Kaysen is an 18-year-old high-school graduate who has voluntarily admitted herself to the psychiatric ward of McLean Hospital on April 27, 1967. Her diagnosis: borderline personality.

Susanna, the first-person narrator and main character of the memoir, is often asked how she ended up in a mental hospital. She describes mental illness as a parallel universe where even the rules of physics, time, and the material world don't seem to apply. Crossing over to this universe is easy, she says, and can happen at any time and anywhere to anyone. She relates how Georgina, one of the girls she meets at McLean, was overwhelmed by her depression at a movie theater and suffered a sudden mental breakdown. Most people, however, enter the parallel universe of mental illness step by step, losing touch with reality in increments. Once they have crossed over, patients are still aware of the world they came from, while the world is not necessarily aware of the universe in which the patients now exist.

Analysis

The photograph of the real case record showing Susanna Kaysen's admittance to McLean Hospital serves as evidence that this memoir is firmly based in reality and facts, although it is told by a woman who has been diagnosed with a mental illness and so has potentially lost her sense of reality. However, contrasting these forms with her narrative, Susanna Kaysen seems to say that facts are only part of the story.

The description of madness as a parallel universe stands in stark contrast to the factuality of the case record. Things are not quite as clear-cut once a person has entered the parallel universe of mental illness. Not even the laws of physics apply: for a person with mental illness, what goes up does not necessarily come down. Nothing can be taken for granted, and very little is certain. A table might be a clock, time might flow backward, and common sense no longer applies. The breakdown of one's sense of reality seems unavoidable. It can be sudden, as it was with Georgina's onset of depression while watching a movie, or slow, as it was with Susanna.

The parallel universe of madness exists at the margins of the real world; patients are locked up and hidden away in institutions such as McLean. Comparing it to Alcatraz, a prison on an island outside of San Francisco with windows overlooking the city, Susanna laments that mental patients are imprisoned in more ways than one: imprisoned in their own parallel universe of mental illness and physically locked away from the world outside. In contrasting the world of the sane and the world of the insane, Susanna suggests that mental patients can see both sides of their situation in a way the sane cannot.

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