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Girl, Interrupted

Susanna Kaysen

Important Quotations Explained

Sections 31–34

Key Facts

1.
Every window on Alcatraz has a view of San Francisco.
These words, from the opening chapter “Toward a Topography of the Parallel Universe,” illustrate the “parallel universe” inhabited by the mentally ill. Kaysen describes the ease with which a person can slip into this other reality, tempted by glimpses through the thin “membrane” that separates the sane from the insane. Once inside, a new set of rules replaces the conventions of life on the outside. The cruel irony of life in the “parallel universe” is embodied by a person’s perfect awareness of the reality left behind. The afflicted mind is still very much aware of the world it has abandoned. Kaysen compares this alternate reality to a prison, but notes that even the worst prisons occasionally allow glimpses of something beautiful. Thus, being mentally ill can be worse than being in prison.
2.
Freedom was the price of privacy.
Kaysen describes the patients’ loss of freedom in the chapter “Applied Topography.” Locked in the dehumanizing world of the hospital ward, the girls are stripped of privacy. The only private space on the ward is the seclusion room. The nurses banish the violent or rowdy to seclusion, but Kaysen discovers that the experience can be something other than punishment. The seclusion room is the only place where a patient can find reprieve from the relentless watch of nurses and the oppressive feeling of the wards. The seclusion offers a brief reprieve from the ward in exchange for the ability to move around freely.
3.
“Hey man,” said Lisa, “it passes the time.”
Lisa throws a tantrum in the “Security Room” chapter, demanding that the nurses open her locked window. Lisa yells and curses at the staff, promising to call her lawyer if her needs aren’t met. This is a typical tactic for Lisa, who knows that the nurses value calm and order; they will accommodate her if only to shut her up. Once the window is open, Valerie realizes that Lisa never cared about the window; she was simply entertaining herself. Trapped in an airless hospital ward with nothing but familiar faces and a television, Lisa’s energies require release. She is honest when confronted. With no prospect of getting out of the hospital anytime soon, Lisa is just trying to kill some time.
4.
“It couldn’t, could it?” I asked. “Don’t let it,” said Georgina. “Don’t forget it.”
In the chapter “Calais Is Engraved on My Heart,” Kaysen recounts the arrival and swift departure of Alice Calais, a seemingly quiet girl whose catastrophic breakdown prompts her removal to maximum security. Both Alice and Daisy suffer from obvious and profound mental illness, unlike most of the other girls on the ward. The routine of life in the hospital lulls Kaysen and the others into boredom and monotonous routine, but the sudden appearance of full-blown mental illness shocks them. When the girls visit Alice, they find her smeared in her own waste, a different creature from the retiring girl they’d known only days before. Each of the girls gains instant perspective on her own problems, and wonders whether Alice’s fate could be in store for the others. Georgina’s firm command never to forget what they have seen summarizes the uncertainty and fear that Kaysen and her fellow patients feel.
5.
It’s a fairly accurate portrait of me at eighteen, minus a few quirks like reckless driving and eating binges. It’s accurate but it isn’t profound.
Speaking in the chapter “My Diagnosis,” Kaysen confronts the judgment of her doctors some twenty-five years later. Labeled a borderline personality, Kaysen considers the aptness of the diagnosis. In responding to each of the elements of the borderline personality disorder, she concedes that much of her adolescent behavior fit the definition. Yet in her charge that the designation is “accurate” but not “profound,” Kaysen explores the nature of mental illness and how it is diagnosed. Fads rise and fall with the decades as one diagnosis succeeds another as the popular illness of the day. Many of the behaviors described could also, if examined outside the scope of mental illness, be excused as typical or harmless. Kaysen doesn’t argue that she was healthy; rather, she cautions her readers that a diagnosis isn’t the sum of a personality.

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The answer to question 17 is incorrect

by texasfocus, April 19, 2014

17. Whom do the girls visit on the maximum-security ward?

SparkNotes says the correct answer is Lisa Cody, when it was actually Alice Calais (vivid because of the feces all over her and the room).

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