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Girl, Interrupted

Susanna Kaysen

Sections 25–27

Sections 23–24

Sections 28–30

Summary: Calais Is Engraved on My Heart

A new patient arrives named Alice Calais. She pronounces her last name “callous,” which surprises some of the girls, who expected the French pronunciation “callay.” Alice is startlingly naive and shocks Kaysen when she admits to never having tasted honey. One day, Alice suffers some sort of mental collapse and is taken to the maximum-security ward by a pair of nurses. Curious, several of the girls decide to visit Alice on her new ward, which is markedly different from their own. Bars obscure every window, and there are no doors or seats in the bathroom. The patients’ rooms appear just like the seclusion room in Kaysen’s ward—empty except for a mattress. Alice has smeared herself and the walls of her cell with feces. Alice’s appearance and total change in character repulses the girls, who quickly decide to leave. The nurses are slow to let them out, and Kaysen begins to panic. Lisa lights a cigarette, prompting immediate attention from the staff. Once back on their own ward, the girls discuss the likelihood that any of them could end up like Alice. “Don’t let it,” says Georgina. “Don’t forget it.”

Summary: The Shadow of the Real

Kaysen recalls time spent with her therapist, Melvin, whom she likes. His presence is calming, although he annoys Kaysen with vague questions and answers. Kaysen objects to the therapist’s comment that she is confused based on the simplistic observation that she is eighteen and confined to a mental hospital. The therapist arrives to his appointment with Kaysen one day in a sports car, which prompts her to remark that he usually drives a station wagon or a sedan. She draws a parallel between Freud’s depiction of the division of the psyche into three parts—the ego, the superego, and the id—and the therapist’s three cars. Something about her observation leads the therapist to suggest that Kaysen enter analysis, a more rigorous kind of therapy. Once Kaysen’s analysis program begins, Melvin arranges for her to have grounds privileges at the hospital, enabling her to travel around the property without an escort. Kaysen discovers a series of tunnels under the hospital grounds that nurses use to move the patients around during bad weather. Kaysen loves the odor and silence of the tunnels, and the way that they connect the entire hospital, undetected by those above ground. Melvin suggests that Kaysen likes the tunnels because they resemble a womb. Kaysen rejects his explanation. She sees the tunnels as an echo of Plato’s theory that everything we see in this world is simply a copy of its ideal form. Kaysen later finds out that she is Melvin’s first analysis patient, and she resolves not to continue to engage in the sort of mental games he favors.

Summary: Stigmatography

McLean Hospital’s address is well known in Massachusetts, and patients are revealed to be mentally unstable if they ever disclose their address to anyone. The rude owner of a sewing store rejects Kaysen’s job application after discovering her history. She wonders is she will ever lead a conventional life after McLean, or if she is forever contaminated by her time at a psychiatric facility. Kaysen stops telling people about her hospital stay to avoid their probing questions. She begins to feel disgust for the mentally ill despite her familiarity with their plight and wonders whether people without her experience judge the insane even more harshly.

Analysis

Alice Calais’s condition conveys the horror and suddenness of certain types of mental illness. Alice’s initially calm demeanor quickly fades. Her feces-smeared cell and trembling figure allow the girls to gain perspective on their own illnesses. Suddenly the unhappy hallways of Kaysen’s ward appear cheery compared to the chicken wire, bare mattresses, and barred windows that comprise Alice’s maximum-security wing. Kaysen wonders whether she could ever end up in Alice’s condition. We know that Georgina’s resolve never to let it happen is inadequate; grave mental illness can overpower one’s will.

The tunnels beneath the hospital are an important symbol for Kaysen—an illustration of the difference between the essence of a thing and its copy, or “shadow.” Kaysen is first attracted to the tunnels because of their warmth and separation from the rest of the hospital. She has discovered an entire world to explore without obvious boundaries and rules. The lack of signs in the tunnels differs greatly from the hospital above, where every turn, hall, and room is clearly marked. Kaysen attempts to explain her attraction to the tunnels to her therapist by citing Plato. In The Republic, Plato describes his conception of the world using the shadows cast by a fire on the wall of a cave. Plato believes that the things we see are merely reproductions, or photocopies, of their ideal forms. Kaysen sees the tunnels as the “essence” of the hospital, stripped of all unnecessary detail. Similarly, Kaysen sees her time with her therapist as “messing about in the shadows,” ignoring the truth of her difficulties with trivial analyses.

Kaysen’s frustrating employment search underscores society’s prejudice toward and rejection of the unconventional. Her fears that she will be marked forever by her past seem unfortunately valid as she is turned away from one job after another. In a difficult admission, Kaysen confesses to feelings of disgust for the mentally ill. This is based on her fear that she will slide back into the ranks of the “crazy.” Kaysen learns to hide her history in a combination of secrecy and self-loathing.

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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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