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I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

Joanne Greenberg

Chapters 11-15

Chapters 6-10

Chapters 16-19

Summary

After Hobbs commits suicide, he is replaced with a Conscientious Objector, Ellis. Sylvia announces that it is against the Conscientious Objector's religion to commit suicide. Normally, Sylvia is silent, so Lee Miller hurries to inform a nurse that Sylvia spoke. Deborah admires Lee for joining reality for Sylvia's benefit. Deborah descends into a psychotic episode as Yr's gods declare that they will punish her with insanity if she dares to admire the Earth world.

The patients continually ridicule Ellis' religious beliefs. Deborah taunts him with a comparison between psychotics and religious zealots. Ellis considers himself a Christian martyr. McPherson, a popular attendant who is never attacked, asks Deborah to leave Ellis alone. Deborah declares that neither Ellis nor Hobbs was different from the patients. McPherson angrily tells her that a lot of people who need, even want, help cannot afford to get it. Although she is terrified, Deborah is happy that McPherson treated her with the respect one accords an equal.

Dr. Fried states that Yr is Deborah's own creation, acknowledging that it is nevertheless real for Deborah. Deborah realizes now that her grandfather's bitter anger and resentment against the long-dead Latvian noblemen is part of her illness. His pride in her was also an expression of his anger and the battle with the Latvian noblemen that mattered only to him. In the United States, there were new battles against anti-Semitic Americans. The adults were amazed at her sharp wit, but children saw through it, so they tormented her. Suddenly Deborah recalls a distant memory of being cared for by a nurse. She felt that the world had gone gray. Dr. Fried suggests that she is remembering feelings of abandonment after her mother had to go away for rest after miscarrying her twin sons. Deborah experiences these same feelings and colorlessness when she suffers psychotic episodes. When Dr. Fried touches Deborah to comfort her, the doctor's touch feels like lightening to Deborah.

Many nurses and attendants are afraid of the similarities between themselves and the patients. Deborah tries to comfort those who are frightened of her, but she only succeeds in frightening them more. Yr's gods declares that she will taint those of the Earth world, triggering a psychotic episode. When she comes to, Helene is restrained in a nearby bed. Ellis enters the room to take Helene's pulse. When she resists, he methodically slaps her into submission. Deborah later reports his violence to the ward staff, but no one takes her seriously.

Deborah gives Dr. Fried the name Furii, or Fire-Touch, in Yri. Dr. Fried promises to mention Ellis' violence at the staff meeting, but she warns Deborah that she has no control over the Disturbed Ward's policy. Deborah declares that Dr. Fried's reality is useless if it is so unjust. Dr. Fried reminds her that she only promised to help Deborah become free of her illness, so that she could fight for peace, happiness, and justice. Dr. Fried suddenly remembers that when Tilda once escaped the hospital in Nazi Germany, she returned to tell Dr. Fried that the world outside was crazier than she was.

Dr. Fried demands that Deborah address her relationship with her father. Deborah confesses that she and her father share the same violent temper. Once, when a man flashed Deborah, he acted as if Deborah had attracted this perverted attention. Deborah cried out that she had already been broken and violated, so she was not good enough for a better kind of man. Her father slapped her because he secretly had entertained the same thoughts. Dr. Fried promises Deborah that after their work is done, Deborah will be free to choose between Earth and insanity.

Miss Coral, an elderly former patient, returns to the hospital. Despite her age and small stature, she can fight so fiercely that it takes several attendants to subdue her. When Lee tells Deborah that Miss Coral knows several languages, Deborah asks Miss Coral to teach them to her, and Miss Coral agrees. When Carla informs Deborah that she is moving to the B Ward, Deborah is afraid to realize that she will miss her. After Miss Coral imparts everything she knows of Latin and Greek, she informs Deborah that Ellis is fluent in Greek and that he might be willing to teach her.

Commentary

One of the problems common to most of Deborah's fellow patients is a fear of emotional investment in others. However, the prejudices and misunderstanding of others is partly responsible for Deborah's fear of emotional investment. Throughout her childhood, she faced the anti-Semitic prejudices of her peers and neighbors, and now she struggles with the stigma of mental illness. Even in the hospital, she overhears the staff criticize her as a spoiled little rich girl who doesn't even know the meaning of suffering. Nevertheless, Greenberg explains their insensitivity as a combination of the difficult, stressful conditions under which they work and the stigmatized status of mental illness.

Moreover, Deborah's fear of emotional investment does translate into a lack of desire or an inability to connect with others. Deborah admires Lee for reporting Sylvia's unusual decision to speak. She is also pleased that McPherson treats her with the respect one accords an equal when he requests that she cease tormenting Ellis. Ellis, like Hobbs, gets what he wants from the patients. They recognize his martyr complex, so they go out of their way to reinforce it. McPherson admonishes Deborah for being so self-centered as to think that she and the other patients have "a corner on suffering." He not only believes that she is capable of empathy and moral behavior--he expects it of her. He does not treat her as a helpless invalid, but he is not insensitive to her suffering either.

The gods of Yr threaten to punish Deborah with "insanity" if she dares to continue admiring the real world. Ironically, this actually conceals an unconscious acknowledgement on Deborah's part that her illness, not the world, is the enemy. Meanwhile, Dr. Fried continues to encourage Deborah to examine Yr as a symptom of her illness and a manifestation of human fears, shame, and doubt. She doesn't belittle Yr as an "imaginary" phantom that Deborah should discard immediately because she recognizes Yr as a part of Deborah's subjective "reality." Deborah gives Dr. Fried an Yri name, a sign that she has begun to include Dr. Fried as a part of her "reality," a part of the logic she has created to understand and interact with the world through Yr. Hence, Deborah has begun to trust Dr. Fried.

Through therapy, Deborah begins to understand the origins of her conviction that she carries a fatal, poisonous taint. Prior to the discovery of her tumor, she suffered from incontinence. She was punished severely for it until it was discovered that a tumor was the cause. It did not help that the tumor affected her reproductive organs, a part of the female body that was, and often still is, shrouded in shame and secrecy. Hence, shame and illness were connected in Deborah's mind from an early age. Jacob's irrational fear that sexual perverts would victimize Deborah was coupled with a conviction that Deborah somehow attracted such men. Moreover, the surgery itself came to represent a loss of sexual purity in his mind as well as hers, so the connection between shame, taint, and illness was strengthened further. However, Dr. Fried prompts Deborah to recognize Jacob's feelings and actions as those of a fallible human being, not a monster.

Deborah examines her grandfather's intense desire for perfection as a reaction to the humiliation and insults that he suffered at the hands of the Latvian aristocracy. His tormentors' assertion that he was worthless because he was a clubfoot Jew was based on irrational prejudice. However, he tried to rationally prove them "wrong" through the greatness and brilliance of his family. He wanted Deborah to be sharp and witty because he viewed her as a part of his struggle for acceptance and respect. Deborah's peers recognized that her sharp wit as a disguise for her insecurity and desire for acceptance. They proceeded to attack her where she was weakest--by rejecting her as a "dirty Jew." Hence, Deborah's conviction that she has a fatal, poisonous taint is perhaps related to the prejudice against her ethnic and religious identity.

Deborah actively participates in the laws of the real world when she reports Ellis' violence. She is disappointed that her actions do not immediately result in the justice she seeks for Helene. Dr. Fried reminds her that laws of reality are imperfect. Therefore, a desire for perfection, a prevalent theme in Deborah's family, is destined for disappointment. Unlike Yr and its gods, Dr. Fried does not try to dominate Deborah. She promises to help Deborah freely make a choice between Yr and the real world, and to give her the means to fight for justice and happiness if she chooses the real world. Therefore, Dr. Fried does not play the tyrant as Deborah's imaginary gods do, but attempts to help Deborah regain control over her own reality, including Yr.

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