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I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

Joanne Greenberg

Chapters 16-19

Chapters 11-15

Chapters 20-23

Summary

Esther and Jacob finally admit that Deborah's illness does not have a quick and easy cure. Therefore, they tell Suzy the truth. Suzy, against all their expectations, takes the news calmly. She had always wondered why the reports from the hospital never mentioned physical problems. Now that she knows about Deborah's illness, everything makes sense. She hopes that Deborah will be well enough to return home soon.

Deborah once thought that she alone had a poisoned and poisoning substance, but now it seems that all the patients on the Disturbed Ward have the same taint. Deborah tells Dr. Fried that when she was nine, Yr gave her the ability to change her form. So, when the Second World War began, Deborah became Japanese. She was disguised as an American, but she was a captured Japanese soldier. Her transformation gave meaning to Yr's declaration that she was not "one of them."

After the session, Deborah senses Yr's oncoming punishment, so she asks a nurse to prepare her for restraints. Yr declares that her coming to the hospital was all part of the plan. The Third Mirror, the last deception, is yet to come. When she comes to, she is in pain due to the lack of movement and circulation in her legs. Deborah calls out for help, but the staff in long in responding. When she asked the nurse to prepare the restraints, Deborah had willingly asked for help for the first time. With the lingering pain in her legs, she considers the staff's "help" a cruel joke, a deception. Deborah relates all of this to Dr. Fried and declares that she knows Dr. Fried plans to betray her. Dr. Fried denies the accusation, but Deborah demands proof. Dr. Fried replies that time itself will prove her loyalty.

When Doris Rivera is brought back to the hospital, screaming and fighting, Deborah bitterly declares that the hope she represented was false after all. Deborah asks Doris if the world proved too tough for her, and Doris responds with bitter, angry sarcasm that she was simply too tough for the world. Later, Deborah breaks her ankle in an accident and has to be treated at another hospital, where the staff watches her with a morbid curiosity. Deborah realizes that this is what she and other patients will have to face when they leave the mental hospital.

Deborah confesses to Dr. Fried that she was tempted to act out "insanity" at the other hospital. Dr. Fried suggests that she would do better to help others understand mental illness. Deborah insists that her poisoned and poisoning substance only lets her have a kinship with people who share her taint. At camp, she and another girl, Eugenia, became friends. Later, Deborah found Eugenia in the showers, naked and alone. Eugenia gave her a leather belt and asked Deborah to beat her. Deborah, realizing that Eugenia had the same taint, ran away and never spoke to her again. If the same incident happened now, Deborah would not be afraid because she's "crazy now." For years, Deborah knew she was sick, although everyone told her she wasn't. When Dr. Fried told Deborah that she was sick, she proved that Deborah was saner than she thought.

When Carla returns to the Disturbed Ward, Carla assures Deborah that she shouldn't feel bad for her. She became tired because she tried to do too much at once. The gods of Yr declare that Deborah's poisonous essence is destined to destroy Carla. Deborah continues to share the secrets of Yr with Dr. Fried, but only to hasten the arrival of the final Deceit. Dr. Fried declares that Deborah's desire to meet her final destruction with beauty and poise is simply adolescent melodrama. Dr. Fried announces that she will be gone for the summer, so Dr. Royson will take over Deborah's case temporarily.

Deborah is transferred to the B ward. She convinces herself that Dr. Fried is dead. Dr. Royson attempts to prove to Deborah that the language of Yr is merely Deborah's own creation. Deborah begins to burn herself with stray matches and cigarette butts. After Dr. Halle cleans the wounds, Deborah experiences another psychotic episode. She returns to the Disturbed Ward, where another patient praises her capacity for violence. A doctor, however, reassures her that she didn't hurt anyone.

Commentary

While Deborah struggles to free herself from her illness, her family is also undergoing a difficult coping process. Jacob and Esther do not immediately withdraw Deborah from the hospital after they lose their hope for a quick cure. They allow her to continue receiving treatment despite the lack of clear, defined road to recovery. It takes an admirable amount of courage and faith for them to trust the hospital staff and Deborah, despite the trouble that her illness brings to the family.

By now, it should be clear that extreme alienation, shame, and distrust are important themes in Deborah's personal experiences. She suffered from anti-Semitic prejudice, fear of rejection and abandonment by her family, and intense shame regarding her early childhood surgery. She knew she was sick, but when she tried to draw attention to her symptoms, she was continually told that nothing was wrong. However, it would be a mistake to define her experiences as the "cause" of her illness. They influenced how she regarded her conviction that she was ill, although she didn't know at the time that she was suffering from a mental illness. These experiences shaped how the illness expressed itself, an important distinction.

Deborah's conviction that she became Japanese during the Second World War is clearly a delusion. However, behind this delusion, there is a comprehensible logic. Deborah was treated as an enemy outsider because she was a Jew. During the war, a tide of anti-Japanese hysteria swept the United States. Deborah's conviction that she was Japanese gave meaning to the prejudice Deborah had already suffered for years. Delusion is a characteristic of untreated schizophrenia, but the content of the delusions is partly influenced by the sufferer's personal experiences. For example, the logic of Yr adjusts to the world of the hospital. The gods of Yr declare that the hospital is the "Third Change" predicted in Yr's prophecy of Deborah's inevitable doom. This new development signals Deborah's difficult struggle to place her trust in the real world at the expense of her trust in the logic of Yr. Dr. Fried does not respond to Deborah's sudden doubts with false promises. She encourages Deborah to overcome her fear and continue her treatment by explaining that time is the best proof of her treatment's value.

Doris Rivera's re-admission to the hospital reawakens Deborah's extreme doubt about her own ability to live and function in the outside world. However, Deborah's anger and disappointment at this turn of events also reveals that she desires the chance to live and function in the real world. Doris represented the hope that she too could recover from mental illness. Nevertheless, as Dr. Fried explained, the road to recovery is a long and difficult process, rife with fear, doubt, and frequent setbacks. Greenberg's portrayal of these difficulties illustrates the tremendous courage and perseverance of the mentally ill exhibit in their struggle to reach mental health, which the vast majority of us take for granted. Her novel is a plea for empathy and understanding.

When Deborah visits another hospital after breaking her ankle, she realizes that part of the difficulty of "making it" in the outside world is dealing with the prevalent prejudices and negative stereotypes of the mentally ill. She is tempted to "justify" these prejudices by playing to the stereotypes for the staff at the other hospital. Dr. Fried points out that Deborah would better cope with these prejudices by helping other to understand mental illness by dispelling the negative myths associated with it rather than giving them what they expect--a stereotypical performance of "insanity."

Deborah's relationship with Dr. Royson is tense and ineffective because of a personality clash more than anything else. Royson's approach to Yr does not work as well as Dr. Fried's. Hence, Greenberg demonstrates that a mentally ill patient's recovery is dependent partly upon the patient's relationship with her or her doctor. Every patient is different, and therefore requires an individualized approach. Dr. Fried chose to participate in the reality that Yr represents while Dr. Royson attempts to treat Deborah by "proving" to her that Yr is her own creation. His approach might work with another patient, but with Deborah, it fails. Deborah sincerely tries to work with Dr. Royson. However, they could not establish the trust and rapport she has with Dr. Fried. This is only a setback in Deborah's treatment, not evidence of failure, or that she cannot overcome her illness. Often, it takes several tries for a patient to find the right doctor.

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