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I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

Joanne Greenberg

Chapters 20-23

Chapters 16-19

Chapters 24-29

Summary

Deborah continues to burn herself in order to ease the pressure of the "volcano inside her." She hides the burns so well that a doctor suggests that she might return to the B ward soon. Deborah knows that matches and cigarettes are less guarded on the B ward, so returning there might hasten her death, so she immediately reveals her burns. Although the restrictions on cigarettes and matches are tightened, Deborah still succeeds in stealing them. When Dr. Fried returns, Deborah struggles to explain that she tried to work with Dr. Royson, but he was only interested in being "right." Esther, frightened by the news of Deborah's behavior, meets with Dr. Fried. Dr. Fried does not try to placate her with false hope. She states that she is in high demand, so she would never take on a hopeless case. Dr. Fried hopes that Esther has a dominating, strong will to help her insist that Deborah's treatment continue, despite her family's objections.

Deborah's burn wounds stubbornly refuse to heal. When Helene attacks Sylvia, Sylvia remains silent and motionless, like Deborah did when Helene attacked her. While the staff rushes to contain Helene, Deborah alone understands that Sylvia needs attention as much as Helene. She wants to offer Sylvia comfort, but she cannot bring herself to do it. When she confesses this to Dr. Fried, she reminds Deborah that the world has a host of similar moral quandaries. Deborah states that she thinks, although she doesn't know why, that her habit of burning herself is not as serious as Dr. Fried believes it is. Deborah decides that she will not use the patients' cigarette butts to burn herself because she doesn't want to implicate them in her delinquency. She throws down a book of matches she stole from Dr. Fried, declaring that she will not use her either.

Deborah experiences a psychotic episode in which she writes Yri words all over the bathroom, some of them in her own blood. When she returns to consciousness, she realizes that the death she fears might not be a physical one. Deborah explains to Dr. Fried that she felt a combination of fear and anger during the episode. Dr. Fried assures her that she has a talent for health and life. Meanwhile, Deborah hears that Miss Coral threw a bed at Mrs. Forbes, one of the few staff members whom the patients try to protect from harm. Deborah, hoping to discover the reason for Miss Coral's violence against Mrs. Forbes, eavesdrops on a conversation in the staff room. Some of the attendants declare that everyone on the ward, including Deborah, is getting sicker.

Dr. Fried asks Deborah if she thinks she's getting sicker. Deborah complains that she is tired of thinking and explaining. She threatens to give up her treatment, and Dr. Fried tells her that the "poor little girl" can stay crazy forever. Dr. Fried again reminds her that she never promised Deborah that it would be easy. Deborah states that she doesn't think she's getting sicker at all. Dr. Fried repeats this assertion during a staff meeting. Afterwards, Dr. Royson states that he simply didn't get along with Deborah. He believes that Dr. Fried should be trusted.

Deborah suffers frequent psychotic episodes, but the staff seems to treat her more kindly. Dr. Fried says that the reason is that Deborah has lost her "stoniness of expression." Deborah is afraid because she has often made enemies because people misinterpreted her facial expressions. When Deborah and an attendant are walking through the cold, Deborah declares that they at least only have one kind of cold, one that a coat can alleviate. The attendant angrily denies this, explaining that the patients do not have to work at hard jobs for low pay while supporting a family. Later, Deborah decides that she will not die. Deborah realizes that being a Japanese soldier represented anger and martyrdom, the characteristics of her grandfather. Meanwhile, Deborah's burns finally begin to heal. Carla returns to the hospital after a brief stint in the world outside.

Dr. Fried tells Deborah that she has realized something about Deborah's confession that she had tried to kill Suzy. A five-year-old could not possibly have lifted a heavy baby out of a bassinet and held it out a window, only to draw it back in a few seconds later. Later when she notices Carla's hands shaking, Deborah steadies them with her own hands.

Commentary

Deborah's self-mutilation may seem like a drastic setback, but it can also be regarded as a form of self-medication. She uses it to relieve the pressure of the "volcano" inside her when therapy with Dr. Royson proves unsuccessful. Although she is convinced that Dr. Fried is dead, one wonders why she is trying to put off the explosion. It is possible that she was waiting for Dr. Fried's return all along, staving off the impending psychotic episode that overtakes her shortly before Dr. Fried's return. Perhaps, then, the self-mutilation is evidence of Deborah's struggle to overcome her fear of abandonment.

Deborah continues to develop a sense of the emotional reality of people around her. Her recognition of Sylvia's silent distress in the aftermath of an attack by Helene reveals that she has developed her capacity for empathy, though she is still too afraid to act on it. Her decision to stop stealing cigarettes and matches from the other patients and Dr. Fried demonstrates that she has begun to develop a moral code to structure her interactions with the real world. This also constitutes a refusal to allow her illness to dictate her choices and her interaction with the world, an important step in her recovery. She is eventually able to offer comfort to Carla, her friend, indicating that her hesitance to emotionally invest has begun to fade.

Dr. Fried prompts Deborah to form her own opinions about her illness in the wake of Deborah's discovery that the staff believes that she and the other patients are getting "sicker." Deborah finally replies that she doesn't think they are right. She even challenges Dr. Fried's judgment by stating that her recent habit of self-mutilation is not that serious. Hence, Deborah has begun to place trust in herself and her own self-knowledge. Deborah's judgments of her own progress are borne out by the greater expressiveness of her facial expressions, a sign of progress in her emotional development. She extends her emotional awareness to the staff when she acknowledges that their lives are difficult and stressful even if they do not suffer from mental illness . This is also important because if forces her to acknowledge that not even mentally healthy people have it easy all the time. Engagement in reality, as Dr. Fried told her, is not without its own troubles.

Moreover, Deborah discovers that she isn't as dangerous to others as she once thought. She never actually tried to kill her sister. Over the years, she became convinced that she was poisonous to others, so she created a false memory of attempting to murder her sister. Before she started treatment at the hospital, Deborah was convinced that her negative emotions were destructive to others. She did not like Suzy when she first arrived, so Deborah convinced herself that she tried to destroy her sister. However, negative, aggressive emotions are normal part of living, and they don't necessarily translate into harmful behavior toward others.

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