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Lisa has run away. Despite frequent escapes, Lisa is always
caught and returned to the hospital, disheveled and cursing at the
nurses and orderlies. When the girls ask Lisa what life is like
on the outside, she tells them that it’s scary without caretakers.
Lisa sleeps and eats very little, giving her a wild look that intrigues
the other girls. The nurses are resigned to Lisa’s insomnia, and
they allow her to sit in the hallway at night. Although she usually
returns from the outside world to resume her role as mischief-maker,
Lisa is oddly subdued this time. The nurses have put her in solitary
confinement, cutting off her fingernails and removing her belt to
ensure that Lisa cannot hurt herself. Kaysen thinks that the nurses
misunderstand the nature of Lisa’s illness: she is a sociopath who
would never hurt herself. Lisa sits silently in front of the television
with the catatonics and depressives whom she used to ridicule for
inactivity. The girls wonder whether the nurses are drugging Lisa
with sedatives. Eventually, Lisa begins to spend time away from
the television and only in the bathrooms instead. One day, Lisa
greets the girls as her smiling, familiar self. When the girls hear
the nurses rushing around in alarm, they investigate. Lisa has wrapped
the entire television lounge in toilet paper, stolen over time from
the bathrooms. Kaysen realizes that Lisa has been planning the prank
for months, disguising her scheme with odd behavior.
Kaysen has a visitor. She wonders whether it is her ex-boyfriend
or her high school English teacher, with whom she had an affair.
The visitor turns out to be James Watson, an old family friend and
one of the Nobel Prize-winning discoverers of DNA. She hopes that
Watson will share with her the secret of life. Kaysen is fond of
Watson because of his quirky personality and unconventional behavior. Watson
thinks that McLean is an unhealthy place for Kaysen, and he offers
to help her escape. Kaysen considers the offer but declines. She
tells him that she thinks she should stay.
Georgina, Kaysen’s roommate, has a boyfriend named Wade,
who lives on another ward. Wade is angry and often violent, requiring two
orderlies to pin him down during his outbursts. Wade tells the girls
that his father is an agent for the CIA, knows who killed JFK, and
is a veteran of the Bay of Pigs invasion. Wade also tells stories about
his father’s friends E. Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy, whom he describes
as dangerous men likely to “do anything.” Neither Kaysen nor the
nurses believe Wade’s stories, but Kaysen finds them entertaining.
One day when Wade is locked on his ward due to a violent outburst,
Kaysen and Georgina decide to make caramels by heating sugar on
the stove. Kaysen’s grip on the pan slips, and she pours searing
hot caramel on Georgina’s hand. Although Kaysen is frantic, Georgina
hardly reacts. Looking back on the incident, Kaysen notes that either
Liddy or Hunt claimed in the Watergate hearings to have run his
hand nightly over a candle flame in order to prepare himself for
torture. The goal was not to react at all, much as Georgina responded
Daisy checks into McLean each year between Thanksgiving
and Christmas. Few of the girls want to share a room with her, but
some are looking to change their living situations. A genitally
deformed girl who believes that her boyfriend is from Mars offers
to share, as does Cynthia, a quiet girl undergoing months of electroshock
therapy. Polly is looking to change rooms to get away from Janet,
an anorexic who is due to begin force-feedings soon. The nurses
give Daisy a single room from which she rarely emerges. Each morning, Daisy
demands laxatives from the nurses, attacking anyone who dares to
approach her. The girls find it peculiar that Daisy’s father appears
on the ward twice each week with an entire roasted chicken for his
daughter. Lisa is determined to find out what Daisy is concealing
in her room and bribes Daisy with extra laxatives she cons from
the nurses. Later, Lisa tells the other girls that Daisy’s room
is filled with old chicken carcasses from which she has stripped
all the meat. One day, Daisy proudly reveals that her father has
purchased an apartment for her. Daisy’s favorite feature of the
apartment is a sign on the building that reads: “If You Lived Here,
You’d Be Home Now.” Several months later, the nurses reveal that
Daisy committed suicide on her birthday.
Lisa is the most fully drawn character in Kaysen’s memoir,
other than herself. In studying Lisa’s behavior, Kaysen learns much
about the contradictions inherent in the human personality, and
the ways some people react to repressive authority. Lisa is unpredictable
and confident, attracting the other girls with her defiance of hospital rules.
She is clever and sneaky. When Kaysen discovers that Lisa spent
three months planning the toilet paper prank, she is awestruck by
Lisa’s ability to lie in wait only to strike at the perfect moment. We,
too, learn to be suspicious of Lisa’s motives. Kaysen touches here
on the girls’ conflicting attitudes toward confinement. Lisa surprises
her fellow patients and the reader when she says, upon returning
from an escape, that she is glad to be back. “There’s nobody to take
care of you out there,” she says. Each of the girls experiences this
conflict: they simultaneously loathe captivity and yet are relieved
to be in the hands of caretaking authority figures.
Kaysen’s interaction with Jim Watson speaks to the theme
of the human impulse to reject, isolate, and punish unconventional
behavior. Kaysen tells us that she likes Watson precisely because
of his quirky behavior, the way he “fad[es] out” of conversations
and appears quite unlike the traditional image of a Nobel Prize-winning scientist.
Watson is credited with discovering the structure of DNA, the “secret
of life” in Kaysen’s words. Her description of Watson’s personality,
set against the backdrop of his massive achievements, echoes the
premise that hangs over the entire text: in our insistence on classifying
“odd” behavior as evidence of insanity, we may be ignoring the contributions
of the human race’s most creative minds.
Wade, Georgina’s boyfriend, embodies the recurrent motif
of people discounting the words of the “crazy.” Wade’s stories about his
father’s shadowy friends appear to be the conspiracy ravings of
a troubled and angry boy. The nurses note that Wade “continues [to maintain
the] fantasy” that his father is a CIA operative whose friends are
involved in elaborate plots. The benefit of hindsight allows us
to draw some very different conclusions when we learn that two of
Wade Sr.’s friends are named Hunt and Liddy. In 1972, only
a few years after Kaysen’s time at the hospital, these two men were
at the heart of the Watergate burglary, in which Nixon operatives
broke into Democratic election headquarters and stole documents.
Revelations about the burglary brought down the Nixon presidency
and would seem to support Wade’s contention that “[Hunt and Liddy]
will do anything.” Kaysen includes the story to point out the danger
of hastily discounting what “insane” people say. The anecdote underscores
Kaysen’s belief that to approach mental illness with cookie-cutter
solutions is shortsighted.
Daisy’s story highlights the wide range of illness grouped together
on Kaysen’s hospital ward. Daisy is among the most severely ill
of Kaysen’s fellow patients. When Lisa discovers the full extent
of Daisy’s sickness, it is clear that Daisy and Kaysen occupy very
different places on the spectrum of psychiatric disorders. This stark
contrast leads us to question the nature of the approach to treatment
pursued by McLean. Daisy would appear an appropriate candidate for
hospitalization, yet she arrives at Thanksgiving each year and stays
only until Christmas; Kaysen is a resident on the ward for two full
years. The disparity here in both illness and treatment among a
number of different patients instills doubts about Kaysen’s treatment.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Girl, Interrupted!