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A new patient arrives, also named Lisa. The girls decide
to call her Lisa Cody in deference to the other Lisa. The Lisas
sit in two different phone booths and have conversations with each
other, yelling playfully back and forth. The doctors have yet to
diagnose Lisa Cody. Cynthia suffers from depression, Polly and Georgina
from schizophrenia, Kaysen from a “character disorder,” and Lisa
is a sociopath. Soon, Lisa Cody is pleased to discover that she
is a sociopath as well, a diagnosis that puts her in the company
of her idol Lisa. Lisa, however, isn’t happy to share her diagnosis,
of which she is quite proud. She turns on Lisa Cody, acting out
in order to prove that the other girl’s condition isn’t as severe
as her own. A competition of illness begins between the two girls
as Lisa challenges Lisa Cody to match her own self-destructive behavior.
Lisa accuses Lisa Cody of being a fake drug addict, a suburban imitation
of the real thing. Eventually, Lisa stuns the ward when she steals
all the light bulbs and hides them in a closet. Lisa Cody finds
the bulbs, and, perhaps realizing that she can’t compete, runs away
from the hospital. When Lisa escapes some time later, she returns
with the news that Lisa Cody has become “a real junkie now.”
The girls discuss the difficulty of having sex within
the time limits imposed by the nurse’s periodic checks. They agree
that five-minute checks leave too little time, but that sex might
be possible with fifteen minutes. The staff insists on supervising
guest visits with guests after catching Kaysen performing oral sex
on her boyfriend. The girls argue about who has a boyfriend and
who is simply pretending to have one. Lisa says that Georgina will
lend Wade to Kaysen to test the fifteen-minute proposition. The
girls advise Kaysen to stop seeing her boyfriend. Lisa urges her
to find meet someone at the hospital, but Kaysen balks at the prospect
of having a “crazy” boyfriend. The girls imagine the luxury of half-hour
checks but mock the possibility as hopelessly out of reach.
The doctor who pressed Kaysen to admit herself to the
hospital claims that he interviewed her for three hours, although
she remembers only twenty minutes of it. She wonders whether it
matters which account is the accurate one. The hospital admission
report records Kaysen’s entrance at 1:30 p.m.
Retracing her steps from that piece of evidence, Kaysen concludes
that she must have spent three hours with the doctor. Other evidence
appears to contradict the original conclusion. A hospital doctor’s
note claims that she reached the hospital at 11:30 a.m.
If this were true, then Kaysen’s twenty-minute estimation must be
correct. She leaves the responsibility of deciphering the ambiguity
The Lisa Cody episode serves as a pocket analysis of the
original Lisa’s character. We already know that Lisa can be entertaining
and that she enjoys any novelty that relieves the routine of the
ward. Lisa Cody is simply a novelty to her. Lisa sparks an immediate
friendship with Lisa Cody, who shares her interest in mischievous,
playful behavior. But Lisa cannot tolerate any threat to her status
as the strongest personality on the ward, and she quickly turns
on Lisa Cody. Lisa is a sociopath, a uniformly selfish personality
who insists on serving her own interests exclusively. Her attacks
on Lisa Cody, performed in front of the other girls, are cruel and
personal. Lisa Cody can’t help but engage Lisa in competition to
determine which of them is most daring, but she misses the point
of the competition. Lisa’s status is already secure, in her own
mind and in the minds of others; the point of the competition is
to undermine Lisa Cody’s position and perhaps her own conception
of self. Lisa wins, of course, in a more dramatic way than even
she could have expected. When Lisa triumphantly reveals that Lisa
Cody has become an actual junkie, we understand the depth of Lisa’s
The title of the chapter “Checkmate” refers to the oppressive timetable
by which the nurses inspect the girls: with five- and fifteen-minute
checks, the girls are almost never able to engage sexually with
their boyfriends. Sex is arguably the most pressing urge for adolescents,
for many, a crucial expression of independence and emerging adulthood.
Authority’s intrusion on this personal expression highlights the
extent to which the girls have been stripped of their freedom. The
girls are resigned to their plight, made clear when Lisa Cody compares
the likelihood of half-hour checks to winning a million dollars.
Kaysen startles the reader when she revisits her initial
diagnosis and investigates her memories of that morning. The inquiry
that follows reveals the nature of a memoir, by definition a subjective
stringing together of a writer’s memories to fit an agenda, whether conscious
or not. Kaysen’s anger that a twenty-minute diagnosis resulted in
her two-year stay in a psychiatric facility is understandable. Earlier,
we’re told that she had never before met with the psychiatrist,
who seems eager to confine Kaysen to a mental ward. But in presenting
hospital admission records and other inconclusive circumstances,
Kaysen confesses that her memories are an uncertain guide. Kaysen
unsettles us by demonstrating that even paper evidence can be as
unreliable as memories. This weakness of judgment and memory appears
elsewhere in the book, a warning to readers that every voice of
authority, even the narrator’s own, should be questioned.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Girl, Interrupted!