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A new patient arrives named Alice Calais. She pronounces
her last name “callous,” which surprises some of the girls, who
expected the French pronunciation “callay.” Alice is startlingly
naive and shocks Kaysen when she admits to never having tasted honey.
One day, Alice suffers some sort of mental collapse and is taken
to the maximum-security ward by a pair of nurses. Curious, several
of the girls decide to visit Alice on her new ward, which is markedly
different from their own. Bars obscure every window, and there are
no doors or seats in the bathroom. The patients’ rooms appear just
like the seclusion room in Kaysen’s ward—empty except for a mattress. Alice
has smeared herself and the walls of her cell with feces. Alice’s appearance
and total change in character repulses the girls, who quickly decide
to leave. The nurses are slow to let them out, and Kaysen begins
to panic. Lisa lights a cigarette, prompting immediate attention
from the staff. Once back on their own ward, the girls discuss the
likelihood that any of them could end up like Alice. “Don’t let
it,” says Georgina. “Don’t forget it.”
Kaysen recalls time spent with her therapist, Melvin,
whom she likes. His presence is calming, although he annoys Kaysen
with vague questions and answers. Kaysen objects to the therapist’s
comment that she is confused based on the simplistic observation
that she is eighteen and confined to a mental hospital. The therapist arrives
to his appointment with Kaysen one day in a sports car, which prompts
her to remark that he usually drives a station wagon or a sedan.
She draws a parallel between Freud’s depiction of the division of
the psyche into three parts—the ego, the superego, and the id—and
the therapist’s three cars. Something about her observation leads
the therapist to suggest that Kaysen enter analysis, a more rigorous
kind of therapy. Once Kaysen’s analysis program begins, Melvin arranges
for her to have grounds privileges at the hospital, enabling her
to travel around the property without an escort. Kaysen discovers
a series of tunnels under the hospital grounds that nurses use to
move the patients around during bad weather. Kaysen loves the odor
and silence of the tunnels, and the way that they connect the entire
hospital, undetected by those above ground. Melvin suggests that
Kaysen likes the tunnels because they resemble a womb. Kaysen rejects
his explanation. She sees the tunnels as an echo of Plato’s theory
that everything we see in this world is simply a copy of its ideal
form. Kaysen later finds out that she is Melvin’s first analysis
patient, and she resolves not to continue to engage in the sort
of mental games he favors.
McLean Hospital’s address is well known in Massachusetts,
and patients are revealed to be mentally unstable if they ever disclose their
address to anyone. The rude owner of a sewing store rejects Kaysen’s
job application after discovering her history. She wonders is she
will ever lead a conventional life after McLean, or if she is forever
contaminated by her time at a psychiatric facility. Kaysen stops telling
people about her hospital stay to avoid their probing questions.
She begins to feel disgust for the mentally ill despite her familiarity
with their plight and wonders whether people without her experience
judge the insane even more harshly.
Alice Calais’s condition conveys the horror and suddenness
of certain types of mental illness. Alice’s initially calm demeanor
quickly fades. Her feces-smeared cell and trembling figure allow
the girls to gain perspective on their own illnesses. Suddenly the
unhappy hallways of Kaysen’s ward appear cheery compared to the
chicken wire, bare mattresses, and barred windows that comprise
Alice’s maximum-security wing. Kaysen wonders whether she could
ever end up in Alice’s condition. We know that Georgina’s resolve
never to let it happen is inadequate; grave mental illness can overpower
The tunnels beneath the hospital are an important symbol
for Kaysen—an illustration of the difference between the essence
of a thing and its copy, or “shadow.” Kaysen is first attracted
to the tunnels because of their warmth and separation from the rest
of the hospital. She has discovered an entire world to explore without
obvious boundaries and rules. The lack of signs in the tunnels differs
greatly from the hospital above, where every turn, hall, and room
is clearly marked. Kaysen attempts to explain her attraction to
the tunnels to her therapist by citing Plato. In The Republic,
Plato describes his conception of the world using the shadows cast
by a fire on the wall of a cave. Plato believes that the things
we see are merely reproductions, or photocopies, of their ideal
forms. Kaysen sees the tunnels as the “essence” of the hospital,
stripped of all unnecessary detail. Similarly, Kaysen sees her time
with her therapist as “messing about in the shadows,” ignoring the
truth of her difficulties with trivial analyses.
Kaysen’s frustrating employment search underscores society’s prejudice
toward and rejection of the unconventional. Her fears that she will
be marked forever by her past seem unfortunately valid as she is
turned away from one job after another. In a difficult admission,
Kaysen confesses to feelings of disgust for the mentally ill. This is
based on her fear that she will slide back into the ranks of the “crazy.”
Kaysen learns to hide her history in a combination of secrecy and
Ace your assignments with our guide to Girl, Interrupted!