In Girl, Interrupted author Susanna Kaysen recounts her two year stay at a Boston psychiatric hospital and her experience of what she calls the "parallel universe" of madness, she makes the reader consider how thin the line is between 'madness' and 'sanity'. Susanna describes herself as "sane in an insane world". It does seem like it may be an insane world when we look at how society reacts to something they do not understand, fear breeds prejudice, "possessed by the devil" "bad, and must be isolated and punished" We are forced to question what role Susanna's gender had in her diagnosis and hospitalisation. She is diagnosed with "Borderline personality disorder" to which the diagnosis states,
" This disorder is more commonly diagnosed in women"
Susanna is given the title "promiscuous" to which she points out,
"how many girls do you think a 17 year old boy would have to screw to earn the label 'compulsively promiscuous'?"
She is offended by this label due to its sexist nature so she plays up to her part as defiance to society's prejudices,
"we were just sitting there on the sofa alone. And he said 'Do you want to fuck?"
Was Susanna put into the institution because of a wicked society determined to put away an unconventional woman? Or did she really pose a threat to herself, hallucinating, seeing things so differently that she would be unable to function in society?
'Crazy' is measured by our adherence to what society expects us to do, what is appropriate. In many ways our sanity is determined by our commitment to playing by the rules. Susanna starts to wonder if her inability to conform to the rules is a sign of madness,
"I was the only person who had trouble with the rules"
Because she is in the minority she feels that she may be abnormal. But it could be said it is a sign of madness to accept these rules when you think them absurd, just because society dictates that it is the correct and 'sane' thing to do.
Susanna also fails to comply with other norms of society which were considered sane for girls her age, play sport, go to college etc,
" I was the first person in the history of our school not to go to college"
Because of her lack of interest in anything that was considered sociable and productive she was dubbed unusual. Her "promiscuous" nature also added to the speculations,
"Why don't you expend as much energy on your school work as you do on your boyfriends?"
She is eventually released from hospital when she accepts a marriage proposal - a behaviour that is considered 'normal' for a teenage girl,
"everyone understood a marriage proposal"
She isn't "completely sure" about the marriage but accepts anyway. This could be a sign of her accepting the 'rules' or an easy escape from McLean.
Susanna describes the hospital as a parallel universe, but there are many similarities between "madness" and the reality of the outside world. Susanna observes the chaos of the outside world- free love, protests etc- and comments this is what had always wanted to do but couldn't, because of the restrictions imposed on her by society,
"taking over universities and abolishing classes, sticking their tongues out at policemen"
As Susanna was not allowed to act in this manner she had to vent her protests in other ways, recent activities in her life had included a relationship with her English teacher, an attempted suicide and running away from home all of which led to her hospitalisation. Now because of the Cultural Revolution in the sixties this kind of behaviour is not justification enough to institutionalise a person. Susanna identifies with these people and feels that she can experience the outside world through them.
"it was all acted out for us"
She starts to rebel against the hospital as her own personal protest,
"My ambition was to negate"
Sleeping when she should be awake, silent when she should be speaking,...
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