Monday, May 16, 2011

Character Meanings

Susanna: Susanna gives the reader a first person perspective of being committed into a mental hospital. She gives us the main reasons of why she is in there, or what drove her there. At one point, Susanna admits that she doesn't like admitting that she was in a mental hospital for two years, she says it stirs up judgement and fear. Susanna helps the reader empathize with those who have psychological disorders; Susanna seems normal, there is just something a little off and that little something got her committed into McLean.
Lisa: Lisa provides the reader with someone to compare all the other patients to. Lisa is much more violent, energetic, and overall more crazy than all of the other patients, especially Susanna. Knowing this, the reader can truly understand how not-crazy Susanna was and how confused she was when she was committed.
Lisa Cody: Lisa Cody has the same mental disorder as Lisa. She provides a comparison for the reader to understand how crazy the real Lisa is.
Polly: Polly gives the reader an example of how mental illness can physically damage your body and your innocence. Polly was a beautiful, thriving, young girl until one day she poured gasoline all over her body and lit herself on fire. Polly lives in a delusion of a child's playful life while in reality she is an adult. One day in the hospital Polly has a breakdown and screams about her face and her scars.
Georgina: Georgina, along with Susanna, is one of the more normal women on the ward. However, Georgina gives the reader a deeper understanding of companionship within the ward. One would think that Susanna and Georgina would become great friends, nevertheless, it is Susanna (the most normal) and Lisa (the most crazy) who become inseparable.

Picture: Double Locked, Double Doors

I selected this picture because it shows a pair of double locked, double doors like the ones Susanna keeps describing in the book. The doors show that the women in the ward are locked in the hospital without the option of escape (*except for Lisa). It also means that there is a thick barrier between the patients and the real world. The world may be scared of these crazy people, but they are more scared of it than it is of them: "Now I was safe, now I was really crazy, and nobody could take me out of there." (104)

Picture: Calais, Paris

What is show here is the city of Calais, Paris. This is important because a girl named Alice Calais, pronounced Callous. She is committed to Susanna's ward but is soon moved into the high security ward because she has a breakdown and her mental health is worse than she thought.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Picture: 1960s Dentist

I selected this photo because it illustrates the setting of a dentist's office. Susanna has to visit the dentist's office to get her wisdom teeth removed. The reason this is so important is because Susanna freaks out when she wakes up from the anesthesia. She wants to know how long she was out, "It's my time and I need to know how much it was" (109). Susanna keeps stressing that she needs to know how much time elapsed during her surgery: "'See Valerie, I've lost some time, and I need to know how much. I need to know.' Then I started crying." (109)

Picture: Brain Neuron

I chose this picture because it illustrates a brain neuron. Brain neurons bring up many questions for Susanna. To show her depiction of brain neurons, Susanna creates a conversation between two "interpreter" or neurons. She is trying to help the reader understand how she views insanity: one interpreter is always being managed by another interpreter. Normally, if an interpreter, neuron, makes a mistake, the superior interpreter will fix it. However, if you are insane, the superior interpreter will not fix the mistake.

Picture: Hand

I chose this picture because it symbolizes the bones in Susanna’s hand. At one point during her stay at McLean, Susanna had a breakdown and needed to know if she had bones...obviously she does have bones but in her mind she needed proof, an x-ray or some kind of visual evidence, to show that her hand had bones.

Picture: 1960s hospital

I selected this photo because it gives you an idea of what hospitals in the 1960s were like. Given this, the reader can visualize Susanna in the hospital with the other patients, living out her two years of treatment at McLean.

Links (2)

1. Movie: movie:
2. History of mental illness:
3. Symptoms:
4. Cure:
5. Map of psychiatric hospitals in U.S.:

Friday, May 6, 2011

Picture: Kools

Quotations/ Literary Terms (2)

"Insanity comes in two basic varieties: slow and fast" (75)
Here, Susanna attempts to explain insanity in the sense that it is either "viscosity or velocity". She says it's not the onset or the duration but the intesity of the insanity.

Methaphors: "Dented tin spoons brimming with what should have been sweet but was sour, gone off, gone by without our savoring it: our lives." (55)
"Time is slow, dripping slowly through the clogged filter of thickened perception."
"There is too much perception, and beyond the plethora of perceptions, a plethora of thoughts about the perceptions and about the fact of having perceptions. Digestion could kill you!" (75)
"'s impossible to approach that movement or activity without dislodging an avalanche of prethought thoughts." (77)
"A lethargic avalanche of sythetic though can take days to fall." (77)
"While you weren't thinking of it, it got a little smaller. But thinking of it makes it big again." (77)

Personification: "The immune system is half-asleep." (75)
"Repitition has blunted them." (78)

Paradox: " There are roots to the tongue. You've seen them, and if you put your finger in your mouth you can feel them, but you can't feel them with the tongue." (77)

Imagery: "Head falling onto pillow, head hitting pillow..." (76)

Motif: "Why is [your tongue] scratchy on the sides? Is it a vitamin deficiency?" (77) She keeps bringing up the idea that there is a vitamin deficiency in her body which is why her tongue is so bothersome.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Discussion Question (4)

Give an in-depth analysis of Lisa.

Lisa probably has the most extreme personality disorder; she is a sociopath. Sociopaths are often associated with murderers, serial killers, and any other felon who holds no mercy or regret. Lisa has no conscience and acts on impulse. When Lisa escaped for three days, she explains to the other girls how exciting it is in the real world and fascinates them with stories. She finds it fun to disobey the nurses and fills every week with a new and rousing event to disrupt routine. Susanna befriends Lisa and this is very destructive towards Susanna's sanity. Being around such an unstable and volatile person only causes more stress and anxiety to Susanna. I believe Lisa should be kept in a different ward more suitable for her disorder.

Picture: Case Record Folder: Susanna Kaysen

Picture: McLean Hospital

Discussion Question (3)

Reference the hospital records copied into the text. What is added to the the book with the incorporation of these records?

Years after being released from McLean, Kaysen hired a lawyer and obtained these records from the hospital. She wanted to see whether or not her treatment was required or appropriate. They are published in the book because they allow the reader to come to terms with the fact that these are actual hospital records and all of what they are reading is true. It is also interesting to see the actual records and how the doctors diagnosed and took notes on Susanna and her behavior at the hospital.


Book Review

McLean Hospital

Definition of Borderline Personality Disorder

Susanna Kaysen Interview

Personal account of a mental hospital patient in the 1960s

Discussion Question (2)

Does Susanna think she is insane? Do you think she is insane?

Susanna goes back and forth in thinking whether she is crazy or not. At one point she is referring to herself and the others as "lunatics" and at another she is rationalizing her crazy thoughts ["it is easy to slip into a parallel universe" (5)].
However, when she states: "Once I'd accepted that, it followed that I might be mad, or that someone might think me mad. How could I say for certain that I wasn't, if I couldn't say for certain that a curtain wasn't a mountain range?" (42) one can really see that Susanna is definitely having trouble distinguishing reality from imaginary. Therefore, I believe that Susanna thinks she is slightly insane, why else would she have stayed in the hospital for so long?

As for me, I don't really consider Borderline Personality disorder as insanity. However, when Susanna describes these hallucinations that she often has, it makes me think that maybe there is something else irking her mental health. An official disorder is defined as something that disrupts one's everyday living, and to classify Susanna considering that definition, yes, Susanna is insane.

Discussion Question (1)

Analyze the symbolism behind the following quote in relation to the text:

"Every window on Alcatraz has a view of the San Francisco." (6)

This is a very symbolic quote. Kaysen is referring to her new "imprisonment" in McLean hospital. She compares it to the infamous Alcatraz with a lot of exaggeration because she believes that McLean is a prison. She also may be referring to the fact that inside of a mental hospital the patients are not allowed to think for themselves because their thought is considered self destructive. Therefore, if all the windows on Alcatraz have only a view of the city and not of the ocean on the other side, the prisoners are also not allowed to think for themselves. They are only entitled to see what is already made and not permitted to dream of a new city or a new life; creativity is extinguished in both institutions.

Quotations/ Literary Terms

"It was my misfortune- or salvation- to be at all times perfectly conscious of my misperceptions of reality. I never 'believed' anything I saw or thought I saw. Not only that, I correctly understood each new weird activity." (Kaysen 41)
This quote is especially important to the reader because it lets them know the extent of Susanna's "insanity". Susanna never really thinks she is insane because she realizes what is real and what is not; insanity is not knowing what is real and what is not.

"My loneliness and boredom and fear were all weapons aimed at my enemy, the world." (42)
This quotes explains the tormenting Susanna endured during her times of depression.

"The floor of the ice cream parlor bothered me...the contrast got under my skin. I always felt itchy in the ice cream parlor. The floor meant Yes, No, This, That, Up, Down, Day, Night- all the indecisions and opposites that were bad enough in my life without having them spelled out for you on the floor"
This quote gives the reader a chance to understand Susanna's thinking and how her mind works.

Similie: "There were no objective criteria for deciding to put someone into seclusion. It was relative, like the grading curve in high school." (47)

Allusions: "The hospital was on a hill outside of town, the way hospitals are in movies about the insane" (48)
"Ray Charles was the most famous ex-patient" (48)
"Syliva Plath had come and gone." (48)

Metaphor: "The group had an atomic structure: a nucleus of nuts surrounded by darting, nervous nurse-electrons charged with our protection." (48-49)
" was our lullaby. It was our metronome, our pulse." (55)

Imagery: "all soft winds and delicate smells of warm earth" (52)
"Down the hill, past the magnolia already losing its fleshy blossoms, the pink turning brown and rotten along the edge; past the paper-dry daffodils; past the sticky laurel that could crown you or poison you."

Autobiographical Novel: This written in first person by Susanna Kaysen describing her life altering experience inside of a mental hospital.

Onomatopoeia: "'Rnnn," said Lisa."(27)

Motif: Susanna continuously revisits the fact that she has borderline personality disorder. She can't understand how the doctor could have come up with that diagnosis in such a short time. She wants to know what her disorder means, how she may have got it, what the causes are, etc.

Point of View

The point of view of this story is that of Susanna Kaysen, the author of this story. It is an autobiography of her life when she was committed into a mental hospital for borderline personality disorder.


The setting of this story is in the late sixties in Massachusetts. Most of the story also takes place inside of a mental hospital, McLean Hospital.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Susanna Kaysen- Committed to McLean because she was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder by a family friend. At first Susanna doesn't believe there is anything wrong with her and is in denial of the fact that she tried to committ suicide. She is usually in a depressed, pessimistic mood and is generally unstable with relationships, mood, goals, and is often promiscuous.

Lisa- Committed into McLean for having an antisocial personality disorder. Lisa has been at McLean for a long time. She escapes occasionally, whenever she feels like it, and is usually brought back in a police car one to two days later. She knows everyone and everything at McLean and uses information to her advantage. Her disorder enables her to disregard rules, regulation, and authority. She is proud of her disorder and at one point competes with another sociopath to show who is more insane: Lisa wins.

Georgina- Susanna's roommate. She suffers from schizophrenia and is in a relationship with Wade.

Wade- A patient at McLean who has random violent outbursts. His father is in the CIA and tells everyone stories about how his father has killed people and has very dangerous friends.

Polly- A patient at McLean because she poured gasoline on her body and set herself aflame; she is a schizophrenic. She is covered in scars. Her attitude is mostly cheerful and happy until she has a breakdown and realizes what she has done to herself. Susanna feels bad for her because most of the people at McLean can be cured of their illnesses but Polly will be forever reminded of her tragic mental episode.

Cynthia- One of "Polly's protectors"; she is a close friend of Polly's and often stands up for her especially when Lisa makes fun of Polly. She has depression and gets shock therapy which changes her.

Daisy- Is a laxative addict and only comes to McLean for a few months between Thanksgiving and Christmas. She is not social and does not come out of her room. The only thing she eats are the rotissery chickens her father brings her. After picking off the meat of the chickens she hoards the carcasses under her bed.

James Watson-A friend of Susanna's family. He won the Nobel prize and is a close friend of Susanna. He visits her at McLean and gives her a chance to escape but she stays at McLean.

Valerie-The authoritative figure on Susanna's ward. She is the head nurse and genuinely cares about the patients.

Melvin-One of the therapists at McLean. He listens to Susanna in therapy and decides to do an analysis on her. Susanna isn't impressed by his diagnosis or his judgements of her.

Dr. Wick-One of the therapists at McLean. She is from Africa and has few visits with Susanna. Susanna is uneffected by any "treatment" the doctor gives and is also unimpressed by Dr. Wick's advice.

Lisa Cody- another sociopath that comes into the ward. She gets along with Lisa at first but the two later start competing on which one is more insane. Lisa (the first Lisa) wins when Lisa Cody runs away.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Speaker-Susanna Kaysen is the protagonist of this book. It is written in first person because she is telling her story of how she attempted suicide and is now committed into McLean Mental Hospital.

Occasion- Susanna is writing this book because it is an autobiography of the period in her life where she was committed into a mental hospital.

Audience- Kaysen is writing to people who appreciate deep thought into life. Susanna talks a lot about suicide and how there is a mystical undertone to her life. She writes to people who can relate to these feelings of lonliness and thoughtfullness.

Purpose- This book is an autobiography of Susanna Kaysen's life and she is writing this because she feels that people should know the monumentally life changing events that occurred in her life.

Subject- The subject of this book is based on a doctor's diagnosis of insane versus sane. The people living in the hospital with Susanna are all considers insane and at first she can't realize how someone would find her insane compared to everyone else there.

Tone- The tone of this book is very solemn and everything is matter-of-factly stated. There isn't much description or lengthy details about anything in the book. Kaysen writes a statement and moves on, she doesn't confess any emotion that it may have revoked.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Reading Schedule

Thursday, April 28: pgs. 5-28

Monday, May 2: pgs. 28-56

Wednesday, May 4: pgs. 56-83

Friday, May 6: pgs. 83-110

Tuesday, May 10: pgs. 110-134

Thursday, May 12: pgs. 134-168