Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

by

Susannah Cahalan

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Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness: Chapter 37 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Susannah's parents allow her to walk through downtown Summit alone, though they don't allow her to take the train to see Stephen alone. James spends all his time when he's not working with Susannah. They get ice cream and watch the show Friends, and James chatters on about bands and movies. Susannah had never liked Friends, but becomes obsessed. When she laughs, she puts her hands in front of her mouth and then forgets to take them away.
Susannah’s sense of humor is beginning to return, even if it's a different kind of humor than it once was. This suggests that there are things about her identity that will indeed change as she heals, even if she does heal fully.
Themes
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Once, Susannah asks James to drive her to get a pedicure in preparation for a family wedding. She promises to call in an hour. When Dad arrives in town to check on Susannah and finds that she's been gone for twice as long, he looks all over for her. Susannah had simply stopped at Starbucks first. Dad finds her at the salon, sitting in a chair with a dazed expression and drool pooling around her lips. Dad watches older women in the salon look uneasily at Susannah and works to control his rage before he enters the salon.
Dad's anger comes from his realization that the rest of society doesn't have the memories of Susannah that he has—they have no idea that this is (hopefully) a temporary state. This also reveals the prejudice of society at large, which exists in part because of a lack of education about disability and illness in general. In this way, the memoir can also educate the general populace.
Themes
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
Later that week, Mom takes Susannah shoe shopping in Manhattan. Fortunately, Susannah is too occupied to catch the exchange, but a saleswoman cheerfully comments on how nice, quiet, and sweet Susannah is. Mom is enraged. When they arrive back in Summit, Susannah hears someone calling her name. It's an old friend from high school who'd heard that Susannah was sick, but not the extent of her illness. The friend attempts to engage Susannah in conversation. Though Susannah's mind desperately wants to say something, she can't. Susannah feels entirely powerless.
Here, Susannah learns that there's a great deal of power that comes from being able to control the identity that she presents to the outside world. This begins to explore the emotional difficulties that arise from the disconnect between Susannah's internal personality and the personality she can actually perform to others.
Themes
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Despite Susannah's zombie-like behavior, both James and Stephen notice moments when it seems as though the old Susannah is still there. One night, Susannah, Hannah, and James watch a David Lynch movie. James and Hannah joke about the bad acting and then move on to other topics, but fifteen minutes later, Susannah interrupts to explain that the bad acting is on purpose.
Though her comment is late, Susannah's ability to comment at all suggests that she's now able to form memories and engage with this kind of analytical thinking—just not exactly when it's appropriate or relevant.
Themes
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
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