Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness


Susannah Cahalan

Teachers and parents! Our Teacher Edition on Brain on Fire makes teaching easy.

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness Themes

Themes and Colors
Identity and Illness Theme Icon
Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Responsibility and the Medical System Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Identity and Illness

Brain on Fire tells the story of 24-year-old Susannah Cahalan, a journalist at the New York Post who suddenly contracts the disease anti-NMDA receptor autoimmune encephalitis. The disease temporarily changes Susannah from a driven, strong-willed, and passionate person into someone who is paranoid, angry, and mean. Most difficult for Susannah, who describes herself as a proudly independent person, is that the disease also makes her entirely dependent on her caregivers in the hospital, her…

read analysis of Identity and Illness

Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion

As a journalist, Susannah possesses a natural talent for storytelling and crafting compelling narratives from truthful events. She prefaces her memoir by making it exceptionally clear that Brain on Fire is as much a memoir as it is a piece of reportage, given that she doesn't remember her month in the hospital and had to piece together what happened as though she were investigating someone else's story. In this way, the memoir explores how personal…

read analysis of Storytelling, Memory, and Emotion

Love and Family

Because Susannah doesn't remember her time in the hospital and therefore relies heavily on interviews with her friends and family to write her memoir, the book naturally focuses intensely on the roles Susannah's parents, friends, and extended family members played in her diagnosis and recovery. She positions the love and care her parents showed her as being the sole reason she even survived her illness. Though Stephen and Susannah's parents support her because they absolutely…

read analysis of Love and Family
Get the entire Brain on Fire LitChart as a printable PDF.
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness PDF

Responsibility and the Medical System

Susannah takes great care to situate her battle with her disease (anti-NMDA receptor autoimmune encephalitis) in a historical context, in part because the history of the disease is so recent. Until 2007, her condition hadn't been identified and was often either diagnosed as unspecified psychosis or unspecified encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), depending on where a patient first sought help. As she recovers and learns more about her disease, Susannah feels a responsibility to share…

read analysis of Responsibility and the Medical System