Girl, Interrupted

by

Susanna Kaysen

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Girl, Interrupted: Chapter 20  Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Susanna, Lisa, and Daisy are sitting in their usual spot by the nurses’ station, sharing a cigarette. Lisa complains of her need for fresh air and calls to the nurses to let her get some air. She screams obscenities at them and threatens to call her lawyer, claiming that it is “illegal” to keep s person cooped up inside a building for months. Susanna notes that Lisa often threatens to call her court-appointed lawyer, and often claims to have had sex with him several times in a conference room at the courthouse. Anytime Lisa threatens to call her lawyer, Susanna says, the head nurse, Valerie, gets involved.
Lisa, in her usual fashion, takes a simple pang of desire to the next level, demanding what she wants and acting out when she doesn’t receive it right away. Lisa’s pain and frustration are as evident in these tantrums as is her desire to make trouble for the sake of making trouble—an impulse which this chapter will thoroughly explore. Valerie is introduced in this passage as Lisa’s main foil and the one trustworthy nurse on the ward.
Themes
Isolation and Seclusion Theme Icon
Women and Medicine Theme Icon
Manipulation, Restriction, and Control Theme Icon
Valerie comes out from the nurses’ station and offers to send an aid to open the window in Lisa’s room. Lisa says she’s not interested in having her window opened. The nurse tells Lisa that it’s “window or nothing.” Lisa, irate, sets off on a diatribe against Valerie, asking how Valerie would fare in a place where she was never allowed to breathe fresh air, make her own schedule, or act out when frustrated. Lisa tells Valerie that if Valerie were a patient, she would not last ten minutes in McLean, and again threatens to call her lawyer. Valerie offers to put the call through, but Lisa backs down and asks Valerie to just open her window for her.
Valerie takes Lisa’s challenges and verbal abuses with patience and grace. Lisa’s accusation that Valerie would not last “ten minutes” as a patient in McLean is an odd one, as Valerie spends her days on the ward just like Lisa does, and must witness and endure many of the same things that Lisa does. Though Valerie is free in a way that Lisa is not, Valerie has a tough job, too, and Lisa attempts to undermine that fact in order to get what she wants from Valerie, suggesting that negative attention is better than no attention.
Themes
Isolation and Seclusion Theme Icon
Perception vs. Reality Theme Icon
Women and Medicine Theme Icon
Manipulation, Restriction, and Control Theme Icon
Valerie calls for an aide to open Lisa’s window, but Lisa insists Valerie do it herself. Lisa again threatens to call her lawyer if Valerie is not the one to open the window, and Valerie again consents to do what Lisa has demanded she do. Valerie heads off for Lisa’s room.
Lisa seems to want to subject Valerie to a task or a humiliation just to point out how difficult Lisa’s life is compared to Valerie’s, but also to express how Lisa, in the end, despite her suffering, holds a great deal of power nonetheless.
Themes
Women and Medicine Theme Icon
Manipulation, Restriction, and Control Theme Icon
In order to open a window, Susanna explains, a staff person must unlock the “thick impregnable mesh” of the security screen over the window, lift the heavy glass pane, and then shut and relock the security screen. The whole process is hard work and takes about three minutes. Valerie returns from Lisa’s room after a few minutes and informs Lisa that her window is now open. Lisa tells Valerie that she is “aware of that,” and stays seated on the floor. Valerie asks Lisa if she is even going to go into her room to enjoy the breeze, but Lisa tells Valerie that her tantrum about the window was just something to do to “pass the time.”
The revelation that Lisa was just throwing a tantrum for the sake of a tantrum, and forcing Valerie to do something for the sake of getting Valerie to do something, speaks to Lisa’s nihilistic nature as well as her desire to control everything around her. Lisa’s lack of empathy and her desire to manipulate those around her is a hallmark of her isolating mental illness, whose symptoms are on full display in this chapter.
Themes
Women and Medicine Theme Icon
Sanity vs. Insanity Theme Icon
Manipulation, Restriction, and Control Theme Icon
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