The world didn’t stop, Kaysen writes, just because she and her fellow patients weren’t in it. On the TV, the girls on the ward watch coverage of the Vietnam war night after night, horrified by the violence abroad—and at home. They watch the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and see, in footage of the protests and riots taking place across the country, “people doing the kinds of things we had fantasies of doing.”
In this chapter, Susanna recalls the turmoil swirling outside of the ward, of which she and her fellow patients were only marginally aware due to the turmoil each of them faces every day inside herself. The girls long to escape their insular world and participate in the “real” world once again. The behavior they see reflected on TV is “crazy,” again blurring the line between what is accepted as normal and what is deemed in need of treatment or mediation.
Susanna notes that the fantasies the girls had of dismantling authority, rioting in the street, and sticking their tongues out at policemen were easy to have because they came with no repercussions—from inside their “expensive, well-appointed hospital,” the worst punishment one ever received was an afternoon in seclusion. In the real world, they watched on TV as protesters were beaten, bruised, and sent to prison.
Though the girls long to participate in the riots and protests going on in the real world, they know that the protections extended to them in the hospital do not exist in that world. The girls have traded freedom for safety, in a way, and many are not necessarily ready to reverse that trade yet.
The most chaotic times on the “outside” are the easiest times inside—the girls don’t act out as much, because everything is being acted out for them on television. The girls have the sense that the world is about to “flip,” and the meek are about to inherit the earth, though this does not happen.
The girls see their own rage and pain mirrored on the television. In their position of privilege, they have less of an urgent need to risk their own safety to make their pain known and seen.
When the girls see footage of Bobby Seale, an activist and one of the founders of the Black Panther party, bound and gagged and “in chains like a slave” in a Chicago courtroom, they realize the world is not going to change. Cynthia sees her experience reflected in Seale’s—she, too, is bound, gagged, and tied down weekly for her electroshock sessions. Lisa, however, is angry at Cynthia for making such a comparison. Lisa points out that the authorities have bound and gagged Seale because “they’re afraid people will believe what he says.” The girls stare at the television, and marvel at how Seale has the one thing they will always lack: credibility.
The girls are both free and not free in the ward, and they attempt to compare their struggles to the struggles they see unfolding on television. The girls see their pain and restriction mirrored in the pain and restriction of activists and protestors, but Lisa is careful to remind them that while the protestors on TV are prevented from speaking or acting on behalf of their beliefs because society is afraid of the truths they might reveal, she and her fellow patients are kept sedated and restrained for the opposite reason: no one believes in the things they care about or say because they have been classified as “crazy” people.