Girl, Interrupted

by

Susanna Kaysen

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Girl, Interrupted can help.

Girl, Interrupted: Chapter 23 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Kaysen writes that for many of the girls on the ward, the hospital was as much a refuge as it was a prison. Though they are secluded, there are also no demands made of them or expectations placed on them. The hospital shields them from receiving calls or visits from anyone they don’t want to talk to, and as long as the girls are on the ward, they are responsible for nothing at all except eating and taking their medications. In a strange way, the girls are free. They have nothing more to lose, and they have been stripped down to the “bare bones” of their selves. The hospital is what has stripped the girls down in the first place, but it does fulfill its obligation to help them. As the girls adjust to hospital life and forget how to do simple things, the hospital keeps them safe.
Up to this point, Kaysen has mostly been highlighting the isolated, restrictive, and lonely nature of the psychiatric ward. Here, however, she begins to concede that the hospital did function as a refuge for many. Her perception of the ward is changing the longer the resides there. Likewise, as she begins to learn more and more about her fellow patients, she comes to understand that every woman around her has her own individual needs. While Susanna feels she was never in need of the hospital, many women around her are afraid to face their lives outside of it.
Themes
Isolation and Seclusion Theme Icon
Perception vs. Reality Theme Icon
Women and Medicine Theme Icon
Sanity vs. Insanity Theme Icon
Manipulation, Restriction, and Control Theme Icon
Related Quotes
One thing Susanna notes is that families are almost entirely absent from hospital life. She and her fellow patients often wonder if they themselves are just as absent from the lives of their parents and siblings. Susanna observes that “lunatics are similar to designated hitters,” and that while all families are crazy, there is usually one individual singled out as the most unwell. Some families, however, feel the need to prove that no one in their family is crazy, and these are the kinds of families which threaten to stop paying for their son, daughter, or other dependent to stay on the ward. A girl named Torrey, Susanna writes, had exactly that kind of family.
Apart from Daisy, Susanna knows little—or at least relays little—about the families of her fellow patients. However, with the arrival of a girl named Torrey, whose life is lived in the shadow of her abusive and overbearing family, Susanna begins to consider how families continue to function—or don’t—when one of their own is placed on a psychiatric ward and removed from their nuclear family unit.
Themes
Isolation and Seclusion Theme Icon
Sanity vs. Insanity Theme Icon
Manipulation, Restriction, and Control Theme Icon
All of the girls on the ward like Torrey, Susanna says, because of her “noble bearing.” Torrey is an amphetamine addict, and is the only person Lisa respects, because of the fact that they both shoot up. Every few months, Torrey’s parents fly from Mexico where they live to Boston to berate and harangue her. After each visit, the girls ask Torrey why she agrees to see her parents when all they do is blame their problems on her and threaten to stop paying for her treatment, but Lisa points out that belittling Torrey is how her parents “show their love.” The nurses agree, and tell Torrey that she is brave for seeing her parents.Torrey, meanwhile, is just grateful for a break from Mexico, a place where she feels “dead,” and where the only respite from that feeling is to shoot up speed.
Torrey is interesting, and one of the only patients who has gained the charismatic Lisa’s true respect. She seems to be doing better on the ward, except for the intermittent visits from her parents, which demoralize and deflate her. Everyone agrees that Torrey’s parents are too hard on her, but Lisa and the nurses’ argument that Torrey’s parents are just concerned and know no other way to express their love is a different way of looking at the strangling relationship between Torrey and her family.
Themes
Isolation and Seclusion Theme Icon
Perception vs. Reality Theme Icon
Women and Medicine Theme Icon
Manipulation, Restriction, and Control Theme Icon
One August, Torrey’s parents call to tell her that they are coming to collect her and bring her back to Mexico. Torrey is afraid that if she goes home, she will overdose and die. The other girls offer to help Torrey, but are unable to secure any help from the nurses—even Valerie. On the day of Torrey’s departure, Torrey’s parents call and tell her to meet them at the Boston airport. The other girls suggest Torrey hop out of the taxi on the way to the airport and escape. When Torrey points out that she has no money, the girls pool theirs and give it to Torrey, urging her to develop a plan for where she’ll go and what she’ll do. Torrey worries that she doesn’t have the nerve to escape from a cab on the way to the airport, but the girls all assure Torrey that they believe in her.
Torrey’s situation is a lamentable one. Things are so bad at home that she is driven nearly to her death through drug use, but when she tries to escape, her family follows and continues to berate her and make her life miserable. Torrey is caught between a rock and a hard place, and when she is told she will be removed from the ward, she feels panic and dread at the thought of going back to living under her parents manipulative, destructive influence.
Themes
Isolation and Seclusion Theme Icon
Manipulation, Restriction, and Control Theme Icon
Get the entire Girl, Interrupted LitChart as a printable PDF.
Girl, Interrupted PDF
In the morning, it is revealed that two nurses will be accompanying Torrey in the cab to the airport, and the girls devise a plan to create a diversion so that only one nurse will be able to take Torrey in the taxi. Lisa throws a tantrum, successfully diverting the nurse’s attention—but then Valerie is selected to take Torrey to the airport, and the girls know that “nobody [can] escape from Valerie.” Valerie offers Torrey something to “relax” her for the drive. The other girls, knowing it is Thorazine, a powerful sedative, urge Torrey not to take the medicine, but she drinks it anyway. Torrey’s eyes glaze over almost immediately, and she is led down the hall towards the ward’s exit.
The other girls on the ward attempt to save Torrey, coming up with plans and diversions to keep her from returning to Mexico and what they perceive to be her certain death. Valerie is an immovable force, however, and any chance that she could be evaded is completely erased by the Thorazine, which “knocks the heart out” of Torrey and makes her into a pliant shadow of herself.
Themes
Women and Medicine Theme Icon
Manipulation, Restriction, and Control Theme Icon
The next day is awful, as the girls worry incessantly about Torrey. They attempt to make a “schedule” for themselves and divide their time between rooms to distract themselves, but tensions remain high. While sitting in the TV room, Susanna stares at her hand, and begins thinking that it looks like a monkey’s hand. She considers her veins and her tendons, and as she prods her hand, attempting to feel different bones, she becomes concerned that she does not have any. She begins scratching and gnawing at her hand, finally piercing the skin with her teeth.
The stress of knowing that Torrey has been returned to a terrible situation weighs heavily on the girls. As their despair worsens, Susanna begins to react to this new stress, possibly compounded with all the other pain she has suffered during her time on the ward, and she “acts out” in a desperate and bizarre way. Susanna’s dissociation from her body and desire to know what’s truly inside of her is perhaps symbolic of her now months-long struggle to get to the bottom of what it is that has landed her in McLean in the first place, and what she needs to find inside herself in order to “recover” and leave.
Themes
Isolation and Seclusion Theme Icon
Perception vs. Reality Theme Icon
Women and Medicine Theme Icon
Sanity vs. Insanity Theme Icon
The other girls notice what Susanna is doing and ask her to stop. Susanna insists that she doesn’t have any bones. Georgina leaves the room and returns with Valerie, who brings a cup of Thorazine for Susanna to take. Susanna accepts it and right after she swallows, she is hit by a “wall of water.” Unable to hear, speak, or stand well, Susanna allows Valerie and Georgina to help bring her back to her room and lay her down on the bed. Susanna feels that she is now “safe,” as she is officially “crazy,” and nobody will ever be able to take her out of McLean. 
Susanna and her fellow patients were upset to watch Torrey succumb to the dark pull of the Thorazine, but now, as Susanna ingests the medicine for the first time, she sees it only as a comfort and a balm against the pain and desperation she is feeling. Just as Torrey found refuge in the hospital, Susanna too now finds comfort in being “safe” there. She is sick of fighting so hard to prove she is not crazy, and so she leans into her “craziness” instead, feeling relief to be doing so. 
Themes
Isolation and Seclusion Theme Icon
Perception vs. Reality Theme Icon
Women and Medicine Theme Icon
Sanity vs. Insanity Theme Icon
Related Quotes
An insert from Susanna’s medical file, a progress note dated 8/24/67, states that Susanna has been doing “extremely well,” aside from a couple episodes. In one episode of “depersonalization,” the note says, Susanna became concerned that she was not a real person, and expressed her desire to see if there were any bones inside her body. The note concludes by stating that “the precipitating event for this episode is still not clear.”
Susanna’s medical files reflect the clinical summary of her dissociative episode. Placing the scan just after her vivid and evocative remembrance of the event it describes plays into the theme of perception versus reality, as the same event is seen from two contrasting points of view.
Themes
Isolation and Seclusion Theme Icon
Perception vs. Reality Theme Icon
Women and Medicine Theme Icon
Sanity vs. Insanity Theme Icon