Girl, Interrupted


Susanna Kaysen

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Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Girl, Interrupted, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Isolation and Seclusion

In the early pages of her memoir, Susanna Kaysen establishes the roles that isolation and seclusion play in the experience of living with mental illness. Dealing with mental illness, she shows, is both an emotionally and physically isolating experience. At just eighteen, Susanna is recommended for admission to the McLean hospital, where she is physically secluded—and emotionally cut off—from her friends, her family, and her boyfriend. Once inside McLean, Susanna struggles with certain aspects of…

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Perception vs. Reality

Much of Girl, Interrupted is concerned with contrasting the way things appear and how they actually are. As Susanna Kaysen reckons with her own memories of her troubled past—in which she suffered from suicidal thoughts, repetitious thoughts, and changes in her perception that bordered on hallucination—this thematic arc takes on two layers. The first investigates the sometimes-conflicting perceptions and realities of Susanna and her fellow McLean patients, while the second investigates the older Kaysen’s ability…

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Women and Medicine

When she enters McLean Hospital to undergo psychiatric treatment, Susanna Kaysen finds herself plunged into a world of women: wild women, wounded women, and women who are living at the edges of both society and their own lives. Over the course of the book, Kaysen, looking back twenty-five years after her hospitalization, takes time to remember several of her fellow patients—starkly, lovingly, inquisitively, and always with an empathetic eye and an understanding heart. These remembrances…

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Sanity vs. Insanity

As Susanna, diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, enters the McLean psychiatric facility, she begins to question the nature of her own mind, and the minds of those around her. The women who are hospitalized alongside Susanna seem, at first, to have much deeper, more frightening problems than Susanna herself does. However, by the end of her eighteen-month stay, Susanna has come to recognize that perhaps “insanity [is] just a matter of dropping the…

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Manipulation, Restriction, and Control

Manipulation and control, both institutional and interpersonal, are major thematic concerns for Susanna Kaysen as she brings her reader into the world of McLean. In recounting the ways in which she and her fellow patients were subjected to various forms of manipulation and control, day in and day out, during their stay on the psychiatric ward, Kaysen argues that such stringent manipulation and control of people already on the brink pushes them even further into…

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