For this week, we will finish the memoir, Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen. As we have seen in the vignettes preceding “Bare Bones,” Susanna Kaysen seems to support Gail A. Hornstein’s assessment of the memoir that “Kaysen doesn’t believe that she was ever ill, so she can’t take us inside the experience of madness, the way other patients do” (5). However, in “Bare Bones,” Kaysen loses control when she states, “now I was safe, now I was really crazy, and nobody could take me out of there” (104).
Is she admitting she has a mental illness or is she offering another reason for her temporary insanity?
What follows in the memoir is the focus on her describing what it is like to be mentally ill, her diagnosis, and how she is treated based on the status of being a mental health patient. She does offer “theories or plans for reform” as demonstrated by Hornstein (6), so look for what she is saying about how and why she was diagnosed and which theories or plans for reform she offers.
As you read these texts, continue to apply the
we learned in week 1. Continue to look for the themes found in Kaysen’s memoir and how they are examples of the struggles described in Hornstein’s article.
Note: Themes are topics central to the meaning of the story and explores an insight about that topic.
Similar to last week’s readings, this activity should take about two to four (or more) hours, depending on your reading skills. Remember, reading is not a race, and active reading will increase your reading time.
Now that we have finished reading both patient narratives, it’s time to analyze their language for what they are protesting and how they go about protesting some aspect of mental illness and its treatment.
One way to analyze patient narratives is to note their themes, which are at the heart of these narratives. Themes are the central meaning or dominant idea (or topic) and the insight about that topic. Themes help readers recognize and care about the topic and relate it to their own lives. Patient narratives explore many themes related to mental illness and its treatment and offer an insight about mental illness in a way that enables readers to care about those who struggle with mental illness as well as relate these struggles to their own lives.
Analyzing literature is similar to analyzing non-fiction texts for their rhetorical appeals. We not only examine what is written (or what the story is about), but also how it is written (or the literary strategies) to understand how patient narratives are offering an insight about mental illness and its treatment.
Here are some literary strategies to look for in a patient narrative:
Narrative style is the way the authors write their stories, such as being told in first-person, being written as if we’re reading one’s diary, juxtaposing one person in the story against the other to highlight the differences of something, the arrangement of sentences/syntax/paragraphs, the structure of the narrative, repetition of an idea to emphasize a point, and so on.
In Kaysen’s memoir, she never admits one way or another that she is mentally ill. She let’s her readers decide for themselves.
In Gilman’s short story, it is written as an epistle, which is a literary term meaning “letter.” The story is written as a series of diary entries.
Use of symbolism is when one thing is used to represent another in the story. Symbolism is usually connected to the theme to highlight something significant about the topic/theme being explored. Common types of symbolism are weather (spring = rebirth, winter = death), colors (red = anger or love, green = nature), objects in room (chain = coming together, wallpaper = covering), and type of building (such as enclosed space can symbolize confinement). Look for anything described in the narrative that the author draws the readers attention to. Next, look for how it is described in relation to the main character and the conflict in the story. See the
on how to identify symbols and what they represent in “The Yellow Wallpaper.”