Study Guide

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden Quotes

  • Isolation

    He was silent, conceding to her once more; she was so much quicker with words than he. They said good night; each pretended to sleep, and lay, breathing deeply to delude the other, eyes aching through the darkness, watching. (1.15)

    Jacob and Esther show their emotional distance when they argue about sending Deborah away to the mental hospital. They retreat inside of themselves and don't really connect—it seems too hard and painful to do that. And they wonder where Deborah gets it from...

    He, too, loved his daughters, though he had never told them so; he, too, had wished confidences but was never able to open his own heart; and, because of this, they had also been kept from venturing their secrets. His oldest daughter had just parted from him, almost eagerly, in that grim place of locks and bars, turning away from his kiss, stepping back. (1.27)

    Yikes. Talk about feeling isolated from your own parents. This is painful: never once did Jacob tell his daughters he loved them. And he wonders why Deborah's a little messed up? Kids need love, Dad.

    Their freedom to say what they really wanted to say was even more circumscribed than before. (2.9).

    Jacob and Esther are both hurting after dropping Deborah off at the hospital. Now that they're alone, they should be able to express how they feel, but here, we see that they both feel that can't really talk about what's going on with them. There's no communication here; their isolation from each other runs deep. Each fears what the other will think of his or her vulnerability or emotion.

    "I am a hundred square-yards sane." If there were such things as man-hours and light-years, surely there was foot-sanity. (3.4)

    When Deborah is first at the mental hospital, she jokes with her fellow patient Carla that privileges are doled out in terms of how far you can walk away from the building itself. At first, Deborah is only given permission to walk the grounds—she's that troubled.

    When he and Esther quarreled, the crucial thing remained unspoken, leaving an atmosphere of wordless rancor and accusation. (4.4)

    Jacob and Esther, why can't you two talk to each other? How else will Deborah learn to express her own feelings? These folks simply don't discuss their true feelings and thoughts, even with each other, even about putting Deborah away and how that might affect their marriage and their family. Uncomfortable silences abound.

    She sat on the other side of the heavy twelfth-century iron portcullis that Deborah occasionally found separating them. The portcullis had been raised this time, invisible, but when the doctor had mentioned parents and a visit, Deborah heard the sudden rasp, and down it clanged between them. (4.21)

    Deborah has a love/hate relationship with isolation. We get introduced to this medieval gate when she's talking with Dr. Fried. The second Dr. Fried mentions that Deborah's parents want to come visit, Deborah hears the gate slam down.

    Deborah saw again the uncrossable expanse between herself and the species called 'human being.' (13.1)

    Here, student nurses are touring D ward, and Deborah locks eyes with one of them. The nurse says out loud that t Deborah looks at her as if she were looking through her, as if she weren't even there. Deborah tries to comfort the nurse and acknowledge her existence, but her cryptic choice of words—"Wrong not" (13.1)—doesn't quite get across what she means. This only freaks the nurse out more and leaves Deborah feeling once again like she doesn't belong among the people of Earth.

    Did any two people, even in the World, speak the same language? (20.44)

    Do you ever feel like no one could ever understand you on the deepest level? Not to get personal or anything. This is something that people want, but it's also something that people are afraid of. Instead of being vulnerable, we often want to just shut down and not let people get too close to us.

    It was not possible to tell them how immense she found the distance between herself and the rest of the human race, even if she were of human substance. (25.3)

    When Deborah goes home for a five-day visit after being at the mental hospital for over two years, she feels grateful for the attention and company of her family, but she's overwhelmed by the contact and constant streams of conversation. It makes her feel profoundly that she's not totally there yet when it comes to her mental health.

    They seemed so young and strong and golden in the late sun. It had taken all of her capacities, every drop of her will, to come as far as they had come laughing and easy. The wall between them was still there and it would always be there. She could see through it now, to where the world offered its immense beauty, but she would burn away all her strength just staying alive. (29.82)

    Deborah feels isolated from the healthy kids she sees at the local high school. After she gets her GED scores back, she walks the grounds at that high school to celebrate. She watches the boys on the field practicing sports. She wonders if she'll ever feel like she belongs.

  • Versions of Reality

    She knew that none of the workers liked her. People never had. On the ward a large girl had asked her to play tennis and the shock had sounded down to the last level of Yr. (3.4)

    Deborah is so accustomed to her version of reality, in which she believes no one likes her, that even those in her imaginary world are shocked that someone extends a sign of friendship to her. There is obviously a difference between how others perceive Deborah and how she thinks they do. Haven't we all experienced this kind of paranoia? Haven't we all thought, at some point, that people were laughing at us?

    There was a groan from Lactamaeon, the black god, and a derisive laugh from the Collect, which were the massed images of all the teachers and relatives and schoolmates standing eternally in secret judgement and giving their endless curses. (3.10)

    Deb has internalized the negative things kids who bullied her when she was young said about her. She's also internalized some things she's heard her parents say about her. These experience have have scarred her so much that she assumes everyone thinks bad things about her, even when they first meet her.

    Deborah's desperate to impress people, but she's also terrified of what they think of her. The voices of the Great Collect seem to represent these fears the most: they yell out the taunts she's heard before. Deborah says she's clumsy, lazy, wayward, unfriendly. These are obviously words she's heard others, possibly even her parents, say about her.

    The color life had been set and only the despair could deepen. She was always off by herself sketching they had said, but she never let anyone see the pictures. (Ch.9.14)

    Deborah doesn't see the role she played in isolating herself here. One day, some pictures fell out of her sketchbook, and the kids at school were trying to figure out who the drawings belonged to. Deborah was so afraid of rejection that she acted like the pictures weren't hers. Then she became angry that the kids were making her "repudiate" her art, when in reality, they probably admired it. Deborah's perception of reality is one in which she is hated—but that's not always the case.

    "It's a quality of myself, a secretion, like sweat. It is the emanation of my Deborah-ness and it is poisonous" [...] the joy of self-loathing had taken Deborah as fully as if it had been love, and she went on and on, decorating and embellishing the foulness, throwing the words higher and higher. (10.27-29)

    Deborah wants negative attention because it protects her from possible rejection. It's almost safer to think of yourself as awful, because that way, you never risk being hurt. It's messed up, but this is how Deborah feels.

    Deborah feels a slow, fearful gratitude to her family, who had lived with a monster and treated it like a person. (10.48)

    Deborah remembers trying to kill Suzy when she was only a baby. Deborah feels tremendous guilt about it, and she feels it's further proof she isn't human. Her version of reality is twisted, thought: her parents never mentioned walking in and seeing Deborah holding Suzy out the window…because this is something Deborah only thought about doing and never acted on.

    Then she was standing above herself, dressed in her Yri rank and name, kicking the herself that was on the floor, kicking her low in the stomach and in the tumorous place that gave like a rotten melon. (13.9)

    Deborah sees a nurse acting clumsy, fidgeting with keys, and tripping. She reaches out to the nurse, whispers words of comfort to her, and grabs her arm before she falls, but the nurse is freaked out by the contact and leaves the room in a hurry. The incident makes Deborah retreat into Yr, and the self-loathing is so strong that she punishes herself with an out-of-body experience.

    She was looking at her patient intently, interested in that world which had been a refuge once, had suddenly gone gray, and was now a tyranny whose rulers Deborah had to spend long days of her life propitiating. (8.6)

    Dr. Fried tries to figure out how Deborah's alternate reality of Yr has evolved from an escape from reality to a punishing force in Deborah's life. Yr punishes Deborah whenever she tries to escape it; that's because secretly, Deborah is afraid of what might happen if she really starts to live her life, even if life is what she wants, deep down.

  • Family

    From a distance down the hall they heard the grate of a large key in a lock and again Jacob stiffened, moaning softly, "Not for her—our little Debby..." He did not see the sudden, ruthless look in his daughter's face. (1.23)

    Jacob doesn't want his daughter, who he still sees as a little girl, to be locked away—but he also doesn't see how she harbors some ill feelings toward him. This disconnect foreshadows what we will learn later about his treatment of Deborah.

    She looked like a shock victim. As she left, he felt the wrench of her going in the two parents... after their good-bye, they, too, looked like people in shock, and he thought briefly: wound shock—the cutting away of a daughter. (1.25-26)

    The ward doctor observes here how the parents seem to feel so connected to the daughter—but this observation turns out to be ironic, since the Blaus don't actually communicate with Deborah. The connection is pretty tenuous.

    Deborah suddenly recalled the picture of her parents standing very single and yet together on the other side of the shatter-proof locked door. Not aforethought this thing, but more than a little with malice. (3.47)

    Does it seem like Deborah resents the fact that her parents have left her at the hospital? Does she think they're being mean about it? Is she maybe happy to get away? Why or why not?

    A child's independence is too big a risk for the shaky balance of some parents. (5.1)

    Dr. Fried muses that some parents want to help their kids but are nevertheless threatened by idea of these kids gaining independence. Well, that's a doozy. Why do you think parents don't want their kids to grow up and leave?

    Esther's daughter was blonde! A singular, thrilling, impossible fair-skinned blonde [...] for Pop she was the final retort to a long-dead village nobleman and his fair-skinned daughters. This one would go in gold. (5.16)

    Pop puts a lot of pressure on Deborah, the blonde golden child, to be the fulfillment of the family's dreams. Deborah doesn't have the more typical facial features of Pop's Latvian family or Jacob's Polish family, and an undercurrent of Jewish self-loathing might have something to do with the fact that Pop is so excited that Deborah is blonde. Like, she's Jewish, be she looks like she's not—which to him is a good thing. It's another sad example of people not accepting themselves and wishing they were something else.

    Jacob was consort of the dynasty, but Deborah—golden, gift-showered Deborah—always smiling and contented, was a central pin on which the dream could turn. And then they found out that their golden toy was flawed. (5.18-19)

    Once it's discovered that Deborah has a tumor, her family starts to realize that maybe she's not going to be perfect and save the family and be a representative for the fulfillment of all their dreams. In a way, they start to think of her as damaged—and she totally internalizes that.

    "Am I not what you wanted? Do you have to correct my brain, too?" (5.32)

    Esther recalls Deborah saying these words with "bitterness" even at just ten years old; it was after the Blaus made her go to see a child psychologist. Deborah's problems have already basically formed at this point.

    The Families. "Make him well," they say. "Make her well," they say, "with good table manners and a future according to our agreed-on dream!" She sighed. Even the intelligent, the honest, the good, find it too easy to sell their children. Deceits and vanities and arrogances that they would never stoop to for themselves they perpetrate on their children." (14.17)

    After Jacob Blau insists on seeing Deborah, even after Dr. Fried has advised against it, Dr. Fried muses that parents live through their children and put a lot of pressure on them to live out their own fantasies and unfulfilled dreams. They sometimes want them to take unrealistic life paths they'd never expect themselves to take.

    In the perfumed and carefully tended little girl, a tumor was growing. The first symptom was an embarrassing incontinence, and how righteously wrathful the rigid governess was! But the laziness could not be cured by shaming or whipping or threats. (5.19)

    Deb's parents didn't realize at first that she had a tumor in her urethra. She was five and started having accidents. The nanny in charge of Deborah would yell at her and beat her for having them; it was just assumed that Deborah was being bad. Esther explains this to Dr. Fried and cries out that she didn't know what was wrong with Deborah. But the damage had already been done: Deborah has believed from that point on that something is terribly wrong with her at the deepest level.

  • Identity

    His neighbors had every manner he admired, and in turn they despised his religion, his accent, and his style. They made the lives of his wife and children miserable, but he cursed them all [...]. (5.13)

    This is how Pop deals with the prejudice. He gets rich and wants to be accepted by the members of the wealthy community where he lives, but they reject him. His own ugly feelings likely contribute to the sense of self-loathing we see in both Esther and Deb. Pop has sort of taught them to despise themselves.

    For a glimpse of their true value they had only to look into their neighbors' eyes or to hear Pop's remarks if the soup was cold [...]. (5.15)

    Deborah grows up in the shadow of Pop's self-hatred, as well as in the shadow of prejudice from her community. The negativity she feels about herself is only reinforced by the way she and her family are looked down on just for being Jewish.

    The second change came when she was nine and it came with her shaming. It was the first day of her third year at the camp, and still fighting against what she felt was the injustice of having been born as herself, she reported the two girls who had ridiculed her and refused to let her walk with them […]. "Who actually said those words to you: 'We don't walk with stinking Jews—' Was it Claire or Joan?" (8.12)

    Deborah tried to report an incident of prejudice to her camp counselor, but she got the girl's name wrong when reporting it, so her claim is dismissed. From that point on, the girls at camp, as well as the counselors, believe that Deborah is a liar, and they ridicule her. The incident reinforces Deborah's ideas about her own worthlessness.

    When you're nuts, it hardly matters that you're a nutty Jew or a nutty Holy Roller. (23.47)

    Deborah acknowledges that Jews have their own prejudices against Gentiles since they've been told that the Gentiles will betray them in the end. Deborah's been pretending that all the non-Jewish people she meets are Jewish in her mind so that she can be closer to them. Then she tells Dr. Fried that the hospital leveled the playing field for her: mental illness crosses identity boundaries.

    But in the neighborhood the codes of long-established wealth still prevailed and the little-girl "dirty-Jew," who already accepted that she was dirty, made a good target for the bullies of the block[...] "Jew, Jew, dirty Jew; my grandmother hated your grandmother, my mother hates your mother and I hate you!" Three generations. It had a ring to it; even she should feel that." (6.58)

    What effect does this type of deeply ingrained prejudice have on a person's sense of who he or she is? What about that person's self-esteem?

    The instincts of these hating children were shared, for Deborah heard sometimes that a man named Hitler was in Germany and was killing Jews with the same kind of evil joy […]. In the camp a riding instructor mentioned acidly that Hitler was doing one good thing at least, and that was getting rid of the "garbage people." She wondered idly if they all had tumors. (6.60)

    At the summer camp, Deborah's counselors (as well as a lot of the kids there) are openly anti-Semitic. Deborah's wondering whether the Jews being killed in Europe had tumors like her shows us that her identity is wrapped up in the idea that she deserves to be hated. She believes she's defective and broken in some way. This is how she feels "other"—like an outsider who isn't even part of Earth.

    They took Deborah to a small, plain room, guarding her there until the showers were empty. She was watched there also [...] Deborah did what she was told dutifully, but she kept her arm slightly tuned inward so as to hide from sight the two small, healing puncture wounds on the wrist. (2.1)

    Deborah's parents hovered over her in the first chapter. Here, she's being watched by the hospital staff. Having secrets—about her suicide attempt or her self-burning, for example—is one way for her to have something of her own. Shortly after this scene, Deborah slips into Yr, where she at least has privacy. In what ways does privacy help a person explore his or her identity?

    The hidden strength is too deep a secret. But in the end…in the end it is our only ally. (2.24)

    Dr. Fried remarks that there should be a test to find the healthy aspects of mentally patients, because it's these patients' inner strength that will give them comfort and help them heal. Mental health issues don't change the essence of who you are.

    She had been living by the Secret Calendar (Yr did not measure time as the world did) and had returned to the Heavy Calendar in the middle of the day, and having then that wonderful and omniscient feeling of changing, she had headed a class paper: Now Januce. (3.1)

    This is what secrets give the secret-keeper—a feeling of power. Here, Deborah is in control of going back and forth to Yr, and this control makes her feel like she has both power and a new cool, magical identity. She calls herself Januce—a reference to Janus, the Roman mythological figure who acted as a gatekeeper between worlds.

    The mark on the paper was the emblem of coming from Yr's time to Earth's, but being caught while still in transition, she had to answer for both of them. Such an answer would have been the unveiling of a horror—a horror from which she would not have awakened rationally; and so she had lied and dissembled, with her heart choking her. (3.2)

    Secrets give Deborah a sense of powerful and special identity, but her hiding becomes a burden. Crossing back and forth between worlds has caused her to build barriers between Yr and Earth. She wants to protect her identity, but there is punishment from Yr if she slips its secrets.

  • Freedom and Confinement

    It was Victorian, a little run-down, and surrounded by trees. Very good façade for a madhouse [...]. There were bars on all the windows. Deborah smiled slightly. It was fitting. Good. (1.21)

    Deborah initially interprets her admittance to the mental hospital as a confinement, an imprisonment that she welcomes because now she'll be alone and able to retreat inward to Yr without as much intrusion from Earth.

    To escape engulfment there was only the Here, with its ice-cold doctor and his notebook, or Yr with its golden meadows and gods. But Yr also held its regions of horror and lostness and she no longer knew to which kingdom in Yr there was passage. (2.2)

    Deborah describes her longing to escape the real world here. The problem now is that even in Yr there are imperfections: the freedom Yr once gave her no longer exists. Even an invented world can't be perfect, because its creator isn't perfect; the real world and its problems seep in eventually.

    Now, as by the laws of the world, her image walked around and answered and asked and acted; she, no longer Deborah, but a person bearing the appropriate name for a dweller on Yr's plains, sang and danced and recited the ritual songs to a caressing wind that blew on the long grasses. (2.8)

    The Powers of Yr and its Falling God, Anterrabae, reward Deb for telling the truth of some events of her life to the first doctor who interviews her at the mental hospital. They do this by letting her roam the plains of Yr, oblivious to the real world, for two days. In Yr, Deborah doesn't have to be her messy self. She is free of the world and can escape for a little while.

    "Do you mean to ask me if I think you belong here, if yours is what is called a mental illness" Then the answer is yes" [...] As bald as that. Yet with the terror connected with the hedged-about word 'crazy,' the unspoken word that Deborah was thinking about now, there was a light coming from the doctor's spoken words, a kind of light shone back on many rooms of the past." (3.40-41)

    When Dr. Fried reveals that she thinks Deborah is mentally ill, it scares Deborah. But it also frees her now that it's out in the open. Sometimes things are scarier when we keep them bottled up and secret. And hey, as we all know, the truth will set you free.

    After a while, hoping to hear the voice, becoming sadder with the loss of it, she found it again in the night of stars […] the same rich voice saying like a poem, You can be our bird, free in wind. You can be our wild horse who shakes his head and is not ashamed. (8.16)

    Ah, yes. Here we see the good old days of Yr, before it got all "judgy," like the real world is. Yr used to represent total freedom of expression for Deborah, not to mention freedom from pain. But it's all illusory—there's no real freedom when you're totally confined within your own head.

    "My help is so that you can be free to fight for all of these things. The only reality I offer is challenge, and being well is being free to accept it or not at whatever level you are capable. I never promise lies, and the rose garden world of perfection is a lie…and a bore, too!'" (13.41)

    Dr. Fried is brutally honest with Deborah. She knows the world can be cruel, and she makes no promise that she'll magically be able to solve all of Deborah's problems. But Dr. Fried knows that being healthy gives you the freedom to meet the world head on and decide how and who you're going to be in life.

    Esther could not bear the thought of Suzy replacing the familiar image of her sister with the wild-eyed face of the strait-jacketed stereotype chained in an attic. She realized now that it was this stereotype that she and Jacob had begun to imagine the first time they heard the grating of the locks, when they saw the barred windows, and when they shuddered to the screaming of a woman from some high gable. (16.2)

    Esther and Jacob have both seen their daughter as a prisoner of her own mind—and of the hospital. They're not entirely wrong, but their view is limited, because they don't understand Deborah's perspective. How is Deborah both confined to and free within her own mind, depending on how you look at it?

    (I am free!) Deborah answered, breaking chains and doing a caper. (23.18)

    Deborah is communicating via hand signals to Miss Coral. Deborah's in B ward, while Miss Coral is still up in D. Deborah now has more literal freedoms: she can move around on the hospital campus, and she can go out into town. She's also starting to gain more control over her own mind, and this gives her a sense of greater freedom.

    On regular days the Semblance could be pulled up like a screen over body and mind, but Sunday called itself Rest and Freedom, and threw one off guard. Sunday promised leisure, peace, holiness, and love. It was a restatement of the wish for human perfection. (26.9).

    Deborah calls the outward, well-behaved face you present to the world the "Semblance." But on this particular Sunday, she and Carla wander off the hospital grounds and into the town, where they drop their Semblances. They dance in the rain and stay out past midnight. They feel truly free for a while.

    "It was freedom they gave me after all. Carmen's didn't give her a chance, but mine…" It came to Deborah that it was her parents who had bought this fight for her. They could have cut her off from it the minute that she failed to make their progress. They had kept the faith with a future which might never sing their praises. "Carla…if I weren't scared to death of it, I would be so grateful!" (26.67-69)

    Here Deborah shows gratitude for the freedom her parents gave her by leaving her at the mental hospital for three years. They've allowed her to go completely and utterly crazy—and then figure out how to be herself, how to be healthy, and how to choose her own life.

  • Madness

    She liked working with patients. Their very illness made them examine sanity as few 'sane' people could. Kept from living, sharing, and simple communication, they often hungered for it with a purity of passion that she saw as beautiful. (2.12)

    When we first meet Dr. Fried, she makes these remarks. She thinks that the mentally ill understand what healthy people take for granted. They value interaction and human relationships more deeply because their illness prevents them from being able to manage those basic things. They're on the outside looking in.

    The world is so much sicker than the inmates of its institutions. (2.13)

    Dr. Fried shows us her compassion for the mentally ill here. She also indicates that our definitions of madness or mental illness are subjective: a lot of what happens in the world is actually pretty sick and cruel. We're just used to it.

    She remembered…the hospital in Germany, at a time when Hitler was on the other side of its walls and not even she could say which side was sane (2.13).

    This is Dr. Fried's commentary on her experience of Nazi Germany. Inside the mental hospital, the patients were supposedly mad, while a madman ran the country, terrorized Europe, and executed a brutal and insane plan to exterminate millions of Jews that millions of other apparently sane people participated in. It made Dr. Fried question the sanity of her entire country.

    "The prisoner pleads guilty to the charge of not having acute something-it is and accepts the verdict of guilty of being nuts in the first degree." (3.45)

    Deborah is relieved to be diagnosed as mentally ill, because for so long, she'd been told by her parents and others that nothing was wrong with her and that she was faking it. She knows that she's broken with reality—and that the game of hiding out in the kingdom of Yr has taken a dark turn that has trapped her in her own mind most of the time.

    The fact of this mental illness was in the open now, but the disease itself had roots still as deeply hidden as the white core of a volcano whose slopes are camouflaged in wooded green. Somewhere, even under the volcano itself, was the buried seed of will and strength. (3.54)

    Even in the depths of mental illness the person is still there, but she might be buried deeply beneath layers of false fronts she puts up to the world. Dr. Fried sees the possibility of a hidden strength underneath all those layers, and she hopes therapy can bring Deborah back to health.

    The sick are so afraid of their own uncontrollable power! Somehow they cannot believe that they are only people, holding only human-sized anger! (6.23)

    This is what Dr. Fried thinks after seeing Deborah slip away into Yr instead of confronting emotionally difficult truths. She sees the mentally ill as temporarily unable to see their own strength, and she wants to help them find it.

    "You know…the thing that is so wrong about being mentally ill is the terrible price you have to pay for survival." (8.24)

    Dr. Fried goes on to convince Deborah that even if she's in a mental hospital, she still belongs to a group, and belonging to a group is a kind of survival. Belonging to Yr is another kind of belonging, but it's one that includes the heavy price of judgment from others and isolation from human community. Dr. Fried is trying help Deborah see how she could eventually belong to the real world if she chooses.

    "I never promised you a rose garden. I never promised you perfect justice…' (She remembered Tilda suddenly, breaking out of the hospital in Nuremburg, disappearing into the swastika-city, and coming back laughing that hard, rasping parody of laughter. 'Sholom Aleichem, Doctor, they are crazier than I am!')." (13.41)

    Here Dr. Fried admits to Deborah that she can't promise that they world will treat her fairly. Then she privately remembers Tilda, a patient she treated in Germany, who saw how crazy and cruel Germany had become during the war. It's tough to live in this world, because there's a lot that's bad about it.

    "Do they […] have […] morals?" It was a new man asking. They all knew what the answer was supposed to be, but few of them really believed it and only some of the time. (21.116)

    At a meeting of the hospital staff, which includes doctors, someone asks this question. This shows how deeply the prejudice against the mentally ill can run: we see healthcare professionals here asking whether mentally ill people can still have morals.

    "I remember when I left my hospital in Germany, a patient gave me a knife to protect myself. This knife he had made in secret by grinding down a piece of metal for months and months. He had made it to save against the day that his illness would become too painful for him to bear...his ability to give was an indication of health and strength. But because I was coming to this country…I gave the knife to one who had to stay behind." (21.117-119)

    Dr. Fried relays the story of how patients often act with great moral compasses and often give at great cost to themselves. This guy was keeping a knife to kill himself if his pain ever overwhelmed him. He selflessly wanted his doctor to have it instead, for protection, in case she needed it. Dr. Fried treats the mentally ill with compassion because she's seen them suffer and also act courageously.

    "The part that's hardest is the feeling you get when everyone is polite and says 'good morning' and 'good night' while the distance between you and them is getting wider and wider. The doctors say it's the fault of the sick one—my fault. If I were less anxious, they say, it would be easier for friendships to come, but that's easy to say. I don't think any of the doctors ever tried to break into a new group with a heavy stigma on their heads and having their first acceptance in that group hinge on pity or morbid fascination." (23.35)

    Carla tells Deborah about the judgment the mentally ill face in the outside world once they're discharged from the hospital. It's hard to get close when you're nervous about how you're perceived, and when everyone's politeness seems forced.

    "I could do away with bars on the windows," Carla said. Deborah wasn't sure. "The patients would have to be strong enough to stand it, first [...] Sometimes you have to fight what won't yield and put yourself where it's safe to be crazy." (26.15).

    Deborah understands instinctively what she needs to get well. She shows this when she and Carla talk about what kind of hospital they would build if they could. Carla says hers wouldn't have bars on the windows, but Deborah opts to have bars, because in her mind, when people first fight mental illness, they aren't strong enough to have no safeguards. She herself needed to feel the safety of firm boundaries.

  • Lies and Deceit

    Then they began to construct the story that they would tell their acquaintances and those relatives who were not close or whose prejudices did not allow for mental hospitals in the family [...] the look of the place would have to change in the telling and the high, hard scream that they had heard from one of the barred windows as they left, and that had made them shiver and grit their teeth, would have to be expunged. (2.11)

    Jacob and Ester construct a cover story about Deborah that they will use when talking to people in their social circle. They'll also use it the family members who would freak out at the mere mention of a mental hospital. When Deborah eventually goes home to visit, she sees how her parents lied to all these people about the truth of her illness and it hinders her progress. How would these kinds of lies make you feel?

    Again the transparent lie about the doll. What terrible scorn they had had to give that lie so often! […] the doctor's face was heavy with anger and her voice full of indignation for the five-year-old who stood before them both. "Those damn fools! When will they learn not to lie to children!" (6.10-12)

    The doctors who operate on Deborah when she's five tell her she's in Dreamland instead of being honest with her and explaining that she's in a hospital, and that they are going to perform and operation to remove a tumor from her urethra. Instead, they tell her they are going to put her "doll" to sleep and that it won't hurt. Um, ew.

    Even at five, Deb is cognizant enough to know that her vagina and urethra are not a doll, and she's insulted not only by the euphemism but also by the searing pain she feels after she has assured nothing will hurt. This is the beginning of Deborah's hatred for lying of any kind. Dr. Fried is upset just hearing Deborah tell this story, and that's one of the reasons Deborah grows to trust and respect Dr. Fried.

    Deborah suddenly knew what was good about D ward: no more lying gentility or need to live according to the incomprehensible rules of Earth. (7.7)

    When Deborah gets to D ward, she senses there's something good there, but she can't put her finger on what it is at first. Then she realizes that what's good about D ward is the fact that no one hides or lies about their illness there. It's all out in the open.

    "It doesn't hurt—don't worry." Watch out for those words…they are the same words. What comes after those words is deceit, and…The stroke from the tumor made her writhe on the floor. A bursting vein of terror released itself and then there was the darkness, even beyond the power of Yr. (7.36-37)

    When a staff member of the hospital explains what a cold-sheet pack is, Deborah immediately distrusts the words and has a violent reaction. She was told the same thing about her tumor operation, and that lie caused her to continue to feel the pain of the tumor long after it was removed.

    The director gave an impassioned speech about a "liar in our midst who uses her religion to get pity and involve innocent girls in trouble—one among us who would stoop to any evil, any dishonor." He would not mention names, he said, but they all knew who it was. (8.15)

    Deborah is at summer camp when a fellow camper calls her a "stinking Jew." When she gets the name of the guilty camper wrong, the counselors call her a liar. This incident reinforces the negative stories Deborah tells herself about being poisonous and hopeless. In fact, one of her Yri nicknames is "The Always Deceived."

    "How many times does one tell the truth and die for it!" (9.25)

    Deborah is exasperated by the feeling that she has been pressured by her classmates into renouncing her artistic ability. When Dr. Fried tries to get her to see that she didn't publicly claim her art in front of her classmates out of fear of rejection, Deborah dismisses the suggestion. She's convinced that if she did tell the kids the picture they found was hers, they would have made fun of it or rejected her in some way. But the truth is that she doesn't know that; it's just an assumption.

    Deborah knew that they must have taken the naked fact and buried it hurriedly somewhere, like carrion. But she knew well how the stench of a buried lie purses the guilty, hanging in the air they breathe until everything smells of it, rancid and corrupting. (10.54)

    These are Deborah's thoughts when Dr. Fried tries to get her to see that she didn't really try to kill her baby sister. Deborah protests against Dr. Fried's suggestion: she believes in the truth of her own guilt. She thinks that her parents have never spoken about catching her in the act because they always bury unpleasant things and put on happy faces. Deborah can convince herself of anything if it upholds her image of herself as a terrible person.

    "It was a wiling soil then, to which this seed of Yr came," the doctor said. "The deceits of the grown-up world, the great gap between Grandfather's pretensions and the world you saw more clearly, the lies told by your own precocity, that you were special, and the hard fact that you couldn't get to first base with your own contemporaries no matter how impressive your specialness was." (12.9)

    These are Dr. Fried's observations on the birth of Yr and its connection to Deborah's feelings about lies. It's complicated. Pop told Deborah she was awesome, but the world told Deborah she was a "stinking Jew." Her father told her that "sex maniacs" wanted to hurt her—and that just by being a girl, she was guilty for making them want to do that. Yr was a better alternative to the awful stuff Deborah saw and heard about going on around her.

    "You were asked to mistrust even the reality to which you were closest and which you could discern as clearly as daylight. Small wonder that mental patients have so low a tolerance for lies." (17.90)

    Dr. Fried understands that Deborah has so little tolerance of lying because she knew all along, deep down, that she was sick—but no one around her wanted to admit it, especially her parents.

    […] it seemed to Deborah that Suzy had somehow darkened over these two days. She had been free to go out and leave the prodigal elder sister to all the praises, but she had stayed. Was it perhaps the virulence after all—the slow poison of Deborahness which conscious will told her did not exist, but which still whispered, "They lie! They lie!" deep in the places beneath logic and will. (25.33)

    Deborah relapses a bit at home when she realizes Suzy is lying about wanting to hang out with her instead of with her friends. It makes Deborah think negative thoughts again: she starts the believe that she's poisonous and a detriment to others.

  • Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    Somewhere in that precocity and bitterness and somewhere in the illness, whose limits she could not yet define, lay a hidden strength. It was there and working; it had sounded in the glimmer of relief when the fact of the sickness was made plain […]. (3.54)

    Dr. Fried shows she has hope that Deborah will get better before Deborah herself shows that hope. Dr. Fried recognizes the glimmer of the "maybe" before Deborah latches onto it—and that may be what Deborah needs to help get her out of her illness.

    Esther extracted every particle of hope, going over and over the words, magnifying each positive sign, turning the remarks this way and that for the facets of brightest reflection. (4.5)

    Esther's trying to find hope in a letter she's received from the hospital, after Deborah has been there for a month. She sincerely wants Deborah to get better, but she's also looking to spin the information for her family to make the situation appear better than it is.

    "She got well and went out and she's working, and we got frightened because we might someday…have to be 'well' and be in the world." (9.82)

    Carla tells Deborah why even hearing stories about Doris Rivera, a patient who left D ward for the real world, scares the patients. It gives them hope, but it challenges them to change. And change is hard work.

    "It's different here. I been lotsa joints, lotsa wards [...]. What's here…there's more scared, more mad […]—but it's because of the maybe. It's because of the little, little maybe [...]. Everyone was afraid of the hope, the little, little Maybe […]. (13.53)

    The other patients in D ward understand the "little maybe" Lucia talks about here. It's the hope of maybe one day getting well and being part of the world. Hope is tricky: it can keep you going, but if, like Deborah, you've been stuck between worlds for a long time and don't know how to interact like a healthy person, hope can be scary. It means you have to give up all you know, and change.

    "Can you tell us what we may hope for?"

    "If you want to hope for a college diploma and a box of dance invitations and pressed roses and a nice clean-cut young man from a fine family—I don't know. This is what most parents hope for [...]. Part of our work together is to find out and come to terms with what she really does want." (14.2-3)

    Jacob asks Dr. Fried what he can hope for in Deborah's recovery, and Dr. Fried responds as Deborah's champion. She knows that Deborah has absorbed what her parents want for her, but she says Deborah will have to figure out her own hopes and dreams for her future.

    Deborah appraised her in the light of the myth which she and Carla had made. Doris was very thin and she had graying hair, but even exhausted and dizzy with sedatives, there was an abundant sense of life thrumming through her. In whatever manner she had taken the world for this long, it had not been on her knees. (17.15)

    Doris Rivera is a symbol of hope to the patients of D ward because she went out into the world beyond the hospital. When Doris is readmitted, the event squashes the patients' hopes of being successful at the whole real world thing. Deborah, however, also sees the event as evidence that change is a process that allows for setbacks along the way.

    "Why couldn't I be the one going?" Deborah had said, "Well, why not?" and she had answered abstractedly, "Maybe…maybe…" as if she were thinking of it for the first time [...]. Helene had been cursing the Maybe and not her at all. (23.39)

    Helene, another patient, starts to want to get the point at which she can leave the hospital, and it's because Deborah has inspired her. Helene curses Deborah out for this, because hope is a strange emotion. It can lift you up, but it can also make you fearful, because it can inspire you to change. Change requires action that carries you forward into the unknown, and that's scary for a lot of people.

    "Now the choice was to be made again, but this time the scale that weighed the earth's virtues had a new quantity to add to the rest—hope, the little, little Maybe." (25.31)

    Deborah weighs whether to give up Yr for Earth or not. She and many other patients struggle with the "Maybe" and its promise of health. They also struggle with the idea that they will have to maintain that health, in spite of all the obstacles in the real world.

    She was frightened by the choices that the world offered her. The possible futures stretched out before her like the hall down which she was now walking from the administrative offices: a long road with carefully labeled doors every ten feet of the way—all closed. (28.14)

    Faced with the prospect of having to go back to high school in order to be qualified for some kind of job, Deborah starts to feel hopeless about the future. She feels like she will have no opportunities. But her pessimism is short-lived: it turns out that she can get a GED, after all. There's always a way.

    She looked again at the faces on the ward. Her presence was making then struggle with Maybes. Suddenly she realized she was a Doris Rivera, a living symbol of hope and failure and the terror they all felt of their own resiliency and hers, reeling punch-drunk from beating after beating, yet, at the secret bell, up again for more. She saw why she could never explain the nature of her failures to these people who so needed to understand it, and why she could never justify scraping together her face and strength to go out again…and again. In some ways reality was as private a kingdom as Yr." (29.99)

    Deborah realizes that now she represents to the other patients what Doris had represented to her. She also realizes she won't be able to explain wanting to be a healthy part of the world to the other patients, because they don't want it enough for themselves yet. They'll know it for themselves when they get there.