Study Guide

Where'd You Go, Bernadette Madness

By Maria Semple

Madness

Sometimes Mom doesn't sleep. (1.179)

There's no doubt that Bernadette is experiencing mental health struggles, but there's a lot of debate over their severity. Is she stuck in a funk and needs some help getting out? Or is she a danger to herself and others?

When "Here Comes the Sun" started, what happened? No, the sun didn't come out, but Mom opened up like the sun breaking through the clouds. (1.583)

Bernadette has moments of lightness even at her darkest times, and those moments invariably involve Bee. Bernadette loves her daughter more than anything in the world, and if there's anything that makes her feel like life is worth living, it's her little yellow jacket.

"I need you to know how hard it is for me sometimes." Mom had her hand on mine. (1.586)

It's not as if Bernadette is unaware she's having issues. She's not in denial. What she is, however, is totally confused as to how to resolve them. It's easier said than done.

I now think it might be a better idea if Bee and I go to Antarctica, just the two of us, while Bernadette checks into Madrona Hill. (1.745)

Instead of simply supporting his wife through her mental health struggles and, like, maybe setting her up with a therapist, Elgin is dead-set on sending her to an institution. Talk about overkill. It's like trimming your toenails with a chainsaw. And equally dangerous.

Perhaps I have misread your intent, but what you genially refer to as "supervised R&R" [...] is, in practicality, asking that she be detained against her will at Madrona Hill. (3.222)

Guess we're not the only person skeptical of Elgin's motives. While Dr. Janelle Kurtz is certain that Bernadette could use the services of a mental health professional, she's not sure if institutionalization is the answer. The fact that her own husband jumps to such an extreme solution ends up saying more about his mental state than hers.

Elgie, look at me. I'm in the weeds. I can get myself out. We can get out of this together. For us. For Bee. But I won't work with these invaders. (4.372)

During her intervention, Bernadette takes stock of herself and admits how far she's fallen. In many ways, this is a good thing. But it's not like Bernadette thought everything was gravy beforehand. She's known things are bad...the tricky part is fixing them.

"You don't get mad at someone for getting cancer," I said. "She's clearly sick." (5.62)

Soo-Lin is rarely a Bernadette Defender, but she's got our heroine's back on this one. Even if Bernadette is in as bad of shape as Elgin thinks (spoiler: she's not), then isn't that even more of a reason to support her?

My sworn enemy was being sent away to a mental institution?! It should have been cause for celebration. Instead, I sat on the hall bench, my whole body quivering. (5.149)

This idea that Bernadette is "insane" is rooted in lies and exaggerations told by Audrey Griffin, her nemesis. But it's not like this was Audrey's plan the whole time. She's horrified when she finds out that Bernie is getting locked up. This leads her to rescue Bernadette at the last second, helping Bernadette take her mental health into her own hands.

"I would have done it." 

"Done what?" I asked. 

"Given Manjula power of attorney." (5.179-181)

Hitting rock bottom has its plus side: Bernadette is finally able to admit that she needs help. Now realizing she made decisions that put her family at risk, she's finally ready to take her mental health seriously.

I kept my head down, strayed in my room, and slept, but, mainly, I was. No racing heart, no flying thoughts (7.24)

It's only in Antarctica that Bernadette finds mental rejuvenation. Her anxiety is reduced. Her thoughts slow down. Her emotions settle. In the solitude of the frozen continent, she's finally able to become the Bernadette she always was on the inside.

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