Introduction of Bathos

In Susanna Kaysen’s not so typical autobiography, she narrates her experience in the McLean Psychiatric Hospital in Massachusetts. She uses real stories and experiences in attempts to possibly distinguish the difference between patients inside the hospital, and everyday people. We learn that the patients in the hospital seem to be a lot more creative and smarter than we as readers initially assume. One particular idea that Kaysen brings to the table, is that there are no normal people in this world. She claims that it is not one individual in a family that is crazy, but the entire family designates one person to call crazy and send to the hospital. Just as a baseball team appoints their best hitter to be the designated hitter, Kaysen was appointed her family’s designated crazy, similarly seen with the other patients in the hospital.

 

One particular section of the book that stuck out to me, was the very first chapter. The first chapter of a book is very important to the novel structurally, because this is where you win the reader over. Kaysen does a very good job in this section using imagery and other rhetorical strategies such as metaphors, to immerse her readers into her story. In the chapter “Fire,” she begins to tell the story of a girl who set herself on fire in attempts to kill herself, and also introduces herself and her story of an attempted suicide. In describing the idea of suicide, she says: “We’ve all had those. And somewhat more dangerous things, like putting a gun in your mouth. But you put it there, you taste it, its cold and greasy, your finger is on the trigger, and you find that a whole world lies between this moment and the moment you’ve been planning, when you’ll pull the trigger. That world defeats you. You put the gun back in the drawer.” Talk about a boat load of imagery. In reading this excerpt I found myself clenching the book; nothing could distract me. She continues to tell readers about the time that she took 50 aspirin, went into the street, then fainted. She described her leaving to go to the street as her putting the gun back. This is a great metaphor to show readers how much of an eye opening experience this was for her. Similarly, I would compare this style to the style portrayed in the autobiography of Fredrick Douglass. Douglass uses vivid, painful imagery to help immerse readers into his autobiography.

 

The next chapter that I noted in my journal was the chapter that introduced Daisy. “Daisy was a seasonal event. She came before Thanksgiving, and stayed through Christmas every year.” One thing that Kaysen does in her book is that she introduces characters, then makes their stories very personable. As a reader, I would almost be thinking that these are my friends as well as hers. The chapter goes on to describe Daisy as a girl who loves laxatives and chicken, and that her own father wants to fuck her. One very peculiar thing was that Daisy’s father would bring her a whole roasted chicken, and she was not allowed to leave the hospital until she has 14 chicken carcasses lined up. I noted this chapter as being completely absurd. Kaysen whether she knows it or not, uses the idea of bathos, unintentionally hilarious emotional appeal. This chapter seems to be full of bathos. I in no way shape or form think that mental health is something to laugh about, however the introduction of Daisy just seemed so absurd, that you can’t help but smirk.

 

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