I Never Promised You a Rose Garden Essay - Critical Context

Joanne Greenberg

Critical Context

Insanity is a recurring theme in modern culture. Sometimes it is used in a Gothic setting simply for its macabre fascination for those who enjoy the thrill of the irrational and unpredictable. Occasionally, as in Ken Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962) and Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 (1955) or the French comedic film King of Hearts (1966), insanity is a tool for satire, an almost benevolent alternative to a reality of greater cruelty and irrationality. Such works are sometimes guilty of romanticizing mental illness, underplaying the pain and fear which may attend it.

Some novels, such as the well-known studies of multiple personality, are fictionalized case studies. Although I Never Promised You a Rose Garden certainly has an affinity for the case study approach, most of the time it avoids the objective observer’s perception in favor of the patient’s point of view. It is most successful when the reader sees through the eyes and mind of the patient, not through the analyst’s mind.

Joanne Greenberg has published several novels and a number of short stories, most of them concerned with themes of isolation and loneliness. I Never Promised You a Rose Garden is by far her best-known work. A best-seller which has been reprinted many times and is still widely read, it was made into a film in 1979. This novel was her second, sandwiched between a historical novel exploring a massacre of Jews in 1190, The King’s Persons (1963), and a case history approach to the professional life of a social worker, The Monday Voices (1965). In other works she has explored the problems of physically or psychologically wounded people who have special problems in communicating. Founder’s Praise (1977) deals again with racial bigotry and how it creates hatred and dissension in a religious sect, far from the purpose of its founder. Greenberg shows that many of the barriers between people are self-created out of private fears and misunderstandings.