It's Kind of a Funny Story

by Ned Vizzini

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It's Kind of a Funny Story Themes

The main themes in It’s Kind of a Funny Story are privilege, the pervasiveness of problems, and sexuality and relationships.

  • Privilege: During his time at the hospital, Craig’s interactions with the other patients broaden his perspective and help him realize the various forms of privilege he takes for granted.
  • The pervasiveness of problems: Craig initially believes his struggles are unique and even shameful, but over the course of the novel he comes to understand that everyone faces problems of some kind.
  • Sexuality and relationships: Craig develops from having a shallow understanding of sexuality and relationships to a more mature one.


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Last Updated on September 17, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1326


A recurring theme in the novel is the influence of privilege in its various forms. During his stay in Six North, Craig comes to recognize his particular areas of privilege. In a conversation with Noelle, Craig articulates the privilege he experiences due to his gender. Craig tells her that boys are arrogant because they often assume that “the world was built for [them].” While Noelle and Craig feel the pressures of “the pretty game” and “the smart game,” respectively, Noelle points out that “the pretty game’s worse… Nobody wants to use you for being smart.” 

Throughout the novel, Craig also realizes his economic privilege. When Craig tells Humble that he has eight dollars, Humble says, “Shhh. Don’t go announcing it! . . . People in here don’t have any money. I don’t have two cents to rub together.” Before going to Six North, Craig laments that he lives in “statusless Brooklyn.” When Bobby finds out where Craig lives, however, he declares, “Man, I’d give my one remaining ball to live here, I’ll tell you that.” Suddenly, Craig’s neighborhood is recast as the desired place to live, a privileged place.

Mental health issues, however, span the barriers of privilege. While many of the patients in Six North struggle financially, there are also many middle- and upper-class patients who are admitted. For example, the Professor, an academic by profession, is paralyzed by paranoia.

In some ways, Craig’s privilege frustrates him, as he believes he has no right to be depressed. He reflects that

compared to them I’m… well, I’m a spoiled rich kid. Which is another something to feel bad about. So, who’s worse off?

While Craig’s privilege can be a source of frustration, recognizing it is also a source of healing. When Bobby is accepted into a group home and feels grateful to Craig for loaning him a shirt for the interview, Craig hugs him and thinks,

This guy just got a place to live. Me? I have one. I’ll always have one… My stupid fantasies about ending up homeless are just that—the fact is that my parents will take me in anytime, anywhere. But some people have to get lucky just to live. And I never knew I could make anybody lucky.

By turning his attention away from himself and considering how he can help others, Craig dismantles some of his former thought patterns and arrives at an appreciation for the sources of privilege in his life.

The Pervasiveness of Problems

A key theme of the novel is the reality that everyone faces problems. In the beginning, several characters carry a façade of perfection, at least in Craig’s mind. He sees Nia as a glossy fantasy, and he feels jealous of Aaron’s life, which he perceives as easy. Craig is crippled by social and academic pressure, imagining that his classmates are maintaining perfect academic and extracurricular involvement.

One by one, these perfect façades erode. Nia confesses that she is also on medication for depression. At the end of the novel, Aaron says that every member of his family is medicated in some way. And Craig’s principal is receptive to—and unsurprised by—the news of Craig’s depression, explaining that this is something many students have experienced before.

Craig comes to see that his issues and struggles are not unique to his experience. As he tells Noelle,

I come in here and I see that people from all over have problems . . . And not only in here: all over. My friends are all calling me up now: this one’s depressed, that one’s depressed… I mean everybody’s messed up.

While everybody...

(This entire section contains 1326 words.)

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is “messed up,” the difference between the characters in the book is arguably how they handle their problems. As Craig tells Noelle, “wewear our problems differently.” Some characters in the novel hide their issues, while others address them more openly.

Dr. Barney tells Craig that he became a psychopharmacologist because he “went through [his] own shit” and thus was motivated to help others. At the end of the novel, Craig sees his issues—represented by his hospital bracelets—as something to be proud of, rather than something to hide.

The novel illustrates how the ubiquity of suffering can draw people together. While Aaron is threatened by Nia’s depression, Craig explains that he sees Noelle’s issues as “a chance to connect.” In fact, Craig realizes that one of the reasons he is attracted to Noelle is because of the scars on her face. When she worries that she will be forever seen as “a freak,” Craig tells her,

[People are] going to look at you and think that they can talk to you, and that you’ll understand, and that you’re brave, and that you’re strong. And you are … You’re brave and strong.

When Craig tells Aaron about his relationship with Noelle, he says he would rather be with someone who is open about their issues than someone who projects a perfect image while suppressing their problems.

In the beginning of the book, Craig feels that he is struggling while everyone else is perfect. By the end of the novel, he sees that everyone struggles in different ways and that these struggles can be a learning opportunity or a chance to connect. While Craig is initially embarrassed by his stay at the psychiatric hospital, he becomes proud of it. He no longer seeks a quick cure for his depression, instead realizing the truth of Dr. Mahmoud’s words: “Life is not cured, Mr. Gilner. . . Life is managed.

Sexuality and Relationships

Given that Craig, the novel’s protagonist, is a fifteen-year-old boy, sexuality is a central theme. At the start of the novel, Craig generally thinks of sex with curiosity and longing. Initially, the focus of Craig’s sexual desire is Nia. He sees her as perfect and fantasizes about her regularly. Indeed, at this stage, Craig’s sexuality is limited to his imagination. One of the thoughts that actually makes him pause in his suicide plans is the realization that he will die a virgin. However, over the course of the novel, Craig’s understanding of sexuality and relationships deepens.

At some points, Craig seems to helplessly follow his physical desires, even against his better judgment. He responds to Jennifer’s and Noelle’s offers to spend time together simply because they are showing an interest in him. When Nia visits, Craig has already lost his fantasy view of her. Even though he feels conflicted by his diminished view of her character, he gets caught up in his physical attraction for her and kisses her in his room.

Over time, Craig’s one-dimensional view of Nia changes. In the hospital, his fantasy version of her disappears after their phone conversation. He says,

I picture Nia with her gorgeous face… but also with her pot smoking and the pimples on her forehead and making fun of people all the time and the way she’s always so proud of how she’s dressed. And I picture her fading.

In contrast to Craig’s superficial affection for Nia, his relationship with Noelle is more complex. They begin by getting to know each other, and Craig is impressed by her personality as well as her appearance. Eventually, he and Noelle do connect physically—but only after they have connected emotionally and intellectually. Instead of seeing Noelle as an object of sexual fantasy, he is aware of her pain—including a history of sexual abuse—and has cultivated a trusting friendship with her. Unlike Aaron and Nia, Craig and Noelle do not hide their issues from each other.

The relationship between Noelle and Craig is still an adolescent romantic relationship, which Dr. Minerva warns can change quickly, but it is presented as a healthier relationship than Craig’s relationship with Nia or Nia and Aaron’s relationship.


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