(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The complexity of I Never Promised You a Rose Garden arises from its power as both a work of fiction and an autobiographical psychological cleansing. This work stems from Joanne Greenberg’s planned nonfictional account of her psychological collapse, treatment, and cure. Before the narrative could be written, however, Greenberg’s analyst, Dr. Frieda Fromm-Reichman, died. Still intent on telling her story, Greenberg fictionalized the account and published it under the name of Hannah Green. When she learned that there was another writer using the name Hanna Green, Greenberg acknowledged authorship and admitted the autobiographical foundation of the novel.

However intriguing the autobiographical elements prove to be, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden is a novel and should be read as such. Green’s central intention is to show the far-reaching effects that mental illness has upon patients, their families, and those entrusted with their care and treatment. Although there is melodramatic potential in the novel, Green does not allow herself to be trapped into taking the easy way out by depending upon atmosphere rather than content.

Green does not confine her readers within the walls of the mental hospital with the novel’s protagonist, Deborah Blau; rather, she provides entry into the world that fostered Deborah’s decline. Deborah’s illness was both ignored and accelerated by the family and the society in which she found herself. The society that created Deborah also created the methods and attitudes dominating the treatment of mental illness during the novel’s time frame.

Green does not approach male mental illness in detail, although there are male patients mentioned in passing. Instead, she focuses upon women who suffer psychological traumas and who confront them either through...

(The entire section is 751 words.)