Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden is a disturbing look at young Deborah Blau’s descent into and eventual ascent from extreme schizophrenia. The severity of her illness is passed off by family members as being mere hysteria, an often-used explanation for women’s emotional and psychological disorders.

The novel opens as sixteen-year-old Deborah, accompanied by her parents, is on her way to an unnamed mental health facility where she will be confined for three years to receive treatment for her mental illness. Deborah has suffered from schizophrenia since childhood, often tied to her fifth year, when she underwent two operations to remove tumors from her urethra and when her sister Suzy was born. Even though Deborah often demonstrates the severity of her illness through self-mutilation, her family denies that she is sick until she attempts suicide at the age of sixteen.

Many of Deborah’s problems stem from her self-perceived need of punishment for her femininity, her Jewishness, and her earlier disdain for her sister. Throughout the novel, Deborah inflicts punishment upon herself by such masochistic acts as cutting and burning herself. Deborah also attempts to escape her mental torment by retreating into her imaginary world, the Kingdom of Yr. At the hospital, Deborah comes under the supervision of Dr. Clara Fried, who leads her toward mastering her problems rather than resorting to bodily harm or mental retreat. Dr. Fried bases...

(The entire section is 549 words.)