I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, by Joanne Greenberg, is a description of a sixteen-year-old girl’s battle with schizophrenia, which lasts for three years. It is a semi-autobiographical account of the author’s experiences in a mental hospital during her own bout with the illness. This novel is written to help fight the stigmatisms and prejudices held against mental illness.
Joanne Greenberg was born in Brooklyn in 1932, and is a very respected and award-winning author. Because of her experiences as a Jewish-American and having fought her own battle with schizophrenia, Greenberg wrote I Never Promised You a Rose Garden to help people understand what it is like have to face so much hardship. After her illness was treated, she went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and English. Throughout her life, she has fought for the respect and empathy that individuals suffering from both physical and mental handicaps have been denied. Joanne Greenberg presents her experiences by relating them to Deborah Blau.
Deborah Blau, who is very bright and artistically talented, creates an imaginary world she calls the Kingdom of Yr, to use as a defense against the confusing and frightening truths of the real world. When Deborah is five, she has an operation to remove a tumor that causes her to be incontinent. This is a very traumatic experience because a great deal of physical pain and shame comes along with the problems caused by the tumor and resulting surgery. Deborah suffers frequent abuse from her anti-Semitic peers and neighbors during her childhood. When Deborah first creates Yr, it is a sort of haven, but as time goes on, the gods of Yr become Deborah’s masters and control her every word and action.
I Never Promised You a Rose Garden shows the issue of mental illness from several different viewpoints. During Deborah’s three years in the hospital, the reader is provided with a glimpse of mental illness from the patient’s point of view. Deborah’s parents, Esther and Jacob, show the struggle that family members face. This is a conflict between their love for their daughter and their shame of her illness. They blame themselves for what their daughter is facing and they fear what they must do to help her. In spite of this, they manage to gather the courage to get Deborah treatment, and allow it to continue, even though the therapy seems to have no effect for quite some time. These people get help from a brilliant psychiatrist, who is not only strong-willed, but also empathetic towards their situations.
Deborah’s therapist, Dr. Clara Fried, gradually gains Deborah’s trust, because she never forces Deborah to accept her point of view. While she helps Deborah, the doctor, in turn, comforts Deborah’s parents. During the course of the three years, Deborah gains the courage to fight her illness, only with Dr. Fried’s expertise. Fried’s goal is to allow Deborah to have the opportunity to choose between having a life in the reality of Earth, even though it does have many faults and problems, and living in the phantoms of Yr. While she is in the process of fighting her illness, Deborah builds friendships with the other patients in the hospital even though they have a sort of fear of emotional attachment to other people. Even though she still has fears of the Earth’s reality, Deborah goes on to earn a GED degree, and, eventually, wins her struggle against the illness.
This novel does contain some misconceptions about schizophrenia. The way that Deborah is treated in the novel is different from how she would be treated today. Based on what was known in the 1960’s, Joanne Greenberg uses the method of therapy as the majority of treatment. Today, schizophrenia is treated mostly with psychiatric drugs. Although this novel uses outdated treatment methods, it does succeed in allowing the reader to see into the mind of a mentally ill person.
This novel is very realistic and uses a unique approach to teaching readers about psychology and promoting a more informed approach on life. I Never Promised You a Rose Garden is an interesting novel and should be read by anyone who may be curious about the issues it tackles.