"I Never Promised You a Rose Garden" by Joanne Greenberg
Schizophrenia has long been a devastating mental illness and only recently have we begun to see an improvement in our capabilities to treat this disorder. The development of neuroleptics such as, Haldol, Risperidal, and Zyprexa have given psychiatrists, psychologists and their patients great hope in the battle against this mental disease. However, during the 1960s, drugs were not available and psychologists relied upon psychotherapy in order to treat patients.
I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, is a description of a sixteen-year-old girl's battle with schizophrenia, in the 1960s. Deborah Blau’s illness spanned three years, in which she spent her life in a mental institution. The book itself is a semi-autobiographical account of Joanne Greenberg’s experiences in a mental hospital during her own bout with schizophrenia. She presents her experiences by relating them to Deborah.
The novel was written to help fight the stigmatisms and prejudices held against mental illness. In the late 1960s, reactions to mental illness generally fell between two polarized attitudes. One, popular with the counterculture generation, romanticized mental illness as an altered state of consciousness that was rich in artistic, creative inspiration. The protagonist of this myth was the tortured artist who poured out his or her soul in writing or art between periods of mental breakdown; Sylvia Plath, Vincent Van Gogh, and Virginia Woolf are only a few such individuals whose artistry is practically inseparable from the idealized myths of their mental instability. Often their periods of mental breakdown were a source of inspiration, but before one romanticizes their mental illnesses, it necessary to remember that all three committed suicide.
On the other end of the spectrum, mental illness was stigmatized as a weakness or fatal flaw on the part of the sufferer. Even today, many uninformed people regard mental illness as a stigmatized condition, shrouded in shameful secrecy and negative stereotypes, to be described with frightening or belittling euphemisms. In the late 1960s, when Greenberg's novel was published, mental illness was even more misunderstood and feared. The reading public had absorbed centuries of inaccurate information about mental illness, all based on prejudice, ignorance, and fear.
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. Throughout her life, she has fought for the respect and empathy that individuals suffering from both physical and mental handicaps have been denied. Deborah Blau allowed Greenberg the opportunity to call attention to the misconceptions of mental illness and at the same time describe the story of a very bright and artistically talented girl who just happened to be struggling with a...