Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts
Link to Yazmin Cotterell's Senior Art Thesis  

Marisha  Pessl

Yazmin  Cotterell 

Soviet Psychiatry: Science Manipulated for Political Repression

Transformed Perceptions of Reality in Marisha Pesslís Novels

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Soviet leaders manipulated psychiatry to restrain and repress dissidents labeled as enemies. The Soviet state concocted a plan to silence the dissidents. This time period of Soviet history involved state control over secret police, who seized those they labeled as enemies. The accused underwent a trial in order for the state to determine his or her guilt and to justify imprisonment in psychiatric facilities. Dissidents usually remained true to their beliefs, proving this torturous practice did not shake them from their dissent. Foreign critics condemned this misuse of psychiatry and the Soviet leaders that directed the policy. Psychiatric incarceration led to the mental and emotional damage of the victims, due to the prescribed drugs and harsh living conditions. State officials kept dissidents from criticizing the regime by stripping away their citizenship and imprisoning them in hospitals. This practice ended when the Soviet Union collapsed. However, the Soviet era remained infamous for abusing psychiatry as a means of political repression.

If the patients survived, they faced the difficult task of adjusting to their lives after confinement. The protagonists of Marisha Pesslís novels are similarly confronted with this challenge after solving the mysteries they are faced with. Blue van Meer of Special Topics in Calamity Physics has a distorted perception of the world her protective father has built around her, until a traumatizing experience helps her to unearth the hidden truth about her father and their shared history. For much of her life, Blue is reliant on her father because her mother is dead and Blue has few friends her own age. Blue and her father bond over their love of a wide range of literature, and she uses the texts as a lens for understanding her own experiences. However, through solving the mystery of Hannah Schniederís death, Blue realizes her father is not the man she believed him to be. Blue comes to the conclusion her assumptions about people are not always correct, and with her eyes newly opened, she has the opportunity to forge new relationships based on honesty.

Major Works Consulted:

Bloch, Sidney and Peter Reddaway.Psychiatric Terror: How Soviet Psychiatry is Used to Suppress Dissent. New York: Basic Book Publishers, 1977.
Pessl, Marisha.Night Film. New York: Penguin, 2013.
--. Special Topics in Calamity Physics. New York: Penguin, 2006.
Smith, Theresa and Thomas A. Oleszczuk.No Asylum. New York: New York U.P., 1996.
Photo Credit:Pessl, Marisha.Special Topics in Calamity Physics. New York: Penguin, 2006.


 Link to Yazmin Cotterell's Senior Art Thesis