Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

December 5, 2010
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Shutter Island, written by Dennis Lehane, is nothing short of excellent. An excellence for reasons ranging from the demonstration of human compassion to the judgmental America, Lehane knows exactly how to tie his readers into the mysterious insane asylum of Shutter Island. The reason that this book is so fantastic is because it has one of the most shocking twists that I have ever read. The detective, Teddy Daniels, who is searching for a runaway patient, ends up actually being one of the mental patients at the asylum. Teddy Daniels, whose real name is actually Andrew Laeddis, creates this make believe story in order to deny the fact that he is actually a prisoner on Shutter Island. Even though the twist is so shocking, the thing that is most interesting is the fact that all the staff members on Shutter Island express human compassion in order to help one person regain his saneness. It is the fear of reality that has caused Teddy Daniels to go insane. Every doctor and nurse on the island all play along with his game, hoping that Teddy will realize he is kidding himself and must accept reality. The doctors know the chances of this actually happening are slim, but they never give up on believing in him. Dr. Cawley tells Teddy, “We hoped. We hoped we could save you” (Lehane, 349). I often think that human compassion has began to disappear within our society today, but Shutter Island allows me to remember that some people still truly care about finding the goodness in each individual. The doctors at Shutter Island realize that everybody, no matter how crazy he may be, is basically good, so they never give up on Teddy Daniels. Most people today would have never even attempted to help him and this disgust me.
Shutter Island is set at an insane asylum that isolates its patients from the rest of the world; the doctors think that this isolation will help heal the patients, but in reality it triggers a deeper craziness within. Most people can relate to this because they know someone who has been diagnosed with depression, anger, anxiety, retardation; the list of mental flaws is unlimited! This novel is absolutely fantastic because it allows the reader to have a better understanding for those who are “diagnosed” as crazy. Like many Americans, I have always stereotyped the prisoners at an asylum as horrifying and insane people who I should distance myself from. Shutter Island taught me that I might be able to learn more from these people than those individuals who consider themselves “sane.” One of my family members has been treated for depression, and I know that he felt like he was being trapped inside the hospital, under constant surveillance, unable to escape the unstoppable and wild thoughts that soon began to take over his mind. He wanted to leave and he wanted to get better, but he couldn’t because being trapped in that hospital therefore trapped his mind. The feeling of being alone and the feeling of “You have no friends”, just like Teddy Daniels, often runs through his mind (276). But everyone experiences these feelings. Is it really fair to make this a deciding factor for who is sane and who is insane? I love this book because it allows me to realize that people who are different cannot stay trapped up because then they will never learn how to be sane. If anything he will only become more insane.

As absurd as it may seem, I really enjoyed Shutter Island because I could relate to the main character, Teddy Daniels. Teddy has created a story about being a detective to deny himself from the fact that he is at the asylum because he murdered his wife. Now you must be thinking, how on earth could a sixteen year old girl relate to a murderer? Like many Americans, Teddy Daniels ignores his past experiences because the pain hurts too much to acknowledge. As he articulates, “Insane men deny they’re insane” (290). I certainly have never killed anyone, but I have made terrible decisions that I regret, therefore I decide to ignore the fact that they actually happened. Teddy Daniels allows the reader to realize that he also denies the emotions that hurt the most. Near the end of the novel, the reader learns that Teddy kills his wife, Dolores, because she is actually falling into the trap of depression, and lets the sadness take over. She kills their children which leads Teddy to murder her. Dolores tells Teddy, “I need you to free me” (362). This line is my favorite in the entire novel because it hurts so much to read. She feels as if the only way to be happy is to die and so Teddy satisfies her needs and kills her. The pain that he feels about being unable to make his wife happy enables Teddy to go crazy. This plotline allows me to realize that people turn out the way they do because of past traumas in their life. Most people today believe that people’s decisions are motivated by the idea of happiness; however, this novel allows me to realize that people make decisions because of pain. Dolores’ decision to kill her children was out of pain. Pain is what makes people go crazy. Teddy becomes a patient at Shutter Island because of his past traumas, which causes him to go insane because he cannot accept reality. I am who I am because of my previous experiences and the way that I handle them. Teddy Daniels is one of the major reasons why I love this novel because he is proof that it is our past that determines our future.
It is a major stereotype in today’s society that those with a mental problem are considered insane, and therefore they should be isolated because they are not worthy of being understood. This, in my opinion, is complete and utter bullshit. As ludicrous as it might sound, if you were to observe each person on the planet, I am pretty certain that you would find something crazy within each individual. Thus, don’t we all deserve to be understood, rather than just jumping to conclusions? This book is so incredible because the reader feels remorse about how judgmental our society truly is. The craziness that occurs throughout the novel may at first seem completely impossible to relate it to our society; however, as I begin to dissect the novel I realize that Shutter Island is not that different than our very own America. We immediately judge those who have lost their path. We choose not to “really see her, see that her insanity was not her fault, not something she could control, not some proof of moral weakness or lack of fortitude” (360). Each individual has his own issues. Whether he is an alcoholic or a perfectionist, a poor kid or a bratty kid, a kid with depression or a failing student, each individual lacks something that would classify him as “sane.” This novel leaves the reader with the question: are we all crazy? Teddy Daniels answers, “Maybe there are some things put on this earth not to know” (369).
However, my answer is the one simple word: yes.

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