The Snake Pit still terrifies 70 years later

Mary Jane Ward’s The Snake Pit is a powerful story about mental illness, as terrifying in a quiet way as anything by Stephen King.

The novel takes readers inside the mind of one mentally ill person, Virginia Cunningham.

The Snake Pit by Mary Jane Ward

Random House, 1946. 278 p. 1946 bestseller #10. My grade: A.

Virginia was living in New York and working on a novel when she began having trouble sleeping.

She recalls saying to her husband “Robert, I think here is something the matter with my head.”

As the novel opens, Virginia doesn’t even know where she is. She thinks she must be in prison doing research for a book, but she isn’t sure.

She wonders if blurred vision is causing her fuzzy thinking, so she asks a nurse for glasses.

“If I’m without them much longer I’ll go crazy,” she says.

When she says crazy out loud, she realizes she has been refusing to acknowledge she is in a mental hospital.

That realization is the beginning of her road back to mental health.

Virginia’s recovery isn’t smooth.

She is given medication, shock treatments, confined in body-temperature baths, moved from ward to ward.

Virginia never knows what caused her problems or why they recede.

She only rarely realizes she is seeing a doctor.

The Snake Pit is a classic. Don’t miss it.


Published by

Linda Aragoni

I'm passionate about helping people learn through the medium of nonfiction writing. Although I occasionally have an idea of my own, I mostly build education tools by recycling and repurposing other folks' ideas.

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