Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

Olivia Gonzalez

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Author Background

Susannah Cahalan was born in New York. She knew from the time she was little that she wanted to be a writer. So she pursued her dream and became an a journalist for the New York Post and a student at Washington University in St. Louis. After ten years of working at the Post she decided to take a swing at writing something of her own. After publishing her own article called, "My Mysterious Lost Month of Madness", she won the Silurian Award of Excellence. From that, she wrote the non-fiction bestseller Brain on Fire. The article and novel were based on her own personal experience battling a rare autoimmune brain disease. The power behind the memoir exudes her strength which she possessed though weakness.
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Discussion of Research

Considering the fact that Susannah suffered from a disease of the brain that all in all affected her memory, she is not able to recall every detail of her battle. Even today she cannot remember certain events because she does wake up in a hospital unaware of where she is and how she got there in the first place. She gathers information about the occurrences from her family, friends, doctors, and others who witnessed the most traumatic event of her life. Cahalan focused her research into primary sources, such as interviews with the witnesses.

Organization and Arrangement

Cahalan organizes the memoir in a story-telling sort of way. She tells her own story as it is happening event by event. She wavers in and out of first person and second person. She also separates the book into three parts; "Crazy," "The Clock," and "In Search of Lost Time." By dividing the story into three different parts, this allows the reading to flow.

Click below for textual examples

SOAP Stone

Speaker: Susannah Cahalan is the main active speaker in the book but she acquires information from doctors, family, and friends who were there by her side through it all.

Occasion: Calahan had just released her article "My Mysterious Lost Month of Madness" which was an instant gripper and so she gave her audience more.

Audience: Her target audience is first the general public, then the people who are interested in her story, and lastly the small amount of people who have possibly gone through a similar struggle.

Purpose: Cahalan's purpose for writing this memoir is to first and foremost share her story and how she pushed through the recovery and then she uses it to inspire others to never give up even through the times when you feel it is your only choice.

Subject: The subject is a research of her own personal story about her brain disease and how it affected her life.

Tone: The tone of the story is very emotional and intense in some parts but it maintains a serious underlying tone.

Ethos, Pathos, Logos

Ethos: Before diving into the story, she provides an author's note and a preface. This helps the reader to establish a basic understanding for the passage they are about to read. Although a lot of medical terms are used, she keeps it general enough to infere using context.

Pathos: There is definitely a strong sense of pathos throughout the whole book. She uses her "month of madness" experiences not to gain pity but to give homage to medical struggle victims. The traumatic recounts of the time she spent in the hospital does have a way to pull at the readers heart strings.

Logos: The only accounts of logos that she presents are through the medical records and the interviews with the doctors. She pulls from their logic and reasonings to cite facts about her disease.


Diction: This particular passage is informal because it involves dialogue between she and her mother. It is personal because it contains "I" and "we."

Images: She uses very descriptive details to describe the intense scene that happens. The reader can almost see the event take place. The vivid images shock the readers and grip their attention. It is definitely a turning point in the book.

Details: The place, action in that environment, and the details of her seizure are included. She does not give details at that time about what went on after she had her seizure but this allows the reader to guess what happens next and lets them hang on the edge of their seat.

Language: The language used is very descriptive which shows the seriousness of the author's tone.

Syntax: The sentences are in standard form and get the point across. There is a variety of long and short sentences. The dialogue makes the scene seem almost real.

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Diction: The writing style is formal and concrete with specific details. It does use "I" to make it personal.

Images: There was not a big usage of imagery in this specific excerpt. Because of the medical information given, there is not a lot of room for imagery.

Details: The author uses very descriptive medical records and statistics to take a shift to the more serious less traumatic information.

Language: She uses very big terms from the medical field to explain her condition. The mood does tend to change into a more serious and less interested feeling at times. The reader most likely wants the heavier parts not the medical information.

Syntax: The sentences are in standard form and are complex/compound complex.

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Rhetorical Strategies

Cahalan uses a wide variety of rhetorical strategies but she uses some more than others. Parallelism is found all throughout her work. For example, "I found, to my frustration, that there's more we don't know about the disease that we do know. No one knows why certain people, those without teratomas especially, get the disease, and there is no basic understanding of how it is triggered." You may also catch similes and metaphors like, "Reading these entries now is like peering into a stranger's stream of consciousness." Her sense of rhetorical strategies seems advanced but in a casual, easy to understand way.

Rhetorical Precis

Susannah Cahalan wrote the personal nonfiction memoir titled, Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness (2012), she presents her own story of her struggle with a brain disease that turned her world upside down; that pulls at heart strings and cause the reader to value a healthy, normal life. She breaks the book into three parts; the first is "Crazy" that is the calm before the storm, next is "The Clock" which shows the process that her disease takes, and last is "In Search of Lost Time" that sums up the whole book by explaining the last stages and findings then giving a brief part explaining how she survived and how she is still surviving today. The author uses her own tragedy to give others a new perspective on life in order to have them look at the value of life in a different light. Cahalan establishes a relationship on an intimate level with the audience because she shares her story and allows the readers to see inside of her perspective through the experience.


Susannah Cahalan does not simply make an argument and I do not believe that she would intentionally make one based on the meaning behind the story. Her weakness may be that some criticizing readers might perceive that she is trying to have a "pity party" when in fact she is opening up a can of worms that she is oblivious to in some ways. The topic is definitely worth the hype that it received and should receive. She gives a whole new meaning to living each and everyday like its your last.