The Silent Voice

When a person behaves as most people living in society, what might be considered normal, yet is still held in an insane asylum with no clear reasoning or evidence to keep her or him there, something needs to change. How does this change happen? First, it needs to be exposed to the public and politicians, perhaps. To do so requires peoples’, or a single person’s voice. On the other hand, such attention to issues can be raised through a silent writer’s voice.

People hold the power of voice. Writers hold the  power of the silent voice. Novelists examine people through characters, take readers back in history to learn how culture has progressed, and experiment with innovative and scientific ideas. But the writer expands much beyond the novelist, to the student and teachers writing research essays, to reporters and journalists reflecting on what they observe.

One writer and investigative reporter, Nellie Bly, bravely took a risk by faking insanity to be admitted to Blackwell Island’s insane asylum, where she would expose the abuse, wrongful confinement, and the neglect patients received. She didn’t know how hard it would be to get out and publish the story. She was not insane after all.

Nellie Bly

Blackwell Island’s Insane Asylum.

Voicing opinion has lead to various consequences: arrests, violence, war, but also to change and freedom. A person could exercise the power of her/ his voice in many ways: vocally at protest rallies, public speeches, through music, and even through painting. One could also be as creative, courageous, and determined as Nellie Bly, who used her silent voice in her “Ten Days in a Madhouse”, to bring the insane justice. Her experience and observations in the asylum proved the beatings, neglect, and improper diagnosis of the patients were true.

One of the comments Bly made about her time in the asylum was how foreign women were unsoundly placed in the asylum and left there, simply because they could  not be understood (they had trouble speaking English and expressing themselves). Low language proficiency was not the only thing that stranded people at the asylum. The staff of doctors and nurses seemed to be closed-minded to the idea of understanding the patient’s progression, or their true behavior. It is like when a kid is blamed for someone else’s bad behavior and punished for it. However, the kid is innocent, and misunderstood. Or, the kid is being punished because the people punishing her/him did not know how to respond to her/his actual manner. In Blackwell Island’s insane asylum, patients could be as sane as others living in the world, yet they would still be viewed as insane.

It seemed easier for someone to attract doubt, anger, or be oppressed, than it was for the person to be understood. “The insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island is a human rat-trap. It is easy to get in, but once there it is impossible to get out.” It was difficult for one to redeem her or himself, even when there was no mistake or crime for her/him to redeem her/himself for. The patients at Blackwell were misunderstood, and their true behavior was neglected.

The treatment for the patients was supposed to cure them, but ironically it made them insane. “What, excepting torture, would produce insanity quicker than this treatment? . . .Take a perfectly sane and healthy woman, shut her up and make her sit from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on straight-back benches, do not allow her to talk or move during these hours, give her no reading and let her know nothing of the world or its doings, give her bad food and harsh treatment, and see how long it will take to make her insane. Two months would make her a mental and physical wreck” (Bly). Not even ignorance could cause people to mistreat people this way. Who were truly the ill ones in the asylum?

Patients at Blackwell Island’s Insane Asylum waiting on benches for hours.

Being it was easy to get into the asylum, but difficult to get out, proved there was a major flaw in how people were psychoanalyzed and admitted. The women and men in the asylum were no more insane than people going about their lives in society. Of course, there were patients who were actually insane, but the treatment showed to worsen their condition. Something needed to be done with this issue, and Bly was one person who used her curiosity and writing talent to bring the events to the public.”I talked and acted just as I do in ordinary life. Yet strange to say, the more sanely I talked and acted the crazier I was thought to be” (Bly). Since the doctors and nurses did not bother to try to distinguish the insane from the sane, how actually insane were the patients, were not?

The ruins of Blackwell Island’s Insane Asylum.


Because of Nellie Bly’s bravery and silent voice, and other peoples’ voices, mental hospitals have progressed from the abusive behavior. An issue in society, or behind closed doors of asylums, could and can be brought to public attention when people voice the truth. People exercise their voice when holding signs and protesting, and they express their voice when they use a keyboard, pen, or typewriter to write. This draws attention to problems, which is a step toward justice. Bly opened my mind to dark things that occur beyond the public’s view. How can people trust what happens behind the closed doors at institutes, prisons, and other places closed to public observation?


Bly, Nellie. Ten Days in a Mad-house. Print.

“Nellie Bly.” Emaze Presentations. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.

“Blackwell’s Island Part 1.” Blackwell’s Island Part 1. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.

“Women in Insane Asylums.” ThirdSight History. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.

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