Throughout the novel, Craig returns to two major concepts that explain his mental state: the "Tentacles" and the "Anchors." While Tentacles are obligations and pressures that cause feelings of oppression and panic, the Anchors are sources of stability and reassurance. Craig's abundant and stress-inducing homework, for example, is a key "Tentacle"; his fulfilling art, in contrast, becomes a powerful "Anchor." At times, however, it is not clear whether a single part of Craig's life is a Tentacle or an Anchor. To take but one instance, Aaron and Nia are Craig's closest friends (making them possible Anchors) but are also sources of anxiety and dissatisfaction (making them possible Tentacles).
The Shift (Symbol/Motif)
The Shift is an idea that Craig considers in one of his meetings with Dr. Minerva (17); in essence, the Shift represents a return to a normal, stable metal state. Craig fears moments of false reassurance, which he designates Fake Shifts. Yet in the final pages of the novel (443), Craig experiences a Shift that seems genuine and enduring—in part because he has resolved to leave his stressful school, in part because he has openly worked through his problems. Featured prominently at both opening and closing stages of It's Kind of a Funny Story, the Shift is unique as a symbol or motif that brings the novel full circle.
The Brooklyn Bridge (Symbol)
The Brooklyn Bridge is a prominent feature of Vizzini's novel, and serves multiple functions in Craig's understanding. This landmark is both the site of one of Craig's moments of bliss (on the night of Aaron's graduation party) and the intended destination during one of Craig's worst experiences (on the night he decides to commit suicide). However, with the creation of the Brain Maps, the Brooklyn Bridge and other bridges like it take on yet another role; now, they are part of an urban landscape that Craig is finally comfortable navigating and representing.
Noelle's Scars (Symbol)
Because her beauty was a source of pressure and anguish, Noelle scarred her face with a pair of scissors: these scars are permanent, even though she initially claims that surgery can remove them. Noelle's scars are a specific response to her case, a desperate attempt to fight back against a problem. However, it is also possible to understand these scars as symbolic of a broader theme within Vizzini's narrative. Almost all of the primary characters in It's Kind of a Funny Story have mental or emotional scars of some sort, but Noelle is unique in that she is both literally and figuratively scarred by her problems.
The Voice in Craig's Head (Motif)
Throughout It's Kind of a Funny Story, Craig is addressed by an overbearing, imaginary voice; this voice calls Craig "soldier" and treats the high-schooler like a military recruit. This aspect of the novel may strike some readers as absurd, since Craig's comfortable life in Manhattan bears few surface-level similarities to a military lifestyle of any clear sort. Nonetheless, Craig is under constant pressure to meet standards and match his peers. Recruits and soldiers would naturally feel some of the same high pressures—suggesting that the military-style voice in Craig's head in fact speaks strongly to Craig's real-life situation.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.