Dr. Jamison uses England to punctuate her life. As she travels back and forth from England, she falls in love twice, grieves the death of a lover, and ultimately, and most importantly, regains hope for her life. Her year of sabbatical is a time of particularly vivid imagery in the memoir. Because she splits her year between Oxford and London, we get both imagery of walks throughout London and small-town university observations. One key detail is that her college's library was the first one to store books standing up.
From the time she was a young child, Jamison felt attracted to the sky. Because her father was a pilot in her childhood, and she went to an elementary school near the Air Force Base, Jamison became accustomed to looking up into the sky. The sky becomes a symbol of hope and possibility. The sky also tends to mirror her mental state, as when it fills with flames upon witnessing the death of the young pilot.
Jamison's childhood move to California marked a transition to adolescence. She decides to remain in California for graduate and undergraduate school, so the images and feelings of California accompany her life story. California, a space of turmoil in her youth, is also where Jamison goes mad, and therefore the place comes to adopt a darker meaning in her life. As she describes on her way to Washington, where she will spend the rest of her life: "It had never been the City of Angels to me, and I was more than happy to leave it, first, thousands of feet below me—and then, finally, thousands of miles behind—filled with near death, a completely shattered innocence, and a recurrently lost and broken mind." (171)
Because St. Andrews is such an essential escape from the turmoil of her undergraduate experience, Jamison spends significant effort describing her setting in detail. For example: ”It was, it is, a mystical place: full of memories of cold, clear nights and men and women in evening dress, long gloves, silk scarves, kilts, and tartan sashes over the shoulders of women in elegant floor-length silk gowns; an endless round of formal balls; late dinner parties of salmon, hams, fresh game, sherry, malt whiskies, and port; bright scarlet gowns on the backs of students on bicycles, in dining and lecture halls, in gardens, and on the ground as picnic blankets in the spring." (51) Jamison attempts to convey that the setting itself had a particularly strong effect on her psyche.
An Unquiet Mind Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for An Unquiet Mind is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.