Ned Vizzini


[In the following criticism, the juxtaposition between foil characters Noelle and Nia in It’s Kind of a Funny Story, written by Ned Vizzini, is discussed, along with their significance in Craig’s progress.]


The Foil of Nia and Noelle in It’s Kind of a Funny Story
In It’s Kind of a Funny Story, written by Ned Vizzini, the use of foil characters emphasizes the transformation of the main character, Craig, as he goes through stages of depression. Nia, a tormenting figure that reminds Craig of his inabilities as he admires her from afar, juxtaposes Noelle, a healing figure Craig meets during his stay in a mental hospital. The two girls symbolically represent his process in finding himself as their differences capture his process in each significant scene.

It is easy to tie Nia to Craig’s misery as she, in the beginning of the novel, is one of the key forces that drives Craig to believe that he lacks worth. Nia, who at this point is dating Craig’s best friend due to his failure to approach her himself, is a daily reminder to Craig that those around him can obtain happiness while he can not. Her constant and more persistent appearance as his condition worsens emphasizes the fact that her presence pressures his self-doubt further. Craig’s monologues as he surges deeper into hopelessness include constant and reoccurring analyzation, or “cycling” as he describes it to his therapist, of how things would have been different if he had acted differently. For example, his jealousy is apparent in statements such as, “My one friend is a screwup—a genius blessed with the most beautiful girl in the world, and he doesn’t even know it” (Vizzini, 121). These recreated scenarios include those of when Craig met Nia and was too hesitant to approach her confidently. Throughout this time, Craig sees himself as an outcast and struggles to find self-acceptance, brought on by events like so. In contrast, Noelle is introduced at a time in the novel when Craig speaks of finally feeling better. Through time spent in the mental hospital, he has gained enough confidence and stability to not feel pressured by Noelle’s straightforward personality. In return, Noelle’s appearance causes Craig no pain, but is instead an outlet for his thoughts.

The single similarity between the two girls is the fact that, throughout the novel, they both admit to suffering from problems similar to Craig’s. Nia tells Craig of how she hides her problem from her friends and family. She refuses to tell her boyfriend, and encourages Craig that such problems are not significant. She states, “Craig, eighty percent of the people I know are on medication”(Vizzini, 119). This quotation is especially important as it leads Craig to stop taking his antidepressants, catalyzing his breakdown that puts him into the hospital. Nia find out that Craig is in the hospital, and immediately believes that it is due to his inability to obtain her. When Craig informs her of his worsening condition, she states that she never intended for Craig to “freak out over her,” despite the fact that Craig explains his feelings are caused by a multitude of stresses. As further proof of her selfish character, Nia admits to feeling complimented by Craig’s sorrow as part of it is due to his desire for her. When Nia visits Craig near the end of his stay, she is judgemental towards his condition and appreciation of the hospital. At this time, she acts as an archetype, devilishly trying to seduce Craig into leaving the hospital and being with her. Had Craig chosen to go with her, it was likely that he would have relapsed into his depression. Yet, he resisted, symbolically representing his progress and strength that he has acquired throughout his stay, This transformation is captured in craig’s monologue after Nia leaves, as shown;

“I’m not better, you know. The weight hasn’t left my head. I feel how easily I could fall back into it, lie down and not eat, waste my time and curse wasting my time, look at my homework and freak out and go and chill at Aaron’s, look at Nia and be jealous again, take the subway home and hope that it has an accident, go and get my bike and head to the Brooklyn Bridge. All of that is still there. The only thing is, it’s not an option now. It’s just… a possibility, like it’s a possibility that I could turn to dust in the next instant and be disseminated throughout the universe as an omniscient consciousness. It’s not a very likely possibility” (Vizzini, 355).

In return, Nia suggests Craig never try to contact her again. Noelle’s condition is opposed to Nia’s as she does not hide it; she has scars on her face from self-harm. In conversation with Craig, Noelle declares that she is not ashamed of her problems, and that she would like to resist the stigma around mental disorders that is present in our society. Noelle refuses to have surgery, explaining to Craig that she will always have scars, even if not physically, and that she should not be obligated to hide them. This is the opposite of Nia’s disregard for mental illness and her attempts to hide her own. Craig responds positively to this as he realizes that he can do the same. “I like how you don't hide your problems like everyone else, and I don't have to hide mine when I'm around you” (Vizzini, 366). In approach to Craig’s problems, Noelle is understanding rather than unentertained. Nia, as mentioned earlier, selfishly dismissed Craig’s problems in pursuit of her own needs, whereas Noelle connects through Craig while trying to help him. Even physically, Nia is described as having dark hair and glaring eyes, which is symbolic to her dark and self-centered personality. Noelle has light hair, an angelic face, and an innocent gaze, all features symbolic besides the scars on her face that represent her understanding and pride.
Any time that Craig is with Nia, his symptoms worsen. The opposite effect happens when Craig is in Noelle’s presence. The importance of each girl’s role in his progression is evident, but their symbolic actions and quotations represent Craig’s own mental state. Their appearances, level of self acceptance, and treatment of Craig contrast, exemplifying their differences and thus making them foil characters.

(J.A. 2015)