Running with Scissors

Augusten Burroughs


Welcome to the fascinating world of “Running with Scissors” by Augusten Burroughs! πŸ“šβœ‚οΈ This memoir, first published in 2002, takes readers on a wild, sometimes shocking, and utterly compelling journey through Burroughs’s unconventional childhood. The author himself is known for his candid and humorous exploration of his personal life, making his works stand out in the genre of memoir and autobiographical literature.

“Running with Scissors” falls squarely within this tradition, offering a raw and often humorous look at a young Augusten’s life. Growing up in the 1970s, Burroughs finds himself amidst the chaos when his mother, a poet struggling with mental illness, sends him to live with her psychiatrist. This new household, far from conventional, introduces Augusten to a world filled with eccentric characters, questionable therapy methods, and a lack of boundaries that would define his formative years.

The book not only captures the essence of a unique childhood but also provides insightful commentary on mental health, family dynamics, and the search for identity. It’s a rollercoaster ride of emotions, from laughter to disbelief, making it a memorable read that stays with you long after the last page. So, let’s dive into the whirlwind that is “Running with Scissors,” exploring its plot, characters, themes, and much more, in a journey to understand what makes Burroughs’s memoir a must-read. πŸŒˆπŸ‘¨β€πŸ‘¦β€πŸ‘¦

Plot Summary

“Running with Scissors” is a journey through the tumultuous childhood and adolescence of Augusten Burroughs, marked by unforgettable events and characters. Let’s break down the main events of the book:

Exposition β€” Augusten Burroughs introduces readers to his early life in a dysfunctional family. His mother, Deirdre, is a poet with severe mental health issues, and his father, Norman, is an alcoholic. The marital discord and his mother’s neglect set the stage for Augusten’s unconventional upbringing.

Rising Action β€” The narrative gains momentum as Deirdre’s mental health deteriorates, leading her to seek help from Dr. Finch, an unconventional psychiatrist. Dr. Finch’s therapeutic methods are far from orthodox, involving bizarre house rules and a complete lack of boundaries. Augusten’s mother decides that he should be adopted by Dr. Finch, thrusting him into a chaotic household filled with Dr. Finch’s peculiar family and patients.

Climax β€” Within the Finch household, Augusten is exposed to a world where normalcy is redefined. He drops out of school, begins a relationship with a much older man, Neil Bookman, and immerses himself in the peculiar lifestyle encouraged by Dr. Finch. This period represents the peak of Augusten’s journey into the surreal world created by his surroundings.

Falling Action β€” As Augusten matures, he begins to see the Finch household and its inhabitants through a more critical lens. His relationship with Neil becomes strained, and the eccentric lifestyle that once fascinated him starts to lose its charm. This realization marks the beginning of his desire for a more stable and conventional life.

Resolution β€” Augusten takes control of his life, deciding to pursue his dreams of writing. Acknowledging the toxic environment he has been living in, he moves to New York City to start afresh. The memoir closes with Augusten reflecting on his past with a mix of fondness and regret, recognizing the experiences that shaped him into the person he has become.

Through this detailed exploration of Augusten Burroughs’s life, “Running with Scissors” provides a stark, often humorous, sometimes disturbing, but always captivating look at a young man’s struggle to find his identity amidst chaos.

Character Analysis

In “Running with Scissors,” Augusten Burroughs presents a vivid tableau of characters, each contributing significantly to his life story and personal development. Let’s delve into the main characters:

Augusten Burroughs β€” The protagonist and narrator of the memoir, Augusten is depicted as a sensitive, observant, and creative individual. Thrust into a chaotic environment at a young age, he learns to adapt and find his identity amidst the madness. His journey from a neglected child to an independent young adult is marked by resilience and a quest for stability.

Deirdre Burroughs β€” Augusten’s mother, a poet with severe mental health issues. Her obsession with her career and tumultuous personal life leads to neglect and eventual abandonment of Augusten. Deirdre’s character is a complex mix of vulnerability, narcissism, and creativity, influencing Augusten’s early exposure to the arts and his understanding of mental illness.

Dr. Finch β€” The eccentric psychiatrist who adopts Augusten. Dr. Finch’s unconventional therapy methods and household rules defy societal norms, creating a bizarre yet strangely liberating environment. He represents a father figure to Augusten but also embodies the dangers of unchecked authority and the blurring of ethical boundaries.

Neil Bookman β€” Augusten’s first love interest, a patient of Dr. Finch. Much older than Augusten, Neil’s relationship with him is controversial and formative. Neil embodies the complexities of desire, power dynamics, and the search for connection, leaving a lasting impact on Augusten’s development.

Natalie Finch β€” One of Dr. Finch’s daughters and Augusten’s close friend. Natalie is rebellious, sharp-witted, and a source of companionship and normalcy in Augusten’s life. Her character represents the possibility of resilience and solidarity in adversity.

Hope Finch β€” Another of Dr. Finch’s daughters, characterized by her devout attachment to her pet cat and her belief in her father’s unorthodox methods. Hope’s character contrasts with Natalie’s, showcasing the varying effects of Dr. Finch’s influence on his children.

Character Analysis Summary:

Augusten BurroughsSensitive, observantSearch for identity and stabilityGrows from a neglected child to an independent adult
Deirdre BurroughsCreative, narcissisticPursuit of artistic recognitionStruggles with mental health, impacting her relationship with Augusten
Dr. FinchEccentric, authoritativeDesire to challenge societal normsServes as a controversial father figure, influencing Augusten’s outlook
Neil BookmanComplex, conflictedSearch for connectionImpacts Augusten’s understanding of relationships
Natalie FinchRebellious, loyalDesire for camaraderie in chaosProvides support and normalcy for Augusten
Hope FinchDevout, naivePreservation of family idealsEmbodies the deep influence of Dr. Finch

Through these characters, “Running with Scissors” paints a rich, complex picture of Augusten Burroughs’s life, highlighting the influences that shaped his journey from a troubled childhood to self-discovery and independence.

Themes and Symbols

“Running with Scissors” is rich with themes and symbols that contribute to the depth and complexity of the memoir. Let’s explore some of the major themes and symbols:


Search for Identity β€” Central to Augusten’s story is his quest for personal identity amidst the chaos of his upbringing. His experiences in the Finch household and his relationships, especially with Neil Bookman, play crucial roles in his journey towards understanding himself and his desires.

Mental Illness and Dysfunction β€” The memoir delves deeply into the impact of mental illness on families, illustrated through Deirdre’s struggle with her mental health and its effects on Augusten. The Finch household, with its unconventional therapy methods, further explores the theme of psychological dysfunction and its normalization.

The Nature of Family β€” Burroughs challenges traditional notions of family, presenting a spectrum from his neglectful biological family to the unconventional but accepting Finch family. The memoir posits that family can be formed through choice and circumstance, not just blood.


The Scissors β€” Representing control and danger, the scissors symbolize Augusten’s attempts to shape his own life and identity, as well as the potential harm in his unorthodox upbringing. The act of cutting hair, Augusten’s chosen profession, further emphasizes this symbol, linking it to his personal growth and autonomy.

Dr. Finch’s House β€” The disorganized and decaying state of Dr. Finch’s home mirrors the chaotic and dysfunctional lives of its inhabitants. It serves as a physical manifestation of the psychological turmoil and unconventional lifestyle embraced by the Finch family.

The Turd β€” Dr. Finch’s interpretation of a petrified turd as a religious artifact is a striking symbol of the absurdity and delusion present in the Finch household. It reflects the blurred lines between sanity and insanity, and the subjective interpretation of reality.

Through these themes and symbols, “Running with Scissors” offers a profound exploration of the complexities of growing up in an unconventional environment. Burroughs’s memoir invites readers to consider the multifaceted nature of identity, family, and mental health, enriched by the symbolic weight of objects and experiences in his narrative.

Writing Style and Tone

“Running with Scissors” by Augusten Burroughs stands out for its distinctive writing style and tone, which play pivotal roles in conveying the memoir’s mood and atmosphere. Let’s delve into these aspects:

Writing Style:

  • Candid and Confessional: Burroughs’s prose is marked by its openness and honesty. He doesn’t shy away from revealing the most personal and sometimes shocking details of his life. This confessional style invites readers into his world, fostering a sense of intimacy and trust.
  • Humorous and Witty: Despite the often dark and chaotic subject matter, Burroughs infuses his narrative with humor and wit. This not only provides relief but also adds depth, showing the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity.
  • Vivid Descriptions: Burroughs has a knack for detailed and evocative descriptions, especially of people and settings. This brings his eccentric world to life, allowing readers to visualize the unique environments and characters he encountered.


  • Irreverent: Throughout the memoir, Burroughs adopts a tone that is irreverent and often critical of conventional norms and values. This reflects his unconventional upbringing and challenges readers’ perceptions of normalcy and dysfunction.
  • Reflective: Despite the humor and irreverence, there’s also a reflective and sometimes melancholic tone as Burroughs contemplates his past. This duality enriches the narrative, offering insights into the complexity of human emotions and relationships.
  • Empathetic: Burroughs shows a great deal of empathy towards the characters in his memoir, even when recounting their flaws and misdeeds. This empathy extends to his younger self, providing a nuanced understanding of the impact of his experiences.

Through these stylistic choices and tonal shifts, Augusten Burroughs crafts a memoir that is engaging, thought-provoking, and deeply human. The writing style and tone of “Running with Scissors” not only contribute to the book’s unique atmosphere but also highlight Burroughs’s skill as a storyteller, capable of navigating complex emotional landscapes with humor, honesty, and compassion.

Literary Devices Used in Running with Scissors

In “Running with Scissors,” Augusten Burroughs employs a range of literary devices that enhance the narrative’s depth, humor, and emotional impact. Let’s examine the top 10 devices used in the book:

1. Metaphor β€” Burroughs frequently uses metaphors to draw comparisons that deepen the reader’s understanding of his experiences. For example, comparing his family dynamics to a “theater of the absurd” emphasizes the bizarre and often incomprehensible nature of his upbringing.

2. Simile β€” Through similes, Burroughs makes his descriptions more vivid and relatable. Describing someone’s mood as “like a storm cloud ready to burst” paints a clear picture of emotional volatility.

3. Hyperbole β€” Exaggeration is used for both comedic effect and to underscore the extreme nature of Burroughs’s experiences. Claims of living in a household “crazier than a bag of cats” amplify the sense of chaos and unpredictability.

4. Irony β€” The memoir is rich in irony, especially situational irony, where outcomes are unexpected or opposite to what one might predict. This device highlights the absurdity and often the tragedy of the events and decisions in Burroughs’s life.

5. Imagery β€” Strong imagery is crucial to Burroughs’s storytelling, enabling readers to visualize scenes and feel emotions more intensely. Descriptions of Dr. Finch’s dilapidated house, for instance, create a tangible sense of decay and neglect.

6. Symbolism β€” Objects and actions in the book carry deeper meanings. The scissors, for instance, symbolize both the control Augusten seeks over his life and the potential for self-destruction.

7. Humor β€” Burroughs wields humor as a literary device, using it to cope with and provide commentary on his dysfunctional life. His wit turns potentially traumatic experiences into moments of levity and insight.

8. Flashback β€” The narrative structure includes flashbacks that provide context and depth to current events. These glimpses into the past help readers understand the roots of the characters’ actions and the development of their relationships.

9. Juxtaposition β€” By placing opposing elements close together, such as the normalcy of school life against the chaos of the Finch household, Burroughs highlights contrasts that define his childhood and adolescence.

10. Personification β€” Inanimate objects or abstract concepts are sometimes given human characteristics. For instance, the house seems to take on a life of its own, embodying the madness within its walls.

These literary devices contribute significantly to the richness and complexity of “Running with Scissors,” allowing Augusten Burroughs to explore themes of identity, family, and resilience in a way that is both engaging and profoundly moving.

Literary Devices Examples

Below are tables showcasing examples and explanations for each of the top 10 literary devices used in “Running with Scissors” by Augusten Burroughs. These examples illustrate how Burroughs employs each device to enhance the narrative’s emotional depth, humor, and vividness.


Comparing his family dynamics to a “theater of the absurd”This metaphor captures the surreal and chaotic nature of his family life, likening it to a dramatic performance that defies logical explanation.


Describing someone’s mood as “like a storm cloud ready to burst”This simile vividly conveys the tension and impending outburst, making the emotional state easy to visualize and empathize with.


Claims of living in a household “crazier than a bag of cats”The exaggeration emphasizes the extreme disorder and unpredictability of his living situation, using humor to highlight the absurdity.


Outcomes in Burroughs’s life often being the opposite of what one might expectThis situational irony underlines the unpredictability of his experiences, often leading to humor or a deeper understanding of the irony in human expectations vs. reality.


Descriptions of Dr. Finch’s dilapidated houseThe detailed imagery allows readers to visualize the physical setting and feel the atmosphere of neglect, reflecting the inner turmoil of its inhabitants.


The scissors as a symbol of control and potential self-harmScissors represent Augusten’s desire for autonomy as well as the dangers inherent in his environment, symbolizing the dual aspects of freedom and risk.


Humorous takes on traumatic experiencesBurroughs uses humor to process and depict his experiences, providing levity and insight into coping mechanisms in the face of dysfunction.


Flashbacks to pivotal childhood momentsThese flashbacks offer context for current dynamics and decisions, enriching the narrative with depth and explaining character motivations.


Contrasting school life with life in the Finch householdThis juxtaposition highlights the stark differences between the conventional and unconventional, illuminating the breadth of Burroughs’s experiences.


The house seemingly taking on a life of its ownBy giving the house human qualities, Burroughs suggests that the environment itself participates in the family’s dynamics, contributing to the overall sense of chaos and dysfunction.

These examples demonstrate the range and effectiveness of literary devices in “Running with Scissors,” enriching the narrative and engaging readers on multiple levels.

Running with Scissors – FAQs

What genre does “Running with Scissors” belong to?
“Running with Scissors” is a memoir, a non-fiction genre where the author recounts their personal experiences and significant events in their life.

Is “Running with Scissors” based on a true story?
Yes, “Running with Scissors” is based on the true story of Augusten Burroughs’s unconventional childhood and adolescence. However, as with many memoirs, some elements may be dramatized or fictionalized for narrative effect.

What themes are explored in “Running with Scissors”?
The book explores several themes, including the search for identity, the impact of mental illness on families, unconventional notions of family, and the resilience of the human spirit in chaotic environments.

Who are the main characters in the book?
The main characters include Augusten Burroughs, the narrator and protagonist; his mother, Deirdre Burroughs; Dr. Finch, the eccentric psychiatrist; and various members of Dr. Finch’s family, including Neil Bookman, Natalie Finch, and Hope Finch.

How does Augusten Burroughs’s writing style contribute to the book’s impact?
Burroughs’s candid and humorous writing style, combined with his use of vivid descriptions and literary devices, creates an engaging and immersive reading experience. His ability to find humor in dark situations and to write with empathy and insight adds depth to the narrative.

What is the significance of the title “Running with Scissors”?
The title metaphorically represents the dangerous and chaotic environment in which Burroughs grew up. Running with scissors is a typically cautioned against act due to its potential for harm, reflecting the risks and unpredictability of his childhood.

Has “Running with Scissors” been adapted into other media?
Yes, “Running with Scissors” was adapted into a film in 2006, directed by Ryan Murphy and starring Joseph Cross as Augusten Burroughs, Annette Bening as Deirdre Burroughs, and Brian Cox as Dr. Finch.

What has been the public and critical reception of the book?
“Running with Scissors” has received mixed reviews, with many praising its humor, honesty, and vivid storytelling, while others have criticized it for its portrayals of real-life people and questioned the veracity of some of its content. The book has been a commercial success, becoming a New York Times bestseller.

These FAQs provide a brief overview of “Running with Scissors,” offering insights into its content, themes, and reception, as well as the background of its author, Augusten Burroughs.


What is the genre of “Running with Scissors”?NovelMemoirFictionBiographyB
Who adopts Augusten in the book?His teacherA family friendDr. FinchHis uncleC
What symbolizes Augusten’s desire for control over his life?A bookScissorsA houseA carB
Which theme is NOT explored in “Running with Scissors”?The search for identityThe impact of global warmingUnconventional family dynamicsMental illnessB
Who is Augusten’s first love interest in the memoir?Dr. FinchNatalie FinchNeil BookmanHope FinchC
How does Augusten’s mother, Deirdre, affect his childhood?By supporting his writing careerBy neglecting him due to her mental health issuesBy teaching him how to cookBy homeschooling himB
What literary device is frequently used for humor in the book?MetaphorSimileHyperboleIronyC
What does Dr. Finch’s house symbolize?Wealth and successChaos and dysfunctionStability and safetyAcademic achievementB
What is the main reason Augusten writes “Running with Scissors”?To explore themes of resilience and identityTo criticize the mental health systemTo document his culinary skillsTo recount his travels around the worldA
What critical reception did the book receive?Universally positive reviewsMixed reviews, with praise for humor and honestyCriticism for lack of scientific accuracyPraise for its detailed historical accountsB

This quiz is designed to test your comprehension of “Running with Scissors” by Augusten Burroughs, covering key aspects such as its genre, themes, characters, and the author’s intent, as well as the book’s reception and significant symbols.


Identify the Literary Devices in the Following Paragraph from “Running with Scissors”:

“Life in the Finch household was like being in a zoo that had lost its accreditation. Animals roamed free and the laws of nature governed. Dinner could be anything from leftover pizza to exotic dishes that Dr. Finch claimed were delicacies in remote parts of the world. It was a place where the unusual was usual, a lesson in the unexpected. Here, a young boy could grow his hair long, engage in conversations with adults as equals, and learn that a petrified turd could hold spiritual significance.”


  1. Simile β€” “Life in the Finch household was like being in a zoo that had lost its accreditation.” This simile compares the chaotic and unregulated environment of the Finch household to a zoo that no longer meets the standards required to be considered legitimate, emphasizing the lack of order and conventional norms.
  2. Hyperbole β€” Describing dinner as “anything from leftover pizza to exotic dishes” and the claim that a petrified turd could hold spiritual significance exaggerate the reality to highlight the eccentricity and unpredictability of life with the Finches.
  3. Imagery β€” The description of the Finch household, with animals roaming free and the wide array of possible dinners, creates vivid images in the reader’s mind. This imagery helps the reader visualize the unconventional and eclectic nature of the household.
  4. Metaphor β€” The entire Finch household is metaphorically depicted as a lesson in the unexpected, suggesting that living there teaches one to anticipate and accept the unpredictable nature of life.
  5. Personification β€” While not explicitly stated in this paragraph, the description of the household as a place where laws of nature governed implies a form of personification, attributing natural laws to the control and dynamics within a family setting.

This exercise helps illustrate how Augusten Burroughs uses literary devices to convey the complexity, humor, and absurdity of his experiences in “Running with Scissors,” enriching the narrative and engaging the reader’s imagination.