One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Published: 2021-07-19 15:50:07
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One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey is considered to be a outburst of social protest against the policies of government, and what really makes us humans sane or insane. The “system” known as our government suppresses the individual spirit and mandates that everyone must conform to his or her mold of a model citizen. Those who don’t fit this mold are filtered into the “asylum” and deemed as mentally ill.
Kesey demonstrates this concept with examples, which include the symbol of Nurse Ratched, and those what happened to those who went against the system. In the novel, Nurse Ratched serves as a symbol for conformity. She is the head Nurse of the asylum, and is the main voice on who leaves, and what actions should be done to make them fit for society’s robotic world. In every aspect, she oozes conformity. Even her appearance fits the mold of what society wants. When McMurphy faced her with rebellion, Chief describes how well and calmly she handles it.
“Her face is still calm, as though she had a cast made and painted to just the look she wants. Confident, patient, and unruffled. No more little jerk, just that terrible cold face, a calm smile stamped out of red plastic; a clean, smooth forehead, not a line in it to show weakness or worry”(Kesey 99). In this world, which seems almost parallel to our own, everyone that is socially accepted into this culture looks and acts exactly the same. The intentional reference to plastic and smoothness describes her as being robotic and not a true human.
Her description brings up the discussion of who in this world is exactly as we would put it, “normal”? In this novel, Nurse Ratched is the “model citizen” and teaches the patients on how they need to act to be considered suitable in real life society. The message she brings to the patients is that anyone who is at the least bit different belongs in this hospital and should accept the fact that they are mentally ill. Nurse Ratched initiates her control in the asylum by having a specific regimen that everyone must follow.
She believes that in order to properly function in a thriving society, everyone must do the exact same thing on a very strict schedule. When McMurphy goes against his daily working agenda, Nurse Ratched finally breaks and shows him her fury. “’You’re committed, you realize. You are… under the jurisdiction of me… the staff. ’ She’s holding up a fist, all those red-orange fingernails burning into her palm. ‘Under jurisdiction and control”(Kesey 125). The author’s use of metaphors is to highlight Nurse Ratched’s undying need for things to go according to the schedule.
The syntax within this sentence also emphasizes how control is established in the asylum. Italicizing “control” shows how according to the Nurse, if a patient wants to get out and into the real world, it is understood they will blindly obey the strict rules established in the ward. This also emulates how society has no room for those that don’t fit the frame of a well functioning and developing world. When McMurphy swaggers his way onto the ward, he is like a beacon of hope to the patients.
He shows them that being yourself is a better way of leading your life rather than coincide to the way that society believes you should be. He taught the men t not take life too seriously, and went against Nurse Ratched whenever he felt she was in the wrong. After the suicide of Billy Bibbit, McMurphy, out of rage strangles Nurse Ratched. But, while he was choking the life out of the one who has caused these men’s insanity, he realizes as the orderlies and nurses pull him away, that there is no way of beating the system.
“A sound of cornered-animal fear and hate and surrender and defiance, that if you ever trailed coon or cougar or lynx is like the last sound the treed and shot and falling animal makes as the dogs get him, when he finally doesn’t care any more about anything but himself and his dying”(Kesey 275). This quote is the foreshadowing of the death and utmost defeat of McMurphy. He knows as soon as his hands wrapped around her neck, it was all over. McMurphy was soon called for a lobotomy, and then is when he lost all traces of his humanity.
Even though his message of courage and what it takes to be a man lives within all the patients, he is then shown to the ward as a constant reminder of what happens when you break ward policy. Another example of this is when Chief describes to McMurphy what happened to his father. His family owned a large amount of land on an Native American Reserve, until the federal government came and seized it from his tribe to industrialize it into a proper town. The damage that had been done to his father, who was forced to live among societies rules, tore every last bit of his soul apart.
“My papa was real big. He did like he pleased. That’s why everybody worked on him. The last time I seen my father he was blind in the cities from drinking and every time he put the bottle to his mouth, he don’t suck out of it, it sucks out of him. . . . I’m not saying they killed him. The just worked on him, the way they’re working on you”(Kesey 189). Chief uses the symbol of size to describe how much courage and manliness his father possessed. This is also an example of how his father, desperate to escape from the pressures of society, drank his sorrows away.
He drank until he was blinded by the crimes the government had done on his people. McMurphy believed that alcoholism killed Bromden’s father, but Chief disagrees. He believed his father died because the repression that was forced upon him drained every bit of man he had left in him. In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, the author uses strong doses of social commentary to make us see past this world we live in and see how insane we really are.
Condemning people that are in any way unique to a facility that dehumanizes and put shame into men’s hearts only makes us look less sane and them less insane. Kesey uses examples such as Nurse Ratched, who represents the symbol of society, and what happens to those who go against authority and stay true to who they are. This novel was written so we can take a break and look past everything, and ask ourselves; what does it really mean to be insane?

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