Essay: Book Analysis One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

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¶ … Flew Over the Academic Nest: Sociological Lessons in the Ken Kesey Novel

In this paper, the author will apply sociological concepts such as groupthink, doublespeak and doublethink, and sociological experiments that speak to us as social groups about socialization and religion in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey. While not directly paralleling the novel 1984 by George Orwell, the concepts it explores such as groupthink, doublespeak and doublethink permeate One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and makes one think twice about the ability of even intelligent human beings to maintain any individuality in today's world.

The pessimistic but Christ-like quality of McMurphy is reflected ultimately in his martyrdom and loss to the system he is trying to overthrow. Ultimately, it is this messianic formula of social conflict that endures the McMurphy character to people in general. McMurphy is a non-conformist and unlikely redeemer who transforms the other patients' lives and ultimately undergoes martyrdom. His conflict with Nurse Ratched reflects it and she uses it as ammunition against McMurphy when she confronts him with the "fruits of his labor": First Charles Cheswick and now William Bibbit! I hope you're finally satisfied. Playing with human lives- gambling with human lives- as if you thought yourself to be a God!(Kesey, K., 1962, p. 266)."

The universality of the novel leads it to be used extensively in sociology classes as a popular literature source that introduces various subjects to students (Lena, & London, 1979, p. 124). Indeed, the novel parallels the famous Rosenhan experiment originally published in Science magazine. Here, groups of trained individuals impersonating actors infiltrate insane asylums and take part in a two part study. First, it involved the use of healthy associates or "pseudopatients" who attempted to gain admission to 12 different psychiatric hospitals in five different states in the U.S. All got admission and were diagnosed with psychiatric disorders.

After this, the pseudopatients acted normally and told hospital staff that they felt fine and had not experienced further hallucinations. Hospital staff failed to detect the pseudopatients. Instead, they believed that all of them exhibited symptoms of ongoing mental illness, several of whom were confined for months. All of the actors were forced to admit to having a mental illness and agreed to take antipsychotic drugs as a one of the conditions of their release. The second part of the experiment involved asking psychiatric staff at a psychiatric hospital to detect non-existent "fake" patients. While no fake patients were presented, they falsely identified large numbers of ordinary patients as impostors (Rosenhan, 1973)

In Cuckoo's Nest, the term "society" is defined as a group of people that share a culture and common identity and unity in a social conflict. This society is present when McMurphy is admitted to the institution, but he changes it by developing relationships with the other patients. This can be described as social influence. Social influence is where other people have an impact on and change the thoughts, perceptions, and behaviors of others. When McMurphy first arrives at the institution, the other patients follow a structure in the institution where interactions with others are limited.

Many of the patients are withdrawn from others and only follow the daily "routine" assigned to them. This is a society of order and regulations, and the members of this society have a culture and common identity of being "insane" and in the institution for medical treatment. McMurphy changes this society by influencing the other patients. During his time in the ward, McMurphy develops relationships with the other patients and teaches them to interact with one another more completely to fight Nurse Ratched. For instance, in trying to lift the water fixture he screams about his failure to throw it "But I tried though,' he says. 'Goddammit, I sure as hell did that much, now, didn't I? (Kesey, K. 1962, p. 111)"

While McMurphy saw himself as leader, he really was not. Rather, he was acting as a group, as the suicide of Billy fully illustrates:

First I had a quick thought to try to stop him ... But another, bigger thought wiped the first thought away completely. I suddenly realized with a crystal certainty that neither I nor any of the half-score of us could stop him ... We couldn't stop him because we were the ones' making him do it. It wasn't the nurse that was forcing him, it was our need.... [He was] obeying orders beamed at him from forty masters. It was us that had been making him go on for weeks.... We made him…(Kesey, K., 1962, pp. 266-267).

We really have to ask ourselves who has power, the leader or the group. Truly, there is a two-way flow of power as the group models its behavior upon the leader. They act cathartically through him as he actuates the desires for all of them. Unfortunately, Nurse Ratched still holds all of the power and their rebellions are quashed (Lena, H. & London, B., 1979, p. 128). Nurse Ratched becomes enraged at his attempt to change the system she strongly encourages and abides by. There is an unspoken feud between the two, and there is a role conflict between them as well. The role conflict is between the power of the authority, and the obedience of the patient. McMurphy even justifies his lack of victory against Nurse Ratched when he says "I thought for a minute there I saw her whipped. Maybe I did. But I see now that it don't make any difference.... To beat her you don't have to whip her two out of three or three out of five, but every time you meet. As soon as you let down your guard, as soon as you lose once, she's won for good. And eventually we all got to lose. Nobody can help that (Kesey, K., 1962, p. 101)."

Since McMurphy is expressing his desire for change, other patients follow his lead and also demand their own desires. Nurse Ratched begins losing her authority over the patients and McMurphy gains much more influence over the patients. The patients, led by McMurphy form their own group. They interact with one another and recognizes their identity through their involvement with each other. Since there is only a group of patients in the entire ward that really interact with one another this group takes on the role as a primary group. These are the select patients that grow close to each other and have common thoughts and desires.

There are specific norms in the institution that are expected to be followed by the patients, as well as the employees of the ward. McMurphy and eventually, the other inmates constantly violate these norms. McMurphy may not have been have had a mental illness before he entered the asylum. However, he eventually becomes a product of the very system he rebelled against (Anderson, 2003, p. 299).

Due to the horribly violated norms and seemingly inappropriate interactions of these patients, sanctions were the responses from the rest of society and also the medical staff of the institution. For instance, since the patients in the hospital were seen as unsafe to society, others punished them placing them in the institution. Both the staff and the patients were institutionalized and the staff was highly biased, even when McMurphy revealed his ruse. This points to the permanency and rigidness of the institutionalization.

Many of these opinions are based on the ideals of absolutism, where the doctors determine what is either absolutely right or wrong in the patient's behavior, and when it is wrong, what medical treatments are necessary for them.

In the author's opinion, groupthink is present in the society of the patients. In chapter eight of the text, groupthink is defined as just that- the process where pressures to achieve a unanimous decision influence and overwhelm other ability to decide for themselves. This asylum as an institution has the structure of a bureaucracy.

Although this is not a place of employment for the patients, there are a set of rules and expectations that the patients are expected to follow, and the doctors and staff rule the institution. There is also a division of labor present among the staff, for certain employees have specific guidelines and defined duties for them to complete and work by. And there is also a hierarchy of authority in the institution, for certain professionals are deemed more important and therefore have more power and authority over the other employees.

For example, the head nurse has more authority than the orderlies do, and the doctors have more authority than the head nurse does. The patients, against some of the regulations of the institution, take collective action. For instance, McMurphy, the patients go on their ocean excursion under his direction (Kesey, 1962, p. 215).

After the patients take their collective action against the authority of Nurse Ratched and the institution's policies and regulations, there is a collapse in the order of the ward. In order for the staff of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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