Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Thesis

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¶ … flew over the cuckoo's nest" by Ken Kesey

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The novel "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest" was written by Ken Kesey, and published in 1962. Set in the 1950s in an Oregon mental institution, Kesey's novel received immediate critical and commercial success. In referring to the plot, a review in Time magazine read, "a roar of protest against middlebrow society's rules and the invisible rulers who enforce them" (Ferrell 76). A critic writing for the New York Times Book Review wrote, "What Mr. Kesey has done is to transform the plight of a ward of inmates in a mental institution into a glittering parable of good and evil." (Ibid) Over the next decade following its publication, a million copies of "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest" were sold. The American public was touched by the profound insight into the struggle of mental patients in 1950s America; this accurate description of mental hospitals was the result of Kesey's personal experience. Built as a reflection of the culture in which it was produced, the novel was written by Kesey during his graduate studies at Stanford University, and inspired by his part-time job at the Palo Alto Menlo Park Veterans' Hospital. It was also during this time that Kesey became involved in experiments with LSD and other substances for Stanford's Psychology Department. In fact, his use of LSD generated the birth of Chief Bromden, the narrator of the novel, a character who had inhabited Kesey's hallucinations while working at the Veterans' Hospital.

TOPIC: Thesis on Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Assignment

The retrospective first-person narration, always very subjective and at times, hallucinatory - Kesey wrote most of his novel under the influence of peyote or LSD - is the element which gives the novel its richness of metaphors, themes, but also profound symbolism that generates its emotional strength. One of the strongest and perhaps most striking themes, however, is insanity seen as salvation from a society which confines the individual. This theme can also be expressed through the opposition of freedom and repression; in this sense, the mental patients depicted in the novel are all victims of the system. This paper strives to expand on the theme of insanity perceived as an escape from the norms of society. Also, this paper will attempt to explain the motifs of the fog, and that of laughter used by Kesey in "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest" in order to illustrate the defense mechanisms of the inmates inside the hospital.

The theme of insanity applies in different manners to each of the inmates. The mythological connotations of the novel are complex. The characters are portrayed in opposition of one another with the peak of this opposition to be found in the relationship between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched. From his point-of-view, "the hero is analogous to the mythical Messiah or deliverer who comes from an upper world, and his enemy is analogous to the demonic powers of a lower world" (Frye 187 in Ferrell 79).

Randall Patrick McMurphy is described as a red-headed Irishman who speaks his mind, and is not afraid to talk back. He enters the institution with a history of violence, and a recent conviction for statutory rape. From the very beginning, the reader understands that he is a sane man who had pleaded insanity in order to escape the sentence of the court. When McMurphy arrives at the hospital, his introduction stuns the other patients: he is loud, self-confident, and above all, dares to laughs freely and expresses his emotions, something the other inmates never do. Laughter is a very important motif that is directly connected to the character of McMurphy. His is the first genuine laughter heard in the hospital in years. Also, the fact that no one on the ward ever laughs is what makes McMurphy realize that things are strange among his fellow inmates. Laughter is a deeply human feature, and its disappearance is a sign of their dehumanization as the patients can only smile or snicker behind their hands. In fact, Bromden recalls a scene from his childhood when his relatives mocked some government officials, a scene which allows him to comprehend the power of laughter: "I forget sometimes what laughter can do" (Kesey 114). For McMurphy, laughter is a defense mechanism from a society which he considers to be insane; in this sense, he believes that laughter is the only way to survive in such a mad world.

Despite his violent outbursts and drive for self-interest, McMurphy seems to care about his fellow inmates, and often fights for justice and the well-being of all patients. In fact, it is these two traits of character that eventually cost him his sanity. In this sense, he is seen as a sacrificial lamb, someone who loses the battle against the system in an attempt to free his fellow inmates, and offer them a second chance at life outside the institution. The audience becomes aware of his fate through the technique of foreshadowing that Kesey uses in order to paint a vivid picture of McMurphy's prospects when nurse Ratched draws a parallel between him and Maxwell Taber, a patient who had been subjected to electroshock treatments as a means of calming him down, and rendering him unable to think.

Redemption comes at a cost. In this case, redemption cannot occur without revolution (Whissen 168). Before a new order can be instilled, the old one must be destroyed, and this process of change can only take place through chaos and upheaval. From this point-of-view, McMurphy is the leader, the preacher, because is an insider with the capacity to stir things up, and cause rebellion; however, like Christ, he must die before he has a chance to witness the results of his actions (Valentine 58). Also, from this particular perspective, Kesey manages to make a final appeal to cult readers. McMurphy's death actually takes place when his enemies perform a lobotomy on him, and turn him into a vegetable. His life becomes meaningless because his very reason to live was to exercise power without fear of retaliation (Whissen 82). This way, Chief Bromden's final gesture of sparing him the humiliation of what he has been reduced to, is in fact an act which restores McMurphy's freedom.

Chief Bromden is a tall, half-Indian patient who has been in the mental hospital the longest. He is also the narrator of the novel, a man ridden with sadness and disenchantment but sane when he enters the hospital: "I can't help it. I was born a miscarriage. I had so many insults I died.

I was born dead. I can't help it.... I'm tired" (Kesey 52). The reason for his hospitalization is shrouded in mystery; he ultimately escapes from the institution, and re-enters society. Chief's defense mechanism inside the mental institutions is very interesting; Chief Bromden chooses not to speak allowing the other patients to think that he is deaf and mute. In fact, he does not speak because he is afraid of Nurse Ratched, but begins to speak again with the help of McMurphy whom he befriends. Several shock treatment interventions have left Bromden in a mental haze that he calls "the fog," which to him, represents the perversion by Big Nurse and the mechanistic Combine of all that is natural (Lupack 69): "So she really lets herself go and her painted smile twists, stretches to an open snarl, and she blows up bigger and bigger, big as a tractor, so big I can smell the machinery inside the way you smell a motor pulling too big a load" (Kesey 5).

There is one important consideration to be made at this point, one that is aimed at explaining the use of symbols throughout the novel. The conflict between nature (geese, dogs, the sea, the moon, fish) and Nurse Ratched's machinery (grinding and moving walls, tubes, wires, rust) has mythological roots, and represents the age-old opposition between man and machinery (Ferrell 80) which in the case of "One flew over the cuckoo's nest," can be translated into the opposition between the natural element and its repressive counterpart. In other words, this opposition is a metaphor for all the confrontations to be found throughout the novel, such as independence and repression, and sexual freedom and constraint because Nurse Ratched embodies everything that is not natural, but repressed and altered in order to abide by the laws and norms of society: "This is what I know. The ward is a factory for the Combine. it's for fixing up mistakes made in the neighborhoods and in the schools and in the churches. When a completed product goes back out into society, all fixed up good as new, better than new sometimes, it brings joy to the Big Nurse's heart...." (Kesey 40)

The fog becomes part of who he is, and serves as a barometer of Chief's emotional and psychological state in the sense that the imaginary fog thickens and assumes control of his mind; however, the fog is not entirely made up because although it does not exist… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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