One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest Thesis

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McMurphy as the Christ-Like Figure in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Establishment loves order and structure and is convinced that society runs the smoothest when it adheres to a set of rules and values that represent the good of all. History demonstrates that when individuals attempt to disrupt the order of the establishment, things do not always resolve themselves in an efficient manner. The best example of this is Jesus of Nazareth, a man murdered for nothing more than the impact he had on those around him. This impact went two ways - in one way, he influenced his followers in a positive way and encouraged them to live better lives outside of the establishment. The other impact was the negative reaction of the establishment, which perceived him as a threat and determined that he had to go. In Ken Kesey's novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, we see a modern-day interpretation of the Christ-like figure in McMurphy that makes the ultimate sacrifice for the enlightenment of others. McMurphy, like Christ, is clearly set apart from others in his community. His difference, however, is what makes him appealing and, as his character develops, we come to understand his significance to the survival of the others. He gives the men an opportunity to break out of the shackles that the establishment has placed on them. In the end, he gives his life so that they may be free. Because of its antiestablishment theme of the novel, McMurphy emerges as the messiah for the other men in the institution.

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Early in the novel, McMurphy is described as someone that is entirely different from the other men in the institution. He is loud, friendly, and funny; he shakes every man's hand and wants to get to know him. He is not dull and lifeless like the acutes; he is exuberant and outgoing. The establishment of McMurphy as a polarizing figure is one from which he never escapes. Bromden notes that no one is sure if he is "play-acting" (Kesey 23) but they are "beginning to get a big kick out of going along with him" (23).

Thesis on One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest Assignment

McMurphy, the "psychopathic sidekick" (58), is established early in the novel because he must be different in order to lead the men out of the darkness in which they live. McMurphy emerges as a willing leader, ready to confront the dangers that oppress these men. Robert Spiller maintains that by exploring the "redemptive effects of individual rebellion, the edge of creative violence" (Spiller 1467), Kesey is preparing the reader for the larger-than-life presence of McMurphy by constructing McMurphy. Bromden establishes McMurphy's giant stature early in the novel by casting him as a freak among freaks. He is unusual; he is better. One way in which McMurphy is elevated to the Christ-like status is by constantly contrasting the dull and empty lives of the men in the institution with the life of McMurphy, who cannot be contained. The beauty of how it all ties together is through the title of the novel and the institution in which everything takes place. William Baurecht contends, McMurphy is the "bull goose loony who plucks the men (victims) out" (Baurecht). He claims, "Broom and the acutes on the ward are saved by their messiah, McMurphy, the American confidence man out of P.T. Barnum" (Baurecht). Indeed, their lives are radically changed by his presence and as he leads them into a life of awareness, McMurphy makes the ultimate sacrifice.

The Christ-like role evolves as McMurphy establishes his presence among the other men. His role becomes significant, as we understand just how different from the others this man actually is. If McMurphy represents the easy-going nature of man then, as messiah, he must come up against and threaten some form of authority, which is represented with the character of Nurse Ratched. She symbolizes authority and the order in which things must run for all to be successful. Immediately, she perceives McMurphy as threat to the establishment. She accuses him of being a "manipulator" (Kesey 29) that will disrupt the other patients to "such an extent that it may takes months to get everything running smooth once more" (29). Ratched and the establishment will be out to get McMurphy until they win, which for our Christ-lie figure, is the only real solution to the problem at the institution. McMurphy, in his Christ-like role, establishes a regimen of followers, or disciples. He does this by simply pointing things out as he sees them. For example, after one of Ratched's meetings, McMurphy says that he feels as though he has just come from a "peckin' party" (55). In this scene, he establishes a sense of pride among the men because he forces them to realize that Ratched is pitting them against one another. By constantly pointing out their weaknesses, she is also keeping them from feeling any sense of confidence and, therefore, keeping them right where wants them - under her thumb. The parallel is similar to the life of Jesus, who went against the traditionally accepted values of religious teaching. He drew others to him because of his charisma and what he stood for and people were not only drawn to him, they were drawn to follow him.

McMurphy takes on the symbol of the Christ-like savior because he gives the men an opportunity to emerge from inner selves. They open up around him and they begin to exhibit their personalities as well. Fick observes, "McMurphy pays the steep but unavoidable price of monolithic heroism on the modern frontier: he chooses to share himself and in the end must pay with his life" (Fick 50). In his opinion, Kesey "effectively translates into contemporary terms the enduring American concern with a freedom found only in-or between-irreconcilable oppositions" (Fick 30). This opposition between freedom and imprisonment can result in nothing good and this sets the stage for out messiah McMurphy. Lupack maintains, "throughout the novel McMurphy uses his grip on the inmates, both literally and metaphorically, to counteract Ratched's debilitating influence and to transmit his strength" (Lupack 78). McMurphy shows the men that they are capable of functioning as "individuals within the asylum walls" (Lupack 79). McMurphy's influence reaches over the rhetoric that has echoed within the institutional walls for so long. Bromden recognizes how McMurphy has affected the men and, at times, does not know what to think about his influence. He recognizes that some situations are [potentially dangerous when the men allow McMurphy to entice them "out of the fog" (130) in which they have become so accustomed. Bromden may not be completely aware of what McMurphy is doing, but he knows that things have changed and for the better. This is especially true with Bromden. Fick notes, "Bromden learns from McMurphy that freedom can be achieved only through renewed gestures of mastery, and that energy must not be enshrined as a fait accompli. McMurphy is a savior without being a saint. " (Fick 28). This is most clearly illustrated at the end of the novel when McMurphy's character begins to loose its luster with Bromden. In many ways, this doubt can be interpreted as Thomas' doubt of or even Peter's denial of Jesus. In both situations, each man is confronted with something that is unfamiliar to him and, more importantly, different from the man that they think they know. McMurphy may not be a saint, but he never claims to be one. His mission does not fall under the definition of saint but it does fit the commonly accepted definition of savior.

James Knapp presents a different point-of-view, suggesting that Kesey "creates a character who quite simply learns to be Christ. As McMurphy begins to feel a bond of sympathy for his fellow patients he comes to their aid at increasing cost to himself" (Knapp). This is an interesting point to consider and it could very well be true in that McMurphy enters the institution as an escape from his own life and seems to stumble upon the circumstance of these men needing some sort of savior to guide them back to their humanity. As McMurphy begins to realize some of the atrocities that occur in the institution, such as electric shock therapy, he states that he cannot seem to grasp the notion and purpose of it all. The men and their apathy are almost like a burden to him because he seems to be the only individual that questions the validity of such procedures. Indeed, after smashing the glass in the nurses station, McMurphy seems to enjoy a bit of freedom that only allow the men to emerge from their shells that much more. He forms a basketball team and determines that is "therapeutic value" (Kesey 176) and after basketball season is over, he "decided fishing was the thing" (177). Bromden is particularly affected by the fishing trip; he longs to go but he also experiences a revelation the night before. In his bed, he ponders the trip and his deafness, and… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest.  (2008, December 15).  Retrieved July 4, 2020, from

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"One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest."  December 15, 2008.  Accessed July 4, 2020.