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The novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest is based on the conflicts of a sane man in a psychiatric ward, where many insane men live. “Ting. Tingle, tingle, tremble toes, she’s a good fisherman, catches hens, puts ‘em in pens… wire blier, limber lock, three geese inna flock… one flew east, one flew west, one flew over the cuckoo’s nest… O-U-T spells out… goose swoops down and plucks you out.” This is where the title comes from, the cuckoo’s nest being the psychiatric ward and McMurphy being the goose who plucks “us” out. The author of this novel is Ken Kesey, also the author of Demon Box and Sometimes a Great Notion. Kesey was born in La Junta, Colorado. He graduated from the University of Oregon, and later studied a Stanford. Kesey was head of a group name The Merry Pranksters, who traveled around the country staging happenings. Kesey’s playful attitude is reflected in the main character, McMurphy, who is often pulling pranks in the psychiatric ward. Kesey wrote this novel expressing many of his views on life, character conflicts, using symbolism and other methods from this point in American literature.
A grim satire set among the patients and workers in a mental institution tells the story (narrated by an inmate) of an energetic con man who seeks institutionalization as a means of escaping the rigors of a prison work farm. Before long, in order to reduce the sexual and emotional impotence of the men at the institution, he began to challenge the dictatorial Nurse Ratched, irrevocably altering the destiny of those in the ward. The story is made up of series of skirmishes between McMurphy and Big Nurse. McMurphy became a hero, changing the life of the inmates, but paid with a lobotomy which turned him into a vegetable. Bromden, the narrator, performed the final act by smothering McMurphy with a pillow and running away to freedom.
Kesey shows many ideals of the Realistic period in literature in his novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. McMurphy is a low class felon that came from a prison to escape the work. Being an amoral troublemaker and a gambler put him on top of many situations. As McMurphy obtained a heart and tried to clean up his act in the hospital he lost his position and Mrs. Ratched gave him a lobotomy and showed us that the good person doesn’t always win. Kesey used the Hero in the story, which is McMurphy, to bring out the weakness of the group, not just individual weaknesses. Kesey shows life in the asylum as objectively and truthfully as possible.
Kesey shows life in the ward as segregated, cliquish, like a school almost. Like detention in school, they have EST (Electric Shock Therapy) for disciplinary reasons. Schools have teachers and the ward has Nurse Ratched that needs total and complete order on her ward or she gets angry. This novel clarified my opinion that life can get worse after school is out.
There are many people in Kesey’s novel that deserves sympathy such as, Harding and Bromden and other patients, but the one that deserves the most is McMurphy. McMurphy is put in a place without any people he can be friends with and not take advantage of, he’s around these incurable sicknesses and has to witness them every day, and he’s in a everlasting physical and mental battle with Nurse Ratched. Through the first phases of his conflict with Nurse Ratched, McMurphy remained sane and he was still the “bull-goose looney” of the ward, but he was worn down by all the unnecessary Shocks and medicines and physical abuse the staff put him through. His characteristics of being the out-going “bull-goose looney” are evident in the first pages that describe his admission and one can see the evolution of his characteristics into a vegetable throughout the novel.
The setting is of large significance to the story. An asylum is one of the only places you can have, literally, a sane person in an insane asylum become leader of the all the insane people. Disturbed, a part of the ward, impacts the setting the most because that is what everyone is scared of, that is what is keeping all the patients in the ward. The ward was also good for showing a man that was at the beginning of the story so quiet and scared become cured of whatever his ailment was by letting him find himself through seeing that he doesn’t need McMurphy in order be on his own.
Through the use of symbolism in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, author Ken Kesey attempts to compare the antagonist McMurphy and Christ, and the hospitalized acutes and Christs followers. Many events lead to the sacrifice McMurphy offers up which ultimately saves the men on the ward. One of the events that depicts McMurphy as Christ is the fishing trip. McMurphy chooses twelve men to go on a fishing trip with him, just as Jesus and his twelve disciples. In the Bible Jesus picks his disciples because each posses a characteristic he’s looking for just as McMurphy did when he chooses George to go on the fishing trip. McMurphy wants George to go because George has had past experience as a fishing boat captain. Another depiction of McMurphy as Christ is the experience with the electroshock therapy. McMurphy and Bromden are lead to the electroshock therapy room to get treated. McMurphy sacrifices himself to go first. Hes laid on a table thats shaped like a cross, They put the graphite salve on his temples. What is it? he asks. Conductant, the technician says. Anointest my head with Conductant. Do I get a crown of thorns?. McMurphy sacrifices his life for Bromden just as Christ sacrificed his life for many. McMurphy knew that if the men continued to act the way they were that nothing would ever change and none of the men would be able to leave the mental hospital. McMurphy acted in a way that allowed the men to grow mentally and start to question the way they had lived their lives on the ward. Then when McMurphy had a lobotomy everything changed. He was no longer the fun-loving, outgoing, enthusiastic man everyone remembered. He laid in a gurney all day long in the dayroom; eyes wide open staring into nothingness. McMurphy knew his offensive behavior would get him to this point sooner or later, but he was willing to do it in order to save the lives of many. Bromden could no longer accept McMurphy in this vegetable like state so one night as McMurphy slept Bromden took a pillow and suffocated him. Bromden kills McMurphy just as Pontius Pilate orders Christ to be crucified. McMurphy symbolizing Christ is the largest, most profound example, but there are still small things in the story that mean a great deal. Such as when Bromden didn’t except McMurphy’s hat, this symbolizes that the chief doesn’t need Randle P. McMurphy to go on in the world.
Ken Kesey’s attitude toward the American Dream is expressed by the way McMurphy fights the system and it all pays off when Chief Bromden is able to flee from the asylum. The beatniks of the 50’s and the hippies of the 60’s influenced Ken Kesey’s attitude towards the American dream.
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