One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s NestA Humanities Perspective Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest takes place in a mental hospital. The main character, or protagonist is Randle P. McMurphy, a convicted criminal and gambler who feigns insanity to get out of a prisoners work ranch. The antagonist is Nurse Ratched also referred to as The Big Nurse . She is in charge of running the mental ward. The novel is narrated by a patient of the hospital, an American Indian named Chief Bromden. Chief Bromden has been a patient at the hospital longer than any of the others, and is a paranoid-schizophrenic, who is posing as a deaf mute.
The Chief often drifts in and out between reality and his psychosis ( Kesey does a good job of blurring the line between the two). The conflict in the novel is between McMurphy and The Big Nurse which turns into a battle of mythic proportion. The center of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is this battle between the two, which Kesey uses to represent many of our cultures most influential stories. The dominant theme in this novel is that of conformity and it’s pressure on today’s society. In the novel conformity is represented as a machine , or in Chief Bromden’s mind a combine .
To the Chief, the combine’ depicts the conformist society of America, this is evident in one particular paragraph: This excerpt not only explains the Chiefs outlook on society as a machine but also his self outlook and how society treats a person who is unable to conform to society, or more poignantly one who is unable to cope with the inability to conform to society. The chief views the mental hospital as a big machine as well, which is run by The Big Nurse who controls everyone except McMurphy with wires and a control panel( which the Chief see quite clearly in his psychosis). In the Chiefs eyes McMurphy was missed by the combine, as the Chief and the other patients are casualties of it. Therefore McMurphy is an unconformist and is unencumbered by the wires of The Big Nurse and so he is a threat to the combine. McMurphy represents the antithesis to the mechanical regularity, therefore he represents nature and it’s unregularity.
Another key theme in Kesey’s novel is the role of women is society and how it contradicts the males. In keeping with the highly contrasting forces of conformity verses creativity Kesey proceeds to compare the male role to spontaneity, sexuality, and nature and the female role to conformity, sexual repression and ultimately the psychological castration of the male. Nurse Ratched was endowed with large breast which threatens her power over the male patients because of her exposing herself sexually and Kesey’s view in the novel of male sexual dominance, therefore she try’s to hide them the best she can. Nurse Ratched gains her power through her sterility which she does with no makeup and white uniform, as well as her emasculation of the male patients and doctors. The Big Nurse ‘ takes the place of the mother role or other over domineering feminine role in a lot of the patients lives, which led them to their psychological castration.
To the Chief, the nurse takes on the role of his white mother who orchestrated the downfall and emasculation of his father and the selling of his tribal land to the white people ( also referred to as the combine ) . Another patient Billy Bibbit a thirty one year old man whose mental problems were due to his over domineering mother , who was friends with Nurse Ratched. The downfall of Billy was toward the climax of the novel when The Big Nurse brought to the surface Billy’s inability to stand up to his mother and her years of psychological castration, and soon after, came his suicide. Kesey incorporates many other sub-themes into One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s nest but all of them represent a larger than simply the battle between The Big Nurse and McMurphy. They all center around one central theme and that is the struggle between good and evil. This struggle shows up In many of Americas most definitive stories.
And among these definitive stories is that of Jesus Christ. Kesey weaves this story with One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest with religious references and imagery. One example is the patient Ellis who was given too much electro-shock therapy and stands permanently crucified against the wall, which foreshadows other religious undertones later in the book when McMurphy is forced into more severe therapy. Mc Murphy’s therapy and final days has a number of overt religious references, such as : This religious imagery was an intentional attempt on Kesey’s part to bring the reader into McMurphy’s story and relate it to Jesus Christ’s. While the role of McMurphy and Christ have obvious differences some similarities are also apparent. McMurphy also died for an unselfish reason, to better the lives of others and took on a cause more noble than himself.
Another story of good and evil and one that played a large roll in the shaping of American culture, is the civilization of the Native American and the confiscation of their land. The combine comes from the Chiefs delusion of the taking over of his land by the white people. The sound the combine makes in the Chiefs head is similar to to the dam that was built on his land and forced his people from their homes. The selling of the land to the white people is tied into the female role theme in the story. His mother’s emasculation of his father made him smaller not literally but psychologically weakening him enough to sell the land and become victim to the combine: This excerpt best represents Keseys use of combining themes, and especially represent the story of the native Americans. Kesey combined The role of women, conformity, and the civilization of the native American throughout the novel.
Kesey expertly weaves several very strong stories and themes in to the American myth of Randel McMurphy. He does so in a way that makes a particularly strong statement about American culture. Kesey makes a significant argument about the mechanical regularity supported by Western Civilization. By using Chief Bromden as the Narrator Kesey pulls the reader right in to the middle of the story and also The Great Conversation by using the only character that can shed light on all of the dominant themes present in the novel. Kesey’s work takes on a shape outside of the mental hospital which for most readers is hard to relate with, and uses the insane to challenge some very real aspects and arguments present in today’s world. English Essays.