The One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest English Literature Essay

Peyton Brock

Mrs. Blakley

AP English III-4

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey expresses the theme of abusive power, false diagnosis of insanity, heroism and rebellion. Even though the reader is opening a world seemingly out of the true beaten path, set in a mental institution, there are irregular degrees of dysfunction and chaos in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Nurse Ratched, the antagonist, is drunk with her power until McMurphy arrives and upsets it. Much of her power lies in her ability to emasculate the male patients and maintain a sexless frontage. When she is revealed as a woman (McMurphy rips her uniform off, exposing her ample bosom), she loses much of her power. McMurphy is larger than life, a man destined to change the asylum forever. Whether he’s a psychopath or not, we’ll never know. Regardless, he sure is smart, likable, and gives the patients the ability to seize back the power that Nurse Ratched has stolen from them with her petty little rules and her many small cruelties.

A hero is considered to be any man noted for courage or nobility of Purpose; especially, one who has risked or sacrificed his life. "Like Jesus at the head of his twelve disciples, McMurphy leads the motley crew of patients out of the institution and back into the real world" ("One," Literature). In Ken Kesey's novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the reader can see how McMurphy is a prime example of a hero. McMurphy's strength embodies a heroic devotion to the other patients on the ward. There were no heroes on the psychiatric ward until McMurphy's arrival. McMurphy gave the patients courage to stand against a shortened concept of masculinity, such as Nurse Ratched. For example, Harding states, "No one’s ever dared to come out and say it before, but there is not a man among us that does not think it. That doesn't feel just as you do about her, and the whole business feels it somewhere down deep in his sacred little soul" (Kesey 55). McMurphy did not only understand his friends/patients, but understood the enemy who portrayed evil, spite, and hatred. McMurphy is the only one who can stand against the Big Nurse's harsh supreme power. "McMurphy's "problem" is that he is a logic-minded individual in a society ruled by bureaucratic illogic. McMurphy dares to think for himself, and question authority" (Edelman). Chief explains this by stating, "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 93). McMurphy's struggle for the patient's free will is a disruption to Nurse Ratched's social order. Though she holds down her guard she yet is incapable of controlling what McMurphy is incontrollable of, such as his friend’s well being, to the order of Nurse Ratched and the Combine.

Even though McMurphy's own sacrifice of life is the price of his victory, he still attempts to push the ward patients to hold their own personal opinions and fight for what is ethically right. For instance, McMurphy states, "But I tried though,' he says, 'Goddammit, I sure as hell did that much, now didn't I?" (Kesey 254). McMurphy strains to bring the 'fellas courage and determination in a place full of inadequacy and "perfection." McMurphy obtains a lot of courage in maintaining his own sort of personal integrity, and trying to keep the guys' integrity and optimistic hope up. Besides, McMurphy coping with his own battles, some of the other characters look-up to him to conquer their battles. For example, Cheswick says, "I just wish something might be done, though, and dove into the water" (Kesey 167). Cheswick's own particular outcome shapes McMurphy into the man that gives his life to better happiness for his friend. McMurphy is the one strong male that can defend all of the weaker ones.

Randle McMurphy lost his life courageously. He had several chances to save himself, but chose instead to stay and help his fellow patients. McMurphy is the hero of this novel because he stood firmly against oppressive powers, showing bravery defending the other patients and ultimately paying with his life. In the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey, there is a power struggle between the protagonist Randle Patrick McMurphy and the antagonist Nurse Ratched, also known as Big Nurse. The story takes place on a mental ward and is narrated in the perspective of a patient named Bromden. Nurse Ratched has complete control of both the ward staff and the patients, but when newly admitted McMurphy arrives, Nurse Ratched's position of power is threatened as he tries to dominate the ward. Even with McMurphy's presence, Nurse Ratched still has the most power and she uses various techniques to maintain and increase it. Nurse Ratched uses intimidating stares, insinuations, and knowledge to make other characters weaker and achieve her goal of being as the most powerful person on the ward.

Nurse Ratched's stares serve the purpose of making her victims feel insecure and frightened, granting her more power. "The big nurse tends to get real put out if something keeps her outfit from running like a smooth, accurate, precision-made machine. The slightest thing messy or out of kilter or in the way ties her into a little white knot of tight-smiled fury" ("One," Novels.). Throughout the novel, Nurse Ratched stares down those who oppose or question her. She does this in order to weaken them, which makes her stronger. An example of this is when Bromden is talking about how Nurse Ratched chooses her staff: "Year by year, she accumulates her ideal staff: doctors, all ages and types, come and rise up in front of her with ideas of their own about the way a ward should be run, some with backbone enough to stand behind their ideas and she fixes these doctors with dry-ice eyes day in, day out, until they retreat with unnatural chills" (Kesey 31). The dry-ice eyes that lead to unnatural chills are symbolic of Nurse Ratched's cold, hard stare and its effects. If a doctor were to make a suggestion, Nurse Ratched could just give him or her emotionless stare that would make the doctor feel so insecure about his or her idea that he or she will no longer provide suggestions.

Much of the inspiration for Cuckoo’s Nest came from Kesey’s experiences at the Veterans’ Hospital in Menlo Park. He went there first as a paid volunteer for government experiments with "psychomimetic" drugs. He was given drugs and asked to record exactly how they affected him. Kesey was well suited in several ways to be a subject for such experiments. He had a natural and lively curiosity about what the human mind is capable of; and he was particularly interested in the visions, inspirations, and creative consciousness that might lie just beyond ordinary thinking and dreaming. For the sake of his own personal research, as it were, he was probably more interested in the experiments than were those conducting them.There is something disingenuous, however, about Kesey’s claim of drug-generated inspiration. Maybe the phrase concerning knowing about Indians requires qualification; there are many degrees of knowing. As a matter of fact, Kesey did know a good deal about Indians and had thought and written about them. ("One," Ken)

Kesey wrote this novel based on his own experiences and based on things he has done in his past. In 1959, when he volunteered to be a subject in experiments with hallucinogenic drugs, his life underwent a dramatic change. Near the end of the experiments, he began working the night shift in a mental ward. He started to feel that the patients were not really crazy after all, just more individualized than society was willing to accept. Parts of this novel were written while he was under the influence of LSD and peyote. Kesey is a man who expresses himself through the experiences he has lived himself.