This paper will provide an in depth analysis of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey. What will be discussed includes some backstory for the author Ken Kesey, a general summary of the novel, and a detailed evaluation of a major theme and also a major symbol.
Summary of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
Chief Bromden is the main character, and the narrator, of this novel. He’s a towering half Native American man who is a long term patient at a psychiatric ward in Oregon. He pretends to be deaf and dumb so nobody would notice or care of his presence. He fears Nurse Ratched, the woman who controls the hospital with an iron fist. She puts the patients, all of them male, through inhuman treatments and strips away their masculinity. A new patient named Randle McMurphy is introduced, and he immediately declares his opposal to Ratched’s authority. This stands out unequivocally from Nurse Ratched’s endeavors to control the men, causing cleverly humored standoffs. The story turns more serious when the men start to embrace McMurphy’s rebellion, bringing about Nurse Ratched’s increase of her oppressive strategies. Ratched’s eventually gains triumph over McMurphy when she has him lobotomized. Her victory is brief, be that as it may, as McMurphy’s lessons to the men result in a large number of the patients leaving the healing center. Bromden suffocates McMurphy in his sleep and escapes from the hospital forever.
Ken Elton Kesey was born September 17, 1935, in La Junta, Colorado (Biography, 2016, n.p.). He was raised in Springfield, Oregon, where he became a star wrestler and football player. At the University of Oregon he likewise built up an enthusiasm for theater, yet was granted a Fred Lowe Scholarship for his achievements in wrestling (Biography, 2016, n.p.). Kesey married Norma Faye Haxby in 1956, then moved to California when he won a grant to a writing program at Stanford University. While going to Stanford, Kesey volunteered as a paid exploratory subject in an experiment directed by the U.S. Armed forces. He was given mind altering medications and requested to reveal their effects. He likewise filled in as a specialist in a psychiatric hospital. These encounters filled in as the cause for his 1962 novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Biography, 2016, n.p.). In 1975 the book was made into a film. Kesey despised the script and declined to watch the film, yet numerous others loved it. The successful movie received five Academy Awards: for best picture, director, screenplay, actor and actress (Biography, 2016, n.p.). Later on Kesey settled down with his wife and children on his dad’s Oregon property. He instructed a graduate course at the University of Oregon, and additionally instructed wrestling at nearby schools. He then published his last novel, Last Go Round. Kesey died on November 10, 2001, from liver surgery complications (Biography, 2016, n.p.).
The theme of a fictional work is defined as a unifying or dominant idea, motif, etc., as in a work of art (Theme, 2017, n.p.). One of the most significant themes in this book is taking advantage of the vulnerable. Nurse Ratched and her aides enforce an unreasonably strict routine, taking away all of their rights, and practically shaming them for normal human feelings, such as sexuality. Her treatment seems to be a lot more “insane” than the patients themselves.
Nurse Ratched frightens Bromden so much that he hallucinates a variety of frightening images. “So [Nurse Ratched] 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” (Kesey, 1962, p. 5). Bromden may be six foot two, but Ratched’s tyrannical authority makes her seem so much bigger and stronger than everyone, so he feels tiny and defenseless.
When Nurse Ratched imposes her tight routine, she demands everything to be completely perfect, practically making the patients out to be robots. “The slightest thing messy or out of kilter or in the way ties her into a little white knot of tight-smiled fury” (Kesey, 1962, p. 30). She has punished patients for the smallest mishaps, such as one patient demanding to know what’s in his medication, and another complaining about the ration of cigarettes.
Electroshock therapy is a very common punishment that Ratched imposes on whoever misbehaves. “…When something is out of order, then the quickest way to get it fixed is the best way” (Kesey, 1962, p. 190). One patient references this barbaric method when he says this. Despite this treatment being so horrible, the patients are used to it, they just see this as some normal punishment to avoid by conforming.
Nurse Ratched shames patients, who are all men, into repressing every bit of their sexuality and masculinity. “You men are in this hospital…because of your proven inability to adjust to society” (Kesey, 1962, p. 167). Even though sexuality and masculinity and completely normal and harmless attributes of humans, she strongly opposes them being that way. It’s the most effective way for a woman like her to gain supremacy over vulnerable men.
A symbol for an aspect of someone’s work of art is defined as something used for or regarded as representing something else; a material object representing something, often something immaterial; emblem, token, or sign (Symbol, 2017, n.p.). One of the most recurring symbols in this novel is Randle McMurphy as a whole. McMurphy represents a shed of light and hope on the other patients. His blatant rebellion over Ratched’s tyranny slowly makes the others realize that how they are treated is completely inhumane, so they eventually fight back alongside him.
When the other patients just started to notice McMurphy’s rebellion, they were displeased and frightened at first. “Nobody complains about all the fog. I know why, now: as bad as it is, you can slip back in it and feel safe. That’s what McMurphy can’t understand, us wanting to be safe” (Kesey, 1962, p. 128). Bromden says this, disapproving of McMurphy’s defiance. Even though they are all treated harshly and unjust, that’s what they are used to. They especially do not want to defy Nurse Ratched because all of the patients fear her and her severe punishments. It takes McMurphy a long while to finally make them confident.
McMurphy’s conversations with Bromden proves by itself how much of a positive impact he has made on all of the patients. “I swear you’re the biggest Indian I ever saw” (Kesey, 1962, p. 209). The harsh control of the ward has made Bromden feel small, frightened, and helpless, despite the fact that he is six foot seven. Bromden tells McMurphy that he thinks that he’s the biggest man around, thanks to his brave resistance. But McMurphy disagrees and gives that credit to him instead. Though he may just be pointing out his large stature, this slowly revives Bromden’s confidence and sanity, so he feels like a big strong man again.
The biggest turning point of the story was when McMurphy takes several patients out on a fishing trip, despite Ratched saying no. “The salt smell o’ poundin’ sea, the crack o’ the bow against the waves—braving the elements, where men are men and boats are boats” (Kesey, 1962, p. 209). This activity really boosted everyone’s morale because they got a chance to be free from control, free to be themselves. McMurphy believes that this is the place where “men can be men”, free of boundaries and rules from women like Ratched.
Sadly, in the end Ratched overpowered McMurphy by having him lobotomized. “I was only sure of one thing: he wouldn’t have left something like that sit there in the day room with his name tacked on it for twenty or thirty years so the Big Nurse could use it as an example of what can happen if you buck the system” (Kesey, 1962, p. 322). Bromden refused to see McMurphy suffer in a vegetative state to be ridiculed. So for the sake of freeing him and keeping his dignity, he suffocated him, and after that he escaped the hospital for good. This shows how much Bromden has grown and improved thanks to McMurphy, he executed their final victory and basically got the last laugh.