Laughter occurs frequently throughout One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey. Not only is laughter used to create a lighter feel throughout parts of the book, but it is an important part of many characters’ development. Through the use of diction, figurative language, and syntax, Kesey illustrates the theme that laughter is the ultimate cure. Through diction, Kesey is able to demonstrate the healing power laughter has. As the boys go out on the boat, they’re all running frantically around the ship, yet McMurphy is “just laughing” (Kesey 248). The use of the absolute “just” helps add significance to the laughter in the scene.Order now
By “just” laughing, McMurphy is demonstrating himself the healing power that laughter has. He isn’t focusing on any problems, of his own or of the other patients, and he’s displaying his personality and identity by laughing. McMurphy’s laughter is just the start of the healing process for all of the boys. McMurphy’s laughter quickly becomes contagious to the boys, and “Harding is collapsed beside McMurphy and is laughing….and Sefelt and the doctor, and all” (250). The repetition of the word “and” is extremely significant.
As Chief uses the word “and” to continue adding on to the list of people who are laughing, he is adding people on to a list of the people who are beginning their personal healing process and finding themselves again. With every person that joins in on the laughter, the more effective and powerful the healing power of the laughter is. The immense amounts of laughter boost the boys’ confidence and help bring back their personalities. The laughter “swell the men bigger and bigger” (250), not only building them up in that moment, but permanently. As the laughter continues, each man on the boat regains his sense of being and who he is as a person. Simply by laughing, the boys re-establish who they are as people, and cure themselves of their loss of identity.
The use of figurative language is another technique used to present the theme that laughter is the ultimate cure. As McMurphy laughs, it’s so genuine that he “spread his laugh out across the water” (250). While his laugh doesn’t actually spread out across the water, it’s so hearty and full that it can’t help but consume the atmosphere. By spreading his laugh out, McMurphy also distributes it out to each of the boys on the boat.
His laughter quickly leads to theirs, which becomes their ultimate healing tool. The overwhelming spread of laughter takes over all the boys, and they “swing a laughter that rang out on the water in ever-widening circles…in wave after wave after wave” (250). The powerful spread of their laughter indicates the growth of their individuality. Just as the laughter spreads across the ocean, the regaining of identity spreads across the entire ship, curing all of the boys from their entrapment an inability to be themselves. As Chief laughs, he feels as if he is “off the boat, blown up off the water…high above myself” (250). Chief feeling as if he is lifted above himself represents how he is finally lifted out of the trap of his lost identity. With laughter, he is cured of his confinement to conformity and is able to discover his true self again.
Syntax is also used to demonstrate how laughter is an ultimate cure. All of the boys are having a difficult time on the boat at first, and they all ask for help, “And McMurphy was just laughing” (248). By separating the phrase “And McMurphy was just laughing”, a larger emphasis is placed on the idea of laughter. By stating that McMurphy was simply laughing, Kesey is demonstrating the idea that laughter is simply an enjoyable moment that requires nothing more than being one’s self. McMurphy standing there laughing is the start of the release for the boys, which leads to their healing later on the boat.
As chaos escalates, everyone becomes even more frantic, “While McMurphy laughs” (249). Once again, Kesey separates McMurphy’s laughter from the passage because it is the true factor in the healing of the boys. McMurphy’s laugh is so significant in the healing process for every single boy, and by allowing the concept of McMurphy’s laughter stand alone, it brings more emphasis onto how important of a role his laughter plays in the ultimate curing of the boys. Syntax is also used to describe how McMurphy views his life and how “he won’t let the pain blot out the humor no more’n he’ll let the humor blot out the pain” (250).
The use of the chiasmus makes it evident that even though McMurphy is suffering just as the other boys are, he won’t let it ruin who he is and what he enjoys in life. The realization by Chief that McMurphy’s laughter is his way of keeping his identity helps Chief and the other boys use laughter to find their own identities, which leads to them being cured of their loss of individuality. By presenting laughter frequently throughout the novel, Kesey demonstrates the idea that laughter is important to one’s identity. By using various literary techniques such as diction, figurative language, and syntax, the theme that laughter is the ultimate cure becomes widely applicable to the novel.