One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest is a novel, which depicts the lives of theclassified, mentally insane in a struggle against the authority of a hospitalward. Over the course of the novel, the hospital ward turns into a place ofrebellion while the wise-guy hero, tries to reform the institution whiledignifying the people within. The story is told in the first person point ofview by Chief Bromden a huge patient who is sharing his mental hospitalexperience.
He is a disturbed man who has fooled all of the other patients andthe staff into believing that he is deaf and cant speak. He thinks of thehospital as a place of fear, rather than of a place of healing. This partly hasto due with the head of the hospital ward, Nurse Ratched; a woman who believesin order at all times. She is viewed as the hospitals most powerful person, inturn, the least liked by the patients. In order to escape the Nurse, ChiefBromden thinks back to his childhood in an Indian village, but this also evokesthe Combine force, which sends his mind into a deep fog.
Early on in the storyKesey, introduces the character Randolph McMurphy, a newly admitted patient. Heis a boisterous man with much self-confidence and a very friendly personality. He claims that hes only at the hospital to enjoy an easier life compared tothe life he was living at a state farm. McMurphy quickly familiarizes himselfwith the people surrounding him and tells stories to all of the patients. Hishumorous personality enlightens the patients and the ward in general. However,Nurse Ratched doesnt like this change because she feels McMurphy is amanipulator.
Her controlling personality clashes with his easy going personalityand as expected she tries to enforce rules, while he is ready to rebel againstthem. Nurse Ratched has dealt with people similar to McMurphy by punishing themwith electro-shock therapy or with lobotomies. Both are to degrade the”offender”, the latter of the two makes the patients feel inferior tosociety on account of their sexuality. McMurphy is greatly disturbed by theNurses antics. He is dissatisfied by the way she treats the patients at thedaily Group Meetings.
She decrees the patients self esteem so greatly that shefurthers them all into a state of depression. McMurphy decides that hes goingto take a stand and he bets Harding, a patient who is intelligent, but isashamed of his effeminacy, that he can make the Nurse loose control of the wardwithout getting in trouble. During his fight against the ward, McMurphyentertains the patients with his skirmishes with the Nurse. They all appear tobe on his side, until an issue concerning watching the World Series on thetelevision arises.
McMurphy takes a stand, but only one man stands by his side,Cheswick. In order for the patients to watch the baseball game they would voteon it at the next Group Meeting. McMurphy needed one more vote to secure thegame, so he turned to Chief Bromden, who was in a deep fog. McMurphyspersonality forced the Chief back to reality. However, McMurphy still wasntallowed to watch the game.
Yet, he raised the spirits of the patients and hebecame somewhat of a hero to them. Soon, McMurphy comes to the realization thatthe only way he was going to get out of the ward is if Nurse Ratched releaseshim. Thus, he begins to obey the rules set forth by the Nurse. He also learnsthat the majority of the patients were sent voluntarily to the ward. Thisinspires him to destroy the fear that has entrapped the patients. McMurphybegins by planning a fishing trip that was successful and proved to the Nursethat these insane people were really capable of more than she gave them creditfor.
McMurphy is suspicious of Chief Bromdens deaf and dumb act and finallybreaks through to him. The Chief describes to him the Combine, which consists ofpeople like the Nurse, the government, and his mother. Generally anybody thatdestroyed tradition, nature, and freedom. After this talk that ended the yearsof silence, McMurphy makes a deal with Chief Bromden. If he grows strong enoughto break the Nurses control panel; McMurphy will let him go on the fishingtrip for free. McMurphy at this point has helped nearly all of the patients bybringing them back to a more natural state of being.
However, he has wornhimself down and seems as though he is worst off than when he originally cameinto the ward. After getting in trouble with Chief Bromden for sticking up for aman who was mistreated, they both had to undergo shock treatments. Once theyreturned, the patients were attempting to plan an escape for McMurphy, but hewouldnt leave until Billy Bibbit had a date. By the time, that this happens,McMurphy is too worn down to escape from the Nurse.
The Nurse has continued herrelentless attack on the unstable and makes Billy feel extremely guilty and thisleads to Billys suicide. McMurphy is now completely disgusted with NurseRatched and attacks her. She is so completely humiliated that she could neverregain control of the ward. Thus, she orders a lobotomy on McMurphy and hereturns a ruined man. The setting of the hospital ward in Oregon is a microcosmof the world outside. The mental ward follows the expected cruelty, which hasalways existed in mental hospitals.
This is seen through Nurse Hatcheds useof mental and physical abuse used to punish those who misbehaved. This ward isseen as a microcosm because outside Indian villages were being burned andconformity of homes and families were being formed. Like the hospital ward, anyaction against this conformity or abuse on the less fortunate is simply regardedas insane and never occurs. This is known as the workings of the Combine.
Thesecomparisons of both worlds provokes a feeling of helplessness because the readerrelates to the outside society, yet it is so closely paralleled to the victimsof the ward that it becomes a common and relatable issue. Throughout the novelthere are many themes presented that put great closure to the book. One of whichis that people will always live their lives differently, yet some people are soset down and stubborn with their ways that they perceive others as being wrong. Kesey portrays this through Nurse Ratched and McMurphy. McMurphy is a man who isoften portrayed as the frontier hero. He is his own man and is a truenon-conformist.
While Nurse Ratched represents order and obsessive controlduring all circumstances. Sexuality is a prominent issue among the characters ofthe ward as well. Nurse Hatched uses this issue to manipulate the patients, mostnotably Harding and Billy. They are both partly in the hospital because of theirsexual shortcomings. Nurse Hatched denies the sexuality of her patients and evenherself.
This inferiority to the rest of society does not help in the bettermentof the patients. The characters have already been reduced to such incompetentpeople by the Combine, Nurse Hatched, and especially society that the fear andvulnerability that lies within these characters is what makes them victims ofsociety. One of the most powerful themes which runs through this novel is thatof laughter. McMurphy is such a strong man partly because of the way he canlaugh off mistakes, the world, and most importantly himself.
In the opening ofthe novel, McMurphy walked into a world where nobody could laugh, but with hishelp and example he broke through the patients insanity barriers and got themall back to laughing. The level of a characters ability of laughter can berelated to their level of insanity. McMurphys personality was a shiningbeacon on the faces of the patients. His attitude inspired other patients andgave them the strength that they needed to face the reality of their lives. InConclusion, Ken Keseys One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest is an incrediblyinspiring novel that at face value tells the story of a hospital ward, but inthematic terms portrays societys way of dealing with the undesirable things.