Throughout the history of mankind, some people have always wanted to oppress others. The creation of rigid rules and of heavy sentence for the violation of these rules has been the basis of the government in many countries. The totalitarian regime in the USSR, the extermination of the Indians by white people and many other examples of total power and control can be cited. As a political phenomenon, this theme was described in a large amount of books by different authors. However, the book “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” written by an American writer Ken Kesey describes the horror of such a system of total control on a concrete example of a mental hospital. Thus, he managed to show the whole scope of total power and control, which can happen in any country and society, as well as in the mental asylum, comprising several tens of people.
The impressiveness of the novel rests on the rich experience of the author. His work as an orderly in a mental hospital and his voluntary treatment with the psychoactive drugs gave him the possibility to feel and better understand the life of mental patients. His talent helped him to convey this experience to readers and moreover, to show the horror of being permanently oppressed by others. The exaggeration of the situation by its transfer to the asylum makes the stronger effect on the readers. Moreover, the story is told on the behalf of one of the patients, which makes the story more difficult for the perception and understanding.
To analyze the author’s idea and to understand his unsurpassed skill, first it is necessary to pay attention to the plot of the novel. As it has already been mentioned, the action takes place in the asylum. All the patients are divided into the “Acutes” and the “Chronics”. The “Acutes” are those who can be cured and the “Chronics” are the patients, who can never be cured. However, the medical administration holds them in the hospital in order to dismay the “Acutes” and to show what is waiting for them if they do not obey. Chief Bromden, the narrator, is one of the “Chronics”, therefore the story is complicated with his own perception of the characters and actions. Thus, depending on the power of the character in the hospital, his or her size increases or diminishes; when he is upset, he sees fog everywhere around him. On the other hand, the use of such devices helps to better understand the patients’ feelings and their life. “…you think this is too horrible to have really happened, this is too awful to be the truth! But, please. It’s still hard for me to have a clear mind thinking on it. But it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen” (Kesey, 25).
All the patients have to obey implicitly Nurse Ratched. Nurse Ratched, or the Big Nurse, is an absolute master of all the patients. They must obey her; otherwise they risk to be bereft of some medicines, living conditions or even life. The superiority of the Big Nurse is out of discussion, her omnipotence is realized by everybody and therefore no one dares to oppose her.
The author parallels life in the asylum and life outside it. In the asylum the Big Nurse is the machine that rules people and in the society these are government officials, who oppress people. Chief Bromden’s insanity begins from the oppression in the society, almost the same as in the hospital. Thus, the Chief remembers the day when he had hallucinations for the first time. “Except the sun, on these three strangers, is all of a sudden way the hell brighter than usual and I can see the… seams where they’re put together. And, almost, see the apparatus inside them take the words I just said and try to fit the words in here and there, this place and that, and when they find the words don’t have any place ready-made where they’ll fit, the machinery disposes of the words like they weren’t even spoken” (Kesey, 240).
However, the routine in the asylum changes radically when a new patient arrives there. Randle McMurphy is a convict who pretends to be insane in order to ease his time of imprisonment. He is transferred from a work farm to the hospital. Being a new and healthy person there, he sees the situation in the hospital as it is and comes to grips with the Big Nurse. He irritates her with his tricks and disorderly conduct. McMurphy shows her that he is not afraid of her and for him she is not powerful at all. He organizes parties and invites prostitutes to the asylum. Such barefaced impudence has never be seen in this place. The struggle of McMurphy and Nurse Ratched aggravates. McMurphy openly blames he deeds and draws patients’ attention to her artful tactics. She points out a weak person and makes others to attack him, meanwhile staying aside. He compares the asylum to a flock of birds. “The flock gets sight of a spot of blood on some chicken and they all go to peckin’ at it, see, till they rip the chicken to shreds, blood and bones and feathers. But usually a couple of the flock gets spotted in the fracas, then it’s their turn. And a few more gets spots and gets pecked to death, and more and more. Oh, a peckin’ party can wipe out the whole flock in a matter of a few hours, buddy, I seen it. A mighty awesome sight. The only way to prevent it—with chickens—is to clip blinders on them. So’s they can’t see” (Kesey, 89).
Nurse Ratched understands that her reputation is being undermined by McMurphy. The patients listen to McMurphy and dare to oppose her and her orders. Nurse Ratched resorts to threats but nothing frightens McMurphy and he continues to instigate people to violate all the rules and thus he helps them to assert themselves. At last when once McMurphy openly attacks the Big Nurse and chokes her, she decides that it is the high time to destroy him once for all. She sends him to lobotomy, which brings McMurphy into vegetative state. Nurse Ratched manages to destroy McMurphy but she cannot return her indisputable authority. The narrator, Chief Bromden, kills McMurphy for others will not see him in such state and will not lose their faith in themselves and in the fact that this system of absolute control can be broken.
Having read the book and having felt all the horrors of oppression and absolute power, we understand the idea of the author to show the system of total control that uses people according to its own needs and destroys everybody who dares to oppose it. Chief Bromden clearly sees this system and even has a special name for it – the Combine. As well as this machine cuts crops, the system cuts people. Bright representatives of this system of total power are Nurse Ratched and the staff of the hospital – cruel people, who do not have any compassion upon the patients and use them for their needs. It is important to mention that this control is exercised imperceptibly for the patients. They do not realize that everything they do is supervised. McMurphy and, in some degree, Bromden are the only ones who see the reality. Therefore, McMurphy tries to break the established order.
In the book we often meet references to the Bible, particularly to the life of Jesus Christ. We may assume that McMurphy is compared to Christ. When he had lobotomy, he lay as though he was crucified. As well as Christ sacrificed his life for the sake of other people, McMurphy gave his life for the sake of the patients. He saw that he helped them to live, to be more sure of themselves and sometimes even to get rid of their diseases. He returned the confidence in their sexuality to many men in the hospital. He might have submitted to the Nurse in order to save his health and life, still he realizes his importance for the patients who begin to recover. The biblical reference is also noticeable when the patients go for fishing. The fishing expedition helps them to be more self-reliant. There were twelve patients as Christ had twelve disciples. McMurphy was their leader and showed them on his own example how to be brave and firm. “While McMurphy laughs. Rocking farther and farther backward against the cabin top, spreading his laugh out across the water—laughing at the girl, the guys, at George, at me sucking my bleeding thumb, at the captain back at the pier and the bicycle rider and the service-station guys and the five thousand houses and the Big Nurse and all of it. Because he knows you have to laugh at the things that hurt you just to keep yourself in balance, just to keep the world from running you plumb crazy” (Kesey, 256).
To make a conclusion, in the novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” Ken Kesey skillfully describes the atmosphere of total control and oppression. He describes the system that destroys people on the example of a mental asylum, but shows that all the roots go from the society. He parallels the outside world, which bases on the same principles, to the world of the asylum. There all disobedient people die as the cruel heartless machine continues to do its work. The author goes from the concrete to the general, shows the disadvantages of the society and the government that uses subtle and cruel methods in order to subdue people.
Kappel, Lawrence, ed. Readings on One Flew over the Cuckoo’s
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Kesey, Ken. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Signet. 1963.
Leeds, Barry H. Ken Kesey. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
New York: F. Ungar Publishing Co. 1981.
Porter, M. Gilbert. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: Rising to
Heroism. Boston: Twayne. 1989.
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