One Flew Over The Cuckoo\'s Nest


One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
Sandeep De 4I


Kesey’s brilliant work in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is the by-product of many factors. Kesey uses the setting of the story as his most powerful weapon in establishing his viewpoints. At first, one might consider the story to simply be a fine piece of contemporary fiction, but in reality it is a bitter commentary on the condition of the American society. Obviously, it becomes evident that Kesey will convey many viewpoints throughout the course of the story, however, I strongly believe that a recurring theme can be singled out. The main theme behind One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is that the society that we love so much is not as good as it is made out to be. Kesey establishes this theme through the brilliant manipulation of setting. Kesey uses the specific setting of a fictional mental asylum to represent the non-specific realities of the real world. The literary term for such a technique is the use of a "microcosm" - a small universe representative of a larger one. Kesey uses the environment of the mental asylum to demonstrate just how hypocritical society can be.

As aforementioned, Kesey utilizes many symbols that represent elements in the real world. The very fact that the story takes place in a mental asylum is in itself a commentary on society. In the asylum, it becomes highly evident that a great deal of oppression takes place. Although a considerable amount of abuse is in the physical form, most of it manifests itself in subtle psychological torture. The abuse that specifically takes place is the suppression of individualism. One cannot help but notice the same suppression of individualism to exist in society as well. Inside the hospital, the men are expected to not only act within strict guidelines, but to also suppress urges to express themselves. They are limited to doing repetitive, menial tasks and are never given the opportunity to choose their own pathways for intellectual, emotional or physical development. If they do attempt to act other than how they are expected to, they are punished not only by a barrage of physical abuse but psychological torture as well. In much the same way, this exists in society. Society forcefully encourages people to develop their potential only along certain accepted routes. The profession one chooses, their education, their lifestyle, their opinions, their economic status, their intentions in life - these are all variables in which society almost forces one into predetermined guidelines. If people deviate too far from the accepted norms, they can expect some form of retribution and punishment in return. Although we often believe that we exist in a truly free society, there are certain controls on that freedom which can be instituted at any time. As a result, Kesey’s choice of the mental asylum for the setting clearly underlines the hypocrisies of society.

This fact also underlines why McMurphey is such a threat to the structure of the asylum. The suppression of the individual in the asylum is machine-like. The men are dehumanized as much as possible. McMurphey is detrimental to the hospital because he is the personification of all things fought in the asylum. He is passionate and violent, angry and happy, jovial and moody - all at the same time. He is the cauldron of emotions that is the human condition. As such, he is also the most viable weapon against the machine-like workings of the Asylum. Chief Bromden even goes as far to call this mechanization of life the "Combine". The impact that McMurphey has on the cold, lifeless operation of the asylum is visible right from his entrance into the story. Bromden remarks that he hears "the weight of his steps", implying that McMurphey walks with confidence and emotion. He also mentions that McMurphey’s laughter "shakes the walls of the hospital". This is exactly why the conflict between Ratched and McMurphey is so pronounced - his passionate and emotional nature is a threat to the mechanistic network she has created.

The influence of the mental asylum upon the characters is underlined when they go on a fishing trip. Symbolically, the fishing trip is a radical departure from their normal lives.