I’ve just started with the summer reading book “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey, I’m on the first part and it already caught my attention and several questions came into my mind instantly, such as: “Why is the narrator in this mental hospital?”, “How come nobody realized that he was deaf?”( 10). I’m not sure if the narrator is actually crazy or too smart. One quote called my attention, which was the following: “They don’t bother not to talking out loud their hate secrets when I’m nearby because they think I’m deaf and dumb. Everybody thinks so. I’m cagey enough to fool them that much.” This thought doesn’t seem to be from a person who should be in a mental hospital.
The narrator is an observer type of person; he doesn’t leave any details behind, which I believe it will be one of the key points during the book. As I have read on the back of the book and people told me, there will be a riot at some point, I believe he will be the leader of the movement.
There is one more thing that I think that it’s possible to happen, everything will be a dream or hallucinations, and nothing will happen or happened, he is just crazy and that’s it.
I encourage you to pursue the question of whether and to what degree the narrator is "crazy." What evidence provides for arguing that Chief Bromden is mentally unstable? What evidence suggests the contrary? When Bromden says, "I'm cagey enough to fool them" (Kesey 10), who is the "them"? Does "them" also include the reader? If so, can we as readers trust the perspective from which the story is told?
To everyone, when you cite quotes that have caught your attention, please discuss why and what significance they have. In other words, analyze your quotes (and use MLA formatting)!!!
[ I Read until page 102 ]
I have a theory that people are never crazy; they are just too different from society’s standards. Because of that, these people are sent to these mental hospitals and are given so many drugs that their mind get blown. There is the turning point from being sane and being insane. Not different from Broom: he’s okay and all these fog and machine-like visions are in consequence of the heavy medication he is exposed to in the ward.
And I can see that since my first impression of the book is that Broom is a really intelligent fellow. Even though his hallucinations of the fog and machinery scenarios can mess up the image, he seems to describe everything with such preciseness that I can picture what is happening so clearly as if it was occurring right before my eyes. But the question is: if he has such capability and skill, why is he at a mental hospital in the first place? Or, in the other hand, if he is in a mental hospital, could all of these descriptions and narratives be an effect of his insanity?
It is really sad to hear from Broom how the patients are treated by the Combine. The Chronics reminded me of the book Blindness by Saramago. “[…] Acutes say they’d just as leave stay over their side, give reasons like the Chronic side smells worse than a dirty diaper.”
As weird as it can be, Broom’s description of the way Big Nurse works reminds me of Belina. No offense! She really fits to this description: “Pratice has steadied and strengthened […] what she dreams of […] is a world of precision efficiency and tidiness like a pocket watch with a glass back, a place where the schedule is unbreakable”.
It is possible to make a lot of references and associations to Kubrick’s movie Clockwork Orange. Broom describes a patient called Taber. He was kind of a rebel so the Combine put him through a series of hardcore treatments that he came back as tender as a flower. And this is exactly what happened with the movie’s main character, Alex De Large. Taber’s story also make me wonder if it’s not a foreshadow of what will happen to McMurphy.
McMurphy -- at least for now -- is turning out to be one of my favorite characters I ever read about. I like people with impulsiveness and leadership, that don’t feel ashamed of showing their real personality. And he is doing this in a mental hospital! That guy deserves respect. And he reminds me a lot of Alex De Large (Clockwork Orange again).
1) His acid sense of humor (Harding’s wife joke on Ruckly’s attack);
2) Provocations to authority (“Ma’am,” McMurphy says, have I told you about my uncle Hallahan and the woman who used to screw up his name?” [said to Big Nurse at first meeting]);
3) Sarcasm (When he invades the Nurse’s station ‘just’ to “pick up your [nurse’s] waterin’ can you dropped” – I could really see De Large doing that and even raping the poor nurse);
4) Manipulation (When he convinces the Doctor Spivey to do exactly what he wants him to do during the second meeting regarding the speakers and carnival. I even doubt they were from the same highschool, I can imagine McMurphy noticing a picture or a flag of the school in Spivey’s office and then creating a big and tricky lie to make them more intimate and Spivey easier to be fooled).
The similarity is such that sometimes I can’t picture McMurphy in the scene while I read. De Large just pops there and I can’t change it back.
What bothers me is that his personality might cause him some trouble with the rest of the patients (Coincidently or not, similar to what happened in the movie Clockwork Orange with De Large and his droogs). Broom had already showed some concern on the way he is treated by the Combine. For example, when he wakes up and starts singing, no one from the Combine stops him, making Broom reflect on questions like: “How come they treat his new guy different? He’s a man made outta skin and bone that’s due to get weak and pale and die, just like the rest of us.” Could these ideas reflect on some sort of counter-revolution against McMurphy’s revolution? What if the Combine and McMurphy are just acting out a plot to cure the patients (As if McMurphy’s eccentric personality would influence the patients and help their treatment)?
Something tells me that McMurphy is – unfortunately – going to be killed.
...Adding to the first post...
[ Read all of part 1 ]
Insights on Fog and Life:
I think that McMurphy brought life to the ward. I mean, before they were just dull and obedient serfs that didn’t think of anything, they weren’t living, they were just passing through life anesthetized with all the drugs and monotony that the ward forced them to. When McMurphy comes he reintroduces laughs (“I realize all of a sudden it’s the first laugh I’ve heard in years (Broom)”), gambling and encourages patients to do things against Big Nurse’s rule.
A proof to that is that after McMurphy, Broom starts to realize where he is really living in, he has an epiphany on what are his life surroundings: “[…] makes me realize for the first time since I been in the hospital that this big dorm full of beds, sleeps forty grown men, has always been sticky with a thousand other smells […]” and – by not taking the medicine (“first time for a long, long time I’m in bed without taking that little red capsule”) – the fog starts to progressively lower its intensity : he describes it happening almost never.
And by that, it makes clear that the fog is nothing but the effect of medication: the feeling of safeness together with the fear of assuming responsibilities, making things by themselves, threatening authority. All makes sense when you realize that who gives medicine is the Combine that wants the patients as calm as they can be and as obedient as they can stay and, above everything, fooled like a dog running for his tail. There’s a chapter that Broom describes what the fog is: “Nobody complains about 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. He keeps trying to drag us out of the fog, out in the open where we’d be easy to get at” and how the fog is used in the army : “Whenever intelligence figured there might be a bombing attack, or if the generals had something secret to pull – out of sight, hid so good that even the spies on the base couldn’t see what went on – they fogged and fled.” That is more than evident that this fog symbolizes the anesthetization of the patients so that they can stay weak.
Couldn’t we make a parallel to what television, society and governments do? I mean, television makes people freeze and don’t want to rebel against anything, get fooled (that’s the medicine), the government is clearly the Combine who fears a revolution and want people to be fooled hence the medication they enforce (TV) and society is the fog that actually keeps us from doing something rebel because it’s “wrong”, because it’s “difficult”, because it’s “different” or because it’s too foggy to see the real deal.
At the movie – again – Clockwork Orange, there’s also this criticism on the control of behavior. Whether it’s moral or not, what is really sane. I think both works really makes good points on this theme. For example, there’s a part on the movie that a man says that people will “trade freedom for safety”. In other words, they will just – as Brom likes to do and McMurphy constantly disagree with – accept the freedom-taker fog that messes up with people’s mind to get the machine-like protection.
In response to Daniel's comment:
"Couldn’t we make a parallel to what television, society and governments do? I mean, television makes people freeze and don’t want to rebel against anything, get fooled (that’s the medicine), the government is clearly the Combine who fears a revolution and want people to be fooled hence the medication they enforce (TV) and society is the fog that actually keeps us from doing something rebel because it’s “wrong”, because it’s “difficult”, because it’s “different” or because it’s too foggy to see the real deal."
Let's specify the parallel. Comment on who decides what is "wrong," "difficult," or "different," and what these adjectives literally refer to. Describe why such behavior or actions are considered "wrong," "difficult," or "different." Besides television, what other forms of subliminal messaging does society produce and enforce on both a macro and micro scale? On the other hand, how does social media often function on the contrary, to incite insurrection?
Great comments Daniel! I encourage everyone to reply.
Hi Daniel et al.,
Really nice connections here! Have you read the novel A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess? If you haven't, you might enjoy checking it out. You'll find even more parallels to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in Burgess's work.
On the subject of revolution and counter-revolution, I'd encourage everyone to think not only about the fictional revolution that occurs in the hospital, but also what kind of social revolution Kesey might be alluding to or critizing. Remember that this book was published in 1962, in the decade popularly referred to as "The Swinging Sixties," the same era as the Civil Rights Movement, mental health reform, and various other sociopolitical movements.
Daniel refers to the Kesey's concept of "The Combine" various times in his post. What is "The Combine"? What does the noun "to combine" mean? Why does Kesey capitalize the noun? What kind of system does the phrase denote literally vs. symbolically in the novel?
Another note to everyone: please remember to use proper MLA formatting when you quote the text. You can find instructions to do so on the Writing: MLA formatting page of this website, and I know this is something Dr. Ronzano required in his class as well.
In terms of posting, feel free to start a new thread, or post in response to my comments or any other students' comments. Email me with any questions you have about instructions.
Clarifying the Combine:
1) a number of businesses or enterprises united for commercial advantage <charged that the cable companies had formed an illegal combine for the purpose of keeping rates artificially high>
Synonyms combination, combine, syndicate, trust
2) an association of persons, parties, or states for mutual
assistance and protection <one of the most notorious combines in the history of organized crime>
Synonyms alliance, axis, bloc, block, coalition, combination, combine, confederation, federation, league, union
So, to me, the Combine symbolizes the unity responsible for the treatment of the patients, the doctors’ staff that, in the patients’ perspective, are the root of all evil and oppression done to them. Kesey capitalizes the term to give it the sense of a unique grouping, as singular force, like the Axis or the Allies in war.
Clarifying the parallel:
Fog = Relates not only to television itself but to all the Medias responsible for making opinions, trends and social behavior standards like television, publicity, internet, radio, etc. Once these Medias adopt a certain tendency as the correct one it gets compromised by the people that follow it as something irrevocable. Something that is completely and unanimously good, which will difficultly be disobeyed. If disobeyed, the person will encounter serious peer pressure by the people who follow mainstream to assume the mainstream’s values as better and to forget about not being against conventional standard. For example, the hippies held a movement that was completely against the order – against the mainstream – and, because of that, were discriminated, defamed and satirized so that less people adjoined the movement. To me, that’s the fog, a mechanism that keeps people from being something different than what the Combine wants people to be in order to them keep their power.
Combine = People in power that rule the whole system and do everything in their hands to maintain power: politicians, the police, businesses, corporations, etc; all the ones that are part of the highest layer of decisions.
Patients = The silent majority of citizens that do not participate in the governmental decisions per say, the ones from which the power is taken and are oppressed by things like the fog and other brutalities like violence.
Media’s good deeds:
I think that media is a very powerful weapon but unfortunately it’s used really poorly by the ones that have a chance to use it. Mainly nowadays, I think that all cases that incite insurrection are forged by the ones in control to evoke reverse psychology in people. In other words, there is no real incite to insurrection, but a false idea that ‘anyone can do whatever they want’, anyone can revolt, be free, when they are really falling into a trap of ones in control.
[ Read the whole book, comments about part two to the end ]
Insights on Microcosms and Politics
In the beginning of part two, there’s something that makes me think for a while. I’m kind of a synesthesic in my interpretations and this first chapter of the second part illustrates what I was commenting on the previous post I did. Broom says at page 130 “There’s no more fog any place” show – again – how the fog disappears when they avoid medication. And afterwards in the same page he explains “I’m just getting the full force of the dangers we let ourselves in for when we let McMurphy lure us out of the fog”. In other words, McMurphy, representing a rebel, even though he gives consciousness to the patients, he also gives the fear of being independent, of not depending on the fog.
To add to the commentary on what is a very clever microcosm of politics done by Ken Kesey, there’s the part where meeting of the staff takes place; where we can associate doctors, Big Nurse, Broom and Spivey to figures of the cosmos.
1) On page 131 Broom points out how it’s important for the doctors to be sure that he is deaf and can’t understand what’s going on. “That’s why they have me at the staff meetings, because they can be such a messy affair […] it’s got to be somebody they think won’t be able to spread the word what’s going on. That’s me.” It shows the politicians’ desire in maintaining the people (patients) uneducated and unconscious of what happens at politics’ backstage so that they can maintain their power.
2) Then, we can associate Big Nurse to the Army at some extent that is there just to guarantee security by any means. Everyone fear – even the government – the Army’s power because – guess what? – They have tanks, bombs, missiles and if something goes against their will they might use it against anyone. Places that held dictatorships, for example, like Brazil, as soon as the government was menacing the military’s will they took over and killed many citizens and governors. The black boys are also related to the Army, but they are inferior in the hierarchy, so they deserve the police post.
3) Third, Spivey would represent the laws, the court, the judicial branch since all the decisions and orders are analyzed by him and he also seems to try to be always ethical in his actions.
4) Alvin and Gideon are the conservatives and liberals that are always trying to suggest different methods for the “problem” (diagnosis) but what they all want to get rid of the distraction so that the order stays on straight.
The first link I made was to the character Charlie Harper of the Two and a Half Men show. At page 159 Harding asks McMurphy what he thought about his wife and McMurphy remembered of Harper’s way of talking about a woman, even though it’s someone else’s: “What do you think? Harding says. McMurphy starts. “She’s got one hell of a set of chabobs,” is all he can think of. “Big as Old Lady Ratched’s.”
Another association to other work piece I’ve made was at page 177 when McMurphy jokes about Big Nurse’s breasts. “[…] like did she wear a B cup, he wondered, or a C cup, or any ol’ cup at all?” If I didn’t watch Dave Chappelle’s Show I would not understand this joke; there the comedian Dave Chappelle jokes about how large some woman’s breasts were and tells the same thing McMurphy did, then I understood what was it all about.
Since I want to be a psychologist some day, reading this book kind of made me wonder how the patients on Mental Hospital are treated from the perspective of a patient. And I was disgusted by the way they were treated with all the shock therapies in the Shock Shop, and all the pressure and fear they were imposed. I realized that the trip organized by McMurphy was really interesting and these types of programs that may cure a patient. I think that heavy medication just make things worse.
As Broom clearly expressed at page 203 “[…] you can’t really be strong until you can see a funny side to things”. So, I learned from this book that laughing is actually the best medicine for anything, even madness.
I had a really vivid cathartic experience with the agony that McMurphy felt those days in the Shock Shop. I put myself in his feet and it might’ve been a great torture being announced to go to the day’s session. “But every time that loudspeaker called for him to forgo breakfast and prepare to walk to Building One, the muscles in his jaw went taut and his whole face drained of color, looking thin and scared – the face I had seen reflected in the windshield on the trip back from the coast. (page 243)&rdq
My first impression of Ken Kesey's novel was that the narrator or Chief was actually chosen on purpose to narrate the story, since most of the readers including me would identify theirselves with him. The first thing that made me see my self in Chief's place was making up a way to live so that no one would bother him, most of the people I know hold inside them a great intelligence which they are afraid to show or they want to stay "safe", exactly like Chief. The second thing that made me see why Bromden was the right one to narrate the story, was that he was the only sane person in that place, and the only one that would be understanded by the readers. But while reading I started asking myself, How did a sane person like Bromden got into a mental hospital? According to the quote, "Here's the Chief. The soo-pah Chief, fellas. Ol' Chief Broom. Here you go, Chief Broom..." (Kesey 9) Everyone got fooled by Bromden even the black boys which would take care of them, but why would he get in the mental hospital if he was actually sane? That is a question that I hope to answer in the end of the novel.
Hey everyone, I have read several pages of the book already and would really like to point out how unique Chief Bromden is. We all know he is observant, but apparently that is why he is the perfect narrator, he pretends to be deaf, he cannot do anything apart from observe. No one else knows that, therefore, he can find out secrets without even trying that hard. I would also point out his constant connection to machines when he speaks about someone’s actions. I wonder “How crazy is he really?” Is he as crazy as Big Nurse believes he is, or does he think he is smarter than her, making not only the reader, but also everyone in the hospital think the same? One of the most interesting moments I have seen in the book so far is when Bromden describes the way Big Nurse operates the hospital: “I see her sit in the center of this web of wires like a watchful robot, tend her network with mechanical insect skill, know every second which wire runs where and just what current to send up to get the results she wants.” (Kesey 30). This is when Bromden’s insanity and his interest in machinery become one. Is he hallucinating or is he simply making a metaphor to how Big Nurse works, is he hallucinating? It could be one, or the other, or both. This is what makes Bromden unique, the reader can never be completely confident of what he is doing or describing. I wonder if anyone else agrees with me on this?
Great observations here Nilo! I especially appreciate your choice of quote here and encourage everyone to take a closer look at such images of machinery and robotics in the novel. How does the repetition of this imagery function as an extended metaphor? How might such an extended metaphor be appropriate on both a literal and figurative level in the story?
Let's keep up this level of insight!
A PROGRAMMED WORLD
In response to Nilo's Comment
‘“I see her sit in the center of this web of wires like a watchful robot, tend her network with mechanical insect skill, know every second which wire runs where and just what current to send up to get the results she wants’ (Kesey 30). This is when Bromden’s insanity and his interest in machinery become one. Is he hallucinating or is he simply making a metaphor to how Big Nurse works?”
Regarding Nilo’s question if Chief Bromden is hallucinating or making an extended metaphor, I would answer it is both. Chief has constant illusions of fog, time control and these machines, but the beauty of it all is that they bring with them symbolic significances.
Bromden sees society as a big machine, which he calls the Combine, but this mechanism is also used to describe the hospital. The first time Big Nurse appears in the novel, Chief uses phrases such as, “she blows up bigger and bigger, big as a tractor, so big I can smell the machinery inside the way you smell a motor pulling too big a load” (Kesey 11) to explain her actions. Even when describing her physical appearance, Chief compares her to appliances. “Her face is smooth, calculated, and precision-made” (Kesey 11), but he also comments on her large breasts and regards them as “a mistake made somehow in manufacturing” (Kesey 11).
He even once had a dream about the hospital being a mechanical slaughterhouse. In his dream, old Blastic, one of the patients, has his body sliced up by the workers, but there is no blood falling out from him, “just a shower of rust and ashes, and now and again a piece of wire and glass” (Kesey 81).
The hospital, as a metaphor of society at the time, is able to destroy people’s lives and their humanity. They treat humans as machines and try to transform them into such, so they won’t have he capability of thinking and questioning their situation; all they’ll do and say is what has been programmed to happen. If someone comes out and says something different, the robots of society will “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 181). Once more, this idea of machines shows how the oppressive forces of society, or Combine, as Chief likes to call them, has complete control over the people. In what other ways do you think the hospital, or society in general, is compared to a big factory? If it is a factory, who is in charge of it? Is it the Combine, but who exactly are they?
The idea of men being compared to machineries reminds me of Charlie Chaplin’s movie Modern Times and the famous scene where he goes inside the engine. Although it was intended to criticize a different period in history, it still serves to show the lack of humanity in society and how since the beginning men had been starting to lose their individuality.
Great comparison. That scene from Modern Times is particularly pertinent.
Julia´s question is a provacative one. She asks, "If it is a factory, who is in charge of it? Is it the Combine, but who exactly are they?"
Notice how Kesey sets up a us vs. them binary from the very first sentence when Bromden muses, "They´re out there" (Kesey 9). The ever present, seemingly omnipotent "they," threatens the "us" from the outset. So, who are "they" symbolically speaking? Who is the "us"?
PS- Julia, a quick clarification-- remember that it is not the narrator who is responsible for the creation of metaphor and symbolism. The narrator is a product of the author´s creation; hence, Kesey is responsible for creating character, plot, theme, metaphor, symbolism etc.
As seen in the start of the book there is no actual action just Bromden talking about the whole mental hospital in details, showing he is really good at observing. After reading this introduction, "My name's McMurphy and I'll bet you two dollars here and now that you can't tell me how many spots are in that pinochle hand you're holding, don't look. Two dollars." I realized that the climax has come, and that McMurphy would be the one to change the way the story is going. I got connected to McMurphy with his competitive way, I saw myself in his place, since when I want to show, that I know something, I bet and then say what I know, for example, "I bet fifty reais with you that I am right, and that Ms.B is the best." (Nevo) By realizing the gambling issues McMurphy has, I kept reading, since it was getting interesting and what I found out is that Mr. Murphy has a good heart, by trying to make the insane patients a little bit sane. Who had never bet about something he really knew? Most of the readers got a little connected to Mr. McMurphy could've been with his good heart or with his gambling issues or even with both. With what did you identify yourselves? and why?
Great questions here Nevo. I'm curious to hear who you all identify with in this novel. I myself tend towards Chief Bromden. I don't know that I'd have the courage to stage the style of coup d'etat that McMurphy pilots, though of course I admire him for it.
A couple other comments: the climax of the novel is the highest point of tension or drama in the story, which induces a necessary turning point in the action. Nevo is on the right track to predict that McMurphy will be responsible for instigating the rising action and subsequent climax in the story. For everyone, where is the climax of this novel? Explain how you know.
PS- If I prove Nevo's bet correct, do I get to collect on it? ;-)
DEFYING THE STATUS QUO
An Analysis on the Historical Context
In what possible way is Rosa Parks linked to Randle McMurphy? Or how about the Montgomery Bus Boycott’s connection with the World Series rebellion led by McMurphy in the end of Part 1 of the novel? The answer is simple. It all comes down to the core motif of these people and events, questioning authority.
Ken Kesey published the book, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, during the sixties, a decade known to have changed the way Americans dealt with their government. During that time surged the Civil rights Movement, feminism, the breaking of taboos such as sexuality and drugs, and teenagers who wished to deviate from the mainstream culture. Those who formed the “counterculture” of the time, Kesey denominates himself as one of those, wished to go against the norms of society and disagree with what was being taught to them in school, published in books or released in songs. In the 50s, Americans were living a conformist era, but the sixties came to change all that. That being said, the mental institution the novel is set in, is treated as a microscopic view of society at the time.
McMurphy would be our very own Rosa Parks, beatnik, or any other group or person who directly confronted society. In describing McMurphy as the hero of the novel and ultimate martyr, Kesey is encouraging the rebellion in America. Not only in the United States, but he wishes for people all over the world to read his novel and question themselves, who are the sane and insane ones? Why am I taking orders from those above me as if it was the absolute truth? What is my real strength? How has society suppressed my individuality?
The patients are all the people that have allowed the derogatory morals of society influence them. Miss Ratched represents the people who were in power and didn’t want others questioning their rule. McMurphy is the leader in the ward and he is the one responsible for inciting the questions above on the patients. He is the character who will save the other patients from Big Nurse’s authoritarian and oppressive rule. The first sign of McMurphy’s success is when Chief describes the meeting in which he got twenty Acutes to vote for watching TV,
"I see them other hands coming up out of the fog. It’s like…that big red hand of McMurphy’s is reaching into the fog and dropping down and dragging the men up by their hands […] raising not just for watching TV, but against the Big Nurse, against her trying to send McMurphy to Disturbed, against the way she’s talked and acted and beat them down for years” (Kesey 124).
McMurphy was able to remove the patients from the fog of the medications. Taking the pills and following Big Nurse’s rules, the other men weren’t seeing clearly what was happening in front of them, but McMurphy was able to show them that they too were capable of change.
By the end of the novel, Kesey implies that not only should the youth want to question and confront, but also they have a need for it. Chief Bromden realizes why McMurphy had challenged authority, “we couldn’t stop him because we were the ones making him do it. It wasn’t the nurse that was forcing him, it was our need that was making him push himself slowly up from sitting” (Kesey 267). Society in the sixties was demanding a change. But then, was it only in the sixties, or are we needing to question authorities once more?
Julia, I applaud your insights. For everyone, Julia proposes the notion that "the mental institution the novel is set in, is treated as a microscopic view of society at the time." Do you agree with her interpretation? Is the novel merely a "microscopic view of society" in the sixties? To what extent does the Combine function as a timeless symbol of society in general? How does the retrospective lens of reading this book in the year 2012 impact our interpretation(s)?
I'd also like to call attention to Julia's series of rhetorical questions in this post. She writes, "he [Kesey] wishes for people all over the world to read his novel and question themselves, who are the sane and insane ones? Why am I taking orders from those above me as if it was the absolute truth? What is my real strength? How has society suppressed my individuality?" Has the novel raised such questions for you? Have you thought about any potential answers? How do we judge sanity on large scale political spectrum? How do we judge the sanity of our peers on a small scale social spectrum? Are there universally agreed upon definitions or criteria for such judgements?
I encourage you all to response to the questions raised in this post. Great work Julia!
A SPOONFUL OF LAUGHTER HELPS THE MEDICINE GO DOWN
“He commences to laugh. Nobody can tell exactly why he laughs; there’s nothing funny going on […] This sounds real. I realize all of a sudden it’s the first laugh I’ve heard in years” (Kesey 16).
When McMurphy arrives in the hospital he brings freshness and vitality. As stated on my previous post, he will also be the one to bring change, and one of the first symbols of this, is his laughter. When the Chief said he hadn’t heard a real laugh for years, it sets the image of the ward as a gloomy and depressive place, where people are always very serious and just following orders, but McMurphy arrives with joy and a new way to deal with life. It is also through laughter that McMurphy notices for the first time there is something wrong with the people in the ward because they can only smile and “snicker in their fists” (Kesey 19).
Laughter may be a mechanism of defense against all the suffering and even society’s dominant force. That’s what the Chief notices during the fishing trip, “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 212). There is a lot of pain in the world, but we can’t allow it to “blot out the humor no more’n [we’ll] let the humor blot out the pain” (Kesey 212). The fishing trip is refreshing for the patients in that way, because after it, they are all laughing again. They later on use that laughter in the meetings and when trying to confront the Big Nurse, who they are eventually able to defeat.
This powerful weapon leads the readers to ponder on how we can apply that to real life. The idea isn’t simply to laugh when there’s a problem, but it evokes the whole symbolism of the laughter. Being happy, free, careless, not living life so strictly and just enjoying the moment, are all ideas that come to mind when I imagine someone that’s laughing. But what other mechanisms did McMurphy show the patients to fight the system? Perhaps, their strength? It allowed the Chief to run away in the end. Or what about the power of their masculinity, when he commented on Miss Ratched’s breasts, introduced them the prostitutes or walked around in his boxers? In what other ways could the patients have shown their superiority and rebelled against the laws?
A personal experience I’ve had with the power of laughter was during my first MUN. My committee was filled with seniors and juniors, so one can imagine just how nervous I was, but apparently it was only inside of me. Outside, my expression was calm and happy. Then it came my turn to stand and ask a question, after which I had to continue standing to listen to her answer. I didn’t even notice, but as she answered all I did was stare at her and smile. At the end, she turned to me and said, “the way you kept smiling at me as I answered, it just made you seem so confident that I was almost left with no response”. There it was, I stopped letting my fear consume me and just relaxed for a while and that had made me seem stronger than ever. The laughter can mask our problems and pretending to not care and laugh it off was the route McMurphy chose to defy the Big Nurse.
Truth, It’s Only A Matter Of Perception.
As I started reading Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a certain quote struck me: “ 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 13). I believe what Chief meant to communicate with such quote is that it doesn’t matter if his story is completely true, because the real truth is perhaps not the factual truth but the emotional truth. The truth of how such experience has affected him and the only way to transmit such is possibly by not telling the truth itself, exaggerate, and even lie, because being at an asylum is surreal to the common reader, and the emotional state of someone in such a rough environment cannot be simply expressed.
Kesey’s approach reminds me of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, in which he tries to tell a true war story. O’Brien says that: “In many cases a true war story cannot be believed. If you believe it, be skeptical. It’s a question of credibility. Often the crazy stuff is truer and the normal stuff isn’t, because the normal stuff is necessary to make you believe the truly incredible craziness.” (O’Brien 68), such can also be said about asylum stories, because like in war, in an asylum you are pushed emotional and mentally to a breaking point in which your perception of the truth is compromised, and the crazy stuff become the truth itself. It is what you start to believe and what affects you psychologically. You start to question your sanity, even if you are not insane. What you believe has happened, and what really happened might not be the same, but the way you felt will always be true, like O’Brien said: “A thing might happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth.” (O’Brien 80).
Therefore when Chief says: “it is the truth even if it didn’t happen” he is about to tell a true story, one that might not factually have happened, and maybe one that only he could perceive, but one that he felt and that is going to touch the reader emotionally like it touched him. That being said, what perception of truth really matters? Does it even matter if a story is made up, if it conveys exactly what the character felt? Or do emotions not even play a role when telling a story, because it is just about facts?
Thais! You are a whole book ahead of us hahaha!! The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien is the next book we'll read as soon as we've finished One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. I'm thrilled to read that you've already made the thematic connection!!! Fabulous work. Did you read The Things They Carried while you were abroad? I'll be anxious to hear about your experience...
In terms of perceptions of truth, I encourage you all to reply to Thais's questions here. How does Kesey call into question the traditionally defined notion of truth? Can fiction ever be true? If so, in what way? How might truth be contingent upon perspective?
So my last reaction to the middle and the end of the book was that I was right about McMurphy being the one that will bring the climax to the novel. Did anyone think he would be such an important character in the novel? And repeating my question of the other entry did anyone identified themselves with him? After reading the book I realized it is resumed by a saying I used to here from my parents when I was younger, which was, "Tell me who are your friends and I'll say who you are." Meaning that the people you walk with, build up who you end up being, for example after a time in the mental hospital with his insane friends he turned out to make insane moves and making him insane after the time he spent with them. With this saying we can also show how McMurphy affected the insane patients by making them stand for what they think. In the quote, "Lady I think you're full of so much bullshit." (Kesey 268) Harding is showing what he thinks without any fear even tearing up the paper where the nurse wrote that McMurphy would come back. Even Chief was inspired by McMurphy and that what led him to the point of using his strength to run away. To conlude I recommend everyone to read this book in its entirety since it is inspiring and shows how anyone could help you grow in life.
“SANITY IS MADNESS PUT TO GOOD USES” – George Santayana
- Profound analysis of Chief Bromden -
The incredible ability of this unpredictable character and narrator to mentally be everywhere but in reality be no more than a mere “object” to those around him, caught my interest in the opening of the novel. Chief Bromben’s habit of absorbing the world around him and twisting it into his mind by linking what he witnesses to things from his past experiences makes the reader question if the narrator is truly reliable or not! The fog issue that Bromden unquestioningly believes to be inflicted upon every patient on the ward, for instance, is associated to his experience at the army in Europe. Bromden states how in the fog during the army, you had the choice: “you could either strain and look at things that appeared in front of you in the fog, painful as it might be, or you could relax and lose yourself” (Kesey 117). Similarly, Bromden had the possibility of either losing his mind into a state of haze created within his subconscious that acts as an “automatic” condition in which he minimizes thoughts, allowing him to fast-forward some moments, or endeavor to fight against it.
The primary question I had as I commenced reading the book was why would Bromden pretend to be deaf? I was left uncertain if it was because he didn’t want others to know he could in fact hear, therefore, allowing him to enter in all the staff meetings and one day use the information said at the meetings against the officials to make a plan and escape the hospital. After finishing the book and reflecting back at the query, I concluded that he pretended to be deaf out of lack of self-esteem and confidence in his own self which he later gained with the assistance of McMurphy. Why else could he possibly make-believe to be deaf?
Albeit his deafness, Bromden’s detailed descriptions of each patient in the ward and their “disorders”, as they appear through his eyes, give an impression that he is omnipresent. Nevertheless, the way he narrates the story to the reader by depicting the hospital as a mechanized model of society leaves the reader in doubt if this narrator has not lost a modest part of his natural sanity. The evident indications that Chief is a troubled and erratic narrator are manifold. This sentiment is also experienced in the novel The Catcher in the Rye in view of the fact that Holden Caulfield, the main character and narrator, is as well hospitalized, and he does not have good ties to people. In his case, Holden protests and abhors the inevitable step of humanity: growing up and becoming a mature adult. Bromden indirectly criticizes society’s principles and rules defying them by trying not to be submitted to the Big Nurse’s repressive rule by attempting the methods of ‘invisibility’ such as pretending to be deaf and mute. This is clearly illustrated when Bromden warns McMurphy to be careful with the Combine,
“[…] they work on you ways you can’t fight! They put things in! They install things. They start as quick as they see you’re gonna be big and go to working and installing their filthy machinery when you’re little, and keep on and on and on till you’re fixed!” (Kesey 187).
Excellent analysis Gaelle. I´d love to bring it back to the George Santayana quote you open your analysis with, "SANITY IS MADNESS PUT TO GOOD USES."
For everyone, to what extent do you consider Chief Bromden mentally insane? How might Kesey´s choice of narrator perhaps be an example of what George Santayana called "madness put to good uses"?
Very good insights Gaelle! Wouldn't you agree that the fact that Bromden pretends to be deaf is a mixture of both reasons you stated? Chief is a tall and strong Native American, but his appearance doesn't have anything to do with his personality. As Harding said, Bromden is “a six-foot-eight sweeping machine, scared of its own shadow.” Having family problems since a kid and always being ignored by everyone made him pretend to be deaf to protect him from pain. There are two very important quotes that show the indignation and reasons that may have led him to pretend all of those years. First, “They don't bother not talking out loud about their hate secrets when I am nearby because they think I am deaf and dumb. Everybody thinks so.” He is referring to all of the staff and the people from the ward in this quote; couldn't this be a reason he came up with after pretending to be deaf? He probably didn't know that his was useful until he had the talk with McMurphy about what he could do with all of the information. Furthermore, this type of observations show that Bromden is each time more and more sane.
The second quote is the night before going to the fishing trip, “[...] I remembered one thing: it wasn't me that started acting deaf; it was people that first started acting like I was too dumb to hear or see or say anything at all.”(190 Kesey) This quote shows how Bromden was frustrated with the world around him and the only manner to protect himself was to pretend he didn't exist by excluding himself from society. Concluding, I do believe that the two reasons stated are plausible, however one was the reason he did it and the other one was a further speculation. Bromden was weak and he chose to live in his own world instead of confronting his fears, and later on when McMurphy came into the ward his self-esteem became stronger and began to realize all of the power he hold after all of these years pretending to be deaf.
One question that came into my mind after reading the novel was: what is the relationship between the title and the novel? My first reaction was to analyze the key word of the sentence “one flew over the cuckoo's nest”, - the word cuckoo. Generally, when someone uses the expression “cuckoo”it has something to do with the word crazy and it has a negative connotation. Such usage of word would make sense since the novel takes place in a mental hospital, and there is a big dilemma whether some characters, such as Bromden and McMurphy, were false diagnosed as sane or insane. Further thinking and rereading some quotes from the book I encountered a page that I had completely ignored since I began to read the book: the epigraph. Such stated “...one flew east, one flew west, one flew over the cuckoos nest.” It was a mere children's rhyme that made me look deeper into the meaning of the title. The rhyme is about three birds and each one flew in one direction. These birds can connect with the characters of the book since each one ended up in a different path. For example, Charles Cheswick, who died drowned, and William Bibbit who committed suicide.
After some research I found the entire song and suddenly I was able to connect the lyrics with a quote in part four of the book, “Ting. Tingle, tingle, tremble toes, she’s a good fisherman, catches hens, puts 'em inna pens…wire blier, limber lock, three geese inna flock…one flew east, one flew west, one flew over the cuckoo’s nest…O-U-T spells out…goose swoops down and plucks you out.”(Kesey 239) It was a memory Bromden had about his grandmother when she chanted this with him.
When trying to connect the characters to the rhyme, McMurphy was the one who flew over the cuckoos nest and the chief was the one that plucked out. McMurphy and Bromden seem to swap positions at the end of the book, the one that goes crazy is McMurphy and Bromden escapes while seeming to be sane.
Is killing always bad?
Approaching the end of the novel Bromden and McMurphy appear to have more similarities than differences. At first the outspoken and out going personality of McMurphy seemed to highly contrast with the very large man that emotionally felt extremely small and weak. However, as the characters develop the novel reveals that both Bromden and McMurphy are pretending to be someone they aren't since they entered the mental hospital; McMurphy is faking insanity, and Chief is faking being deaf and dumb. Both of them being “fakers” establishes a connection between them that leads up to a surprising action during the novel. Why did Bromden kill McMurphy? Was it to save him? Was he jealous? Was it to dignify and honor him?
The fact that Bromden suffocates McMurphy makes me see it as a liberation. Chief had already suffered enough in the ward and he was now sane enough to recognize that this wasn't the life he deserved for him nor for his friend. After McMurphy attempts to kill Nurse Ratched, Bromden realizes that his life would become a misery just like his was for all those years spend in the ward. “[...]Chronics are divided into Walkers like me, can still get around if you keep them fed, and Wheelers and Vegetables. What the Chronics are-or most of us-are machines with flaws inside that can't be repaired[...]”(19 Kesey) To keep that from happening he decides to kill him and honor him by escaping just the way McMurphy was planning to. But, the key to the problem is: do all of these reasons justify killing?
Andrea, I have to commend both of these posts. First of all, thank you for taking the initiative to research the epigraph, which is linked directly to the title. Can you elaborate on what you mean by "McMurphy was the one who flew over the cuckoos nest and the chief was the one that plucked out"? Try to provide explicit evidence to explain this interpretation. Anyone else have any thoughts on the title and epigraph?
To everyone: let's discuss the end. Andrea's questions probe at the ultimate thematic message Kesey wants to leave the reader with. Does Bromden's murder of McMurphy serve some form of justice in the end of the narrative? If so, then to what extent? Does the desire to honor the memory of McMurphy justify murder? Does it even count as murder at this point?
Here's a reply to a reply, replyception.
When taking into consideration the end of the novel, where Bromden "murders" McMurphy for the sake of honoring his memory,we must create an opinion on the question of: Was it murder?
In the context of where this took place, in the US, there is no legal defense as to the defense of others, it does not protect murderers in any way. Law enforcement is to be called upon no matter what, but then again would anyone really believe a diagnose mentally ill person.
If this murder was for honor, then we can automatically associate it with honor killings in typically conservative Muslim societies where women are killed for "dishonoring" their family, by talking to men outside of their family or choosing their husbands. Under different legislation and culture, this practice although condemned by the West is often never prosecuted and accepted among those societies.
Then this can also be connected to Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar", where Brutus participates in the stabbing of his good friend Julius Caesar under the belief that it would ultimately help the people of Rome. Was that murder? Well, yes because in the literal sense he did stab Caesar to death, but he was under the impression that also possibly saved the lives of many, which ultimately backfired given that Marc Anthony then "released the hounds of war" and there was a huge civil war. Paraphrasing, it was like "killing the snake while in its egg" because before Cinna's speculation and manipulation Caesar was a war hero and whatnot.
We can also go back to "Of Mice and Men" when George kills Lennie in the end in order to "protect" Lennie from the persecution of Curley and his lynch mob. So, George made Lennie's death painless while if he didn't he could've died in the hands of an enraged mob. Is it a justified murder?
All that we can ever know is that in some time, Jack Kevorkian probably really enjoyed this novel.
Just some clarification on the quotes mentioned in the first reply to the reply.
From Act III of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is the "let slip the dogs of war" by Marc Antony and then from Julius Caesar Act 2, scene 1, 28–34 is "And therefore think him as a serpent's egg,
Which, hatch'd, would as his kind grow mischievous,
And kill him in the shell"
Order = Power
A while ago, I stumbled into a cool foreshadowing moment from the book. "And, like I explain, the Big Nurse gets real put out if anything keeps her outfit from running smooth." (Kesey 41) The way that this is said, Kesey (at least for me) makes the reader already picture the someone is going to come along and do just that. Happily, we all know who he is: McMurphy! The question I make is: "how far will Big Nurse go to maintain the order?" I find order to be important at any place, but I would not go to far to maintain it. I would attempt to sort it out through reasoning, but if that fails, I would be sort of helpless. Obviously, as Big Nurse has demonstrated on separate occasions, she can deal with those that are acting rebellious. For example, four or five years ago, when Old Pete caused a ruckus at the Meeting, Big Nurse casually stuck a needle in him to quiet him down. She was pretty well controlled at that point, but what is she really capable of when she is angry? Again, what will she do to preserve the order within the hospital? She has a procedure and interrupting it is a serious violation. From my impressions, I believe Big Nurse will do ANYTHING for order. She will pull every trick and scheme against McMurphy until she is capable of driving him, and his revolution, into the ground.
*A follow-up to my previous post*
McMurphy is the other side. He is a revolution starter. Much like the 2010 movie Inception, McMurphy seeks to begin a revolt by planting ideas and through careful manipulation of his fellow Chronics and Acutes. “You’re on our ward six hours and have already simplified all the work of Freud, Jung, and Maxwell Jones and summed it up in one analogy: it’s a ‘peckin’ party.’” (Kesey 56) This is how McMurphy kickstarts his feud with the Big Nurse. Even though he is half right on his theory, I believe he is not doing it for the right intentions. Most great leaders from previous worldwide revolutions did not revolt for the reasons that McMurphy is now. McMurphy can see that Big Nurse is the one in a position of power at the ward, but that is all that McMurphy sees. He does not see a tyrant, even though he says he does. What he is attempting to do is manipulate his surroundings until Big Nurse gives up and he can come out on top. On page 111, when he failed to escape the ward, McMurphy still seemed to incentivate all others to try defying the rules. To my eyes McMurphy is as unstable as a five year old that sees a kid with a new toy. He wants Big Nurse’s power and control, and if he cannot take it, he will make her lose it. He wants to come out on top at the end of this conflict and will use all of his influence within the hospital to do so. How long will this last? Will McMurphy ever come to his senses and simply see past this little rebellion he has created?
This is a very apt critique of McMurphy Nilo, and I commend you for discerning his underlying motives. So let's talk motives for a moment. Andrea mentioned that McMurphy and Bromden's characters change inversely: as one's strength and drive collapse, the other's is revived. In terms of McMurphy, how do his motives for this so-called "revolution" shift over the course of the novel? Is there a moment in the narrative where we can clearly identify a change in McMurphy's behavior and hence motivation? Where is the climax in this book? Think about it...this may show up on a quiz in the near future...
Great point Nilo!
-We all make up a giant line of sheep, blinded from everything but the one in front, and all end up at the bottom of the same cliff-
It is very interesting to witness how most of us choose to follow the path the narrator has planned for us to experience – and blindly follow it – as our standpoint. What I mean by this is, let’s suppose we think a little bit different than how Bromden and most of the patients think; take William Bibbit for instance, he has always revered Nurse Ratched because she had close ties with his mother, and in a way, she has substituted her in the hospital by always taking great care of him. Does this really prove her to be the ogre she is portrayed to be?
Let’s take a step back, and modify the question from “how far will Big Nurse go to maintain the order?” to “is the Big Nurse essentially evil merely because all the patients depict her as the worse tyrant living on earth?” Let’s look at the other side of the story; she has proved to be cooperative when a patient needed help;
“Mr. McMurphy” […] “I think you are being very selfish. Haven’t you noticed there are others in this hospital besides yourself? There are old men here who couldn’t hear the radio at all if it were lower, old fellows who simply aren’t capable of reading, or working puzzles – or playing cards to win other men’s cigarettes” (Kesey 95).
This quote shows Nurse Ratched’s devoted interest in finding a good strategy to benefit the entire community. This is her response after McMurphy’s egotistic request to lower the music level in the ward.
Anyhow, we MUST keep in mind that it is Nurse Ratched’s duty and not pleasure to keep track that everything runs smoothly in the ward. Mental hospitals are delicate to handle, yet the person in charge must have a sturdy hold on things for it not to lose its ordinary balance. Nurse Ratched does no more than what is asked of her by keeping the patients calm when they get rebellious. The strategy used is always the one she deems the best at the specific moment, whether it be a needle, or a shock therapy. Nurse Ratched may not intentionally be evil, but instead, have to be more severe in some specific cases because of the circumstances of the situation.
When Nilo said, “I find order to be important at any place, but I would not go too far to maintain it.” Now I ask you, how far exactly would you go when a situation gets out of hand? What initiative would you take when it gets to the point where it is no longer you controlling the ward but the patients? Some radical measures are in fact needed when it is visible that a patient will get things out of control like McMurphy for instance.
Now, referring to Nilo’s second post, the first thing that came to my mind was the book “Animal Farm” by George Orwell. McMurphy represents the pigs and the rest of the animals would be the rest of the patients. Nurse Ratched would correspond to the ‘humans’. The same thing that happens with the animals happens with the patients: the smartest animals that are able to see farther than the simple mechanical routine that the humans impose them – the pigs – are the ones to lay out the plan to try to overtake the human totalitarian rule. The novel “Animal Farm” however, takes a step forward and pictures what happens after the animals take the reins of power. The patients of the ward are an exact reflection of the animals, both simply get molded into the decisions of the humans or the pigs.
Fascinating comparison Gaelle! You've definitely zoomed out into the grander scheme of things for us, which was a necessary step at this point our virtual discussion. Excellent questions in the penultimate paragraph, which I'd be extraordinarily curious to hear everyone's responses to.
Law and Order AP Lit Edition
Reading the initial post by Nilo, and then Gaelle's response it is clear that we all carry very distinct perspectives when considering the maintenance of order in all forms and shapes. While Nilo will not go "too far" in any actions towards keeping control of a hospital ward composed of the mentally ill, Galle questions if it is actually "too far" if it is indeed such a hard task that the Big Nurse has.
The problem that I find within both the text is that they don't follow the principals by which the United States stands for. Of course, don't think I'm naive into believing that this is still present, so many things go against what the Founding Fathers intended when claiming independence, particularly Jersey Shore and Big Brother.
Look at the Declaration of Independence of 1766 for example, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" Seeing this, do the mentally ill do not get the same rights because of their conditions?
Also, the principle of the Bill of Rights, where everyone had the right to freedom of speech as granted by the First Amendment, which is not respected by Big Nurse who does not encourage or allow any sort of questioning of authority in any way. Whatever happened to the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted". The key words here being "nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted." How can the hospital be considered a humane facility when it indeed does not follow this idea towards its own patients, maybe thats why the Public Relations guy laughs so much.
Now, how is this all relevant to order and especially the novel you aks. There is an essential question of what is too much when coming to order. Is what Big Nurse doing too far, or is it part of the job?
Thomas Jefferson knows the answer "All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression." The minority, in a way, are the patients, who have no say in anything. The way they are being treated, as by definition in the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence and even this quote by one of the Founding Fathers himself, is wrong and immoral.
Big Nurse encourages the spread of fear and that is how she keeps control of the ward, through fear. Fear of cruel and unusual punishment. But then again, that's how most governments maintain power as well.
In my opinion, what Big Nurse was doing was completely out of line, especially even after McMurphy's actions. If he indeed enter the hospital after trying to get out of a prison sentence than that facility had to be accredited by the state penitentiary system and all regulations strictly enforced as it received government funding of some sort.
Nonetheless, this book is raises several different points on how to address social behavior and the recommended steps to take when dealing with the mentally ill or any person who is not a conformist.
THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING
Reading along these very complex, deep and philosophical posts I’ve realized that I have indeed come back from Costa Rica a new person. A person who cannot perceive all theses things in an intellectual manner, and has maybe forgotten the basic concepts of literary analysis. That being said, I shall go along with my initial thoughts on this novel in a new and let’s call it innovative fashion.
In the following essential passage, as extensive as it may be, Chief Bromden explains the dynamics of interaction within the ward, specifically regarding the Acutes and the Chronics as to what defines them.
“One side of the room younger patients, known as Acutes because the doctors figure them still sick enough to be fixed, practice arm wrestling and card tricks where you add and subtract and count down so many and it’s a certain card.
(…) Across the room from the Acutes are the culls of the Combine’s product, the Chronics. Not in the hospital, these, to get fixed, but just to keep them from walking around the streets giving the product a bad name. Chronics are in for good, the staff concedes. Chronics are divided into Walkers like me, can still get around if you keep them fed, and Wheelers and Vegetables. What the Chronics are—or most of us—are machines with flaws inside that can’t be repaired, flaws born in, or flaws beat in over so many years of the guy running head-on into solid things that by the time the hospital found him he was bleeding rust in some vacant lot.
But there are some of us Chronics that the staff made a couple of mistakes on years back, some of us who were Acutes when we came in, and got changed over.” (Kensey 13)
Immediately what comes to my mind is one of the first scenes in the teenage-girl-must-watch-and-memorize-all-the-lines movie Mean Girls. As the “fresh meat” is walking into the cafeteria, she is shown the different cliques, from the jocks to the nerds to the girls who eat their feelings. In some ways, I feel like that “fresh meat” character because I don’t know how it works in the ward, but I’m being introduced to it in a possibly biased way given the position of the narrator within the ward, but nonetheless it is what it is.
This division, separation and even dissection of the patients within the ward go beyond their own conditions as will probably be presented throughout the rest of the novel. As Howard Zinn used to stratify the social classes when telling American history, that’s what is happening here. Ultimately the division of people is what creates somewhat tension among each other. Although differences can bring people close, they might be what tears them apart and brings clashes along the way.
The way Chief Bromdem presents it though is as if these two groups indeed have a common enemy, the Big Nurse and her helpers. So far in my extremely initial point of the book, the question I ask is how will the in-ward dynamics play out when addressing the issue of the Big Nurse? Will they possibly unite or stay divided as it is in Syria today.
Ale- I like that you begin with a disclaimer that you proceed to render totally obsolete ☺ You do not appear to have forgotten the basics of literary analysis at all! Nice connections here, and yes, it is clear that the ward is ruled by a system of social stratification that keeps the patients docile in their fear. Notice how the Big Nurse uses fear as a means of maintaining authoritarian rule. What is this reminiscent of?
In reply to replyception (reply to the third power?): the blog won’t let me reply to a reply to a reply. I’ll have to get this ironed out with Santiago on Monday. Superb connections Ale, and argued like a true lawyer.
Now, to everyone, can we attempt some speculative interpretation ranging beyond the rhetorical? Ale provides a series of examples of literary murders in “replyception” that are triggered by causes that are both dubious and debatable. Perhaps the follow-up question we need to examine is not why, or was this murder vs. euthanasia, but how do such murders function thematically? What does Kesey want reader to walk away from the book with? How does the end of this novel reflect on the work as a whole? What is Kesey trying to tell us?
Hello my classmates and lovely teacher Ms. B, how are you?
At the beginning of the book, when I started reading I believed that the Chief was the smartest man/patient on this history, however, I changed completely my opinion about it. I can't really say now who is the smartest, but I can say that he wasn't the smartest. Analyzing him from a more psychological point of view, it is possible to say that Chief is a mix of normal man and a sociopath, he doesn't talk to people, neither tries to interact with other people, and this happens because he wants. Also, I believe that he is not that smart anymore because he spent about 10 years and he could have escaped way before the actual escape. In fact I believe that he is in somehow crazy and not smart ( I don't really want to say stupid), I believe this to be true because all the crazy people never know that they are crazy and he always believed that he was normal. Taking this outside of the book it made me realize that we are never what we think we are. There always things that we do that we don't realize that we do, or things that we do but don't know how important it is. The book made me thing, What is life? What am I doing to make my life better and other's? Am I the person that I think I am? Just think about it!
Hi Victor, can you try and be more specific to give us some context? Specific examples and/or quotes would strengthen your ideas here.
Response to Victor’s Post
With all due respect, I completely disagree on your opinion about Chief Bromden, actually my understanding was quite the opposite of yours.
“I been silent so long now it’s gonna roar out of me like floodwaters and you think the guy telling this is ranting and raving my God; 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.”
The beginning of the novel makes the reader question his reliability, the constant hallucinations and episodes of paranoia, the presence of fog and his different perception causes the reader to question the narrator’s credibility. However, as the plot develops so does the metaphorical meaning of the symbols and motifs used by the author to expose a greater understanding and criticism of society.
True geniuses are the ones that can find greatness in simplicity, I believe although not a genius, Chief Bromden had a different perception of what was going on in the ward. He surrendered to the power not because he was not aware it existed, like some of the patients in the ward, he surrendered because he believed he was small and in the beginning of the book, despite his height, he was indeed miniscule. As time passed by and McMurphy’s thoughts started influencing the wards the Chief is able to break free from the psychological prison he was trapped for ten years.
What makes someone smart? Is there such a thing as someone that is born smart, stupid or crazy? I like to believe that people are born with there essence but rather someone ends up stupid or smart is a result of the society around them and what were the choices they made, or were prohibited to make, to get to that point. Chief Bromden had his recovery instigated by McMurphy, at the end of the book he was able to successfully euthanize his friend, with the conscious that is better to die with dignity than to live a life as a failure, run away from the hospital and write about it. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is more than a story of some patients in a mental hospital, is about the growth and recovery and road to sanity of its narrator. At the end of the book I was convinced that Chief Bromden is not stupid at all, he had wounds that took time to heal, he was kept inside the hospital not because he did not have the ability to leave, but because he was not ready to do it. When he embraced his true strength he was able to reach freedom.
This was wonderfully articulate, Liz! Your analysis shares several notions with epistemological empiricism, the theory that human behavior is the by-product experience.
To everyone, Liz suggests that to some degree, society shapes us. Kesey's colossal metaphorical Combine churns out characters as diverse as Nurse Ratched and McMurphy, Chief Bromden and Harding, you and me. Liz has put us on the road towards a pressing psycho-philosophical question regarding self vs. society. Ultimately, Chief Bromden does achieve both physical and psychological liberation...but where does that leave you and me? What does Kesey mean to leave the reader with?
I fully agree with what Liz stated about Chief Bromden regarding his possible craziness. Even though the narrator is Chief Bromden, the first impression we had from him was the same that the other character had, of a dumb and crazy person, which is supported by the quote previously presented by Liz on page 18 starts to support this idea. However while the plot is developed, the reader starts to understand that all of the hallucinations start to make sense and have a deeper meaning and that the whole idea of pretending to be deaf was an extremely smart strategy. Due to the fact that he pretended to be deaf, Chief Bromden though out the majority of the novel is a silent observer, which made him able to listen to meetings and observe more than people that are actively involved in it.
Right before he started talking again, he wisely though about this decision “I lay in the bed the night before the fishing trip and thought it over, about my being deaf, about the years of not letting on I heard what was said, and I wounded if I could ever act any other way again. But I remembered one thing: it wasn’t me that started acting deaf; it was people that first started acting like I was too dumb to hear or see or say anything at all. (…) That was the way they figured you were supposed to act around someone looked like I did” (page 178). This means that even though society was the one that made him pretend he was deaf, he used that as a benefit. While reading this portion of the book I started thinking of the different ways that humans need to adapt into situation. Was pretending to be deaf for so long the right way to adapt? How did the Army have an effect on that decision? Who had the greater impact in this: society or Chief Bromden himself?
Chief Bromden is a round character, who encounters conflicts of people, such as McMurphy, and its changed by it. We discover the main character based on what he experiences and due to that we change out opinion on his personality and mainly if he is dumb/stupid or not based on these experiences. When I finished the book I had a similar ideas that Liz, Chief Bromden was smart enough to use situation, being deaf, that the society imposed and used in his advantage. All of the years he was seen and acting like deaf, he was using to recover and prepare himself to leave in search of freedom.
Alana´s post gets at the same kind of essential questions Liz´s did. She asks, Who had the greater impact in this: society or Chief Bromden himself?" To what extent does society shape us and to what extent do we shapes ourselves? Should we perceive Chief Bromden as if he were always sane, or does any of his behavior betray the slightest hints of madness?
THE FOG MACHINE
“Nobody complains about all the fog… 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. He keeps trying to drag us out of the fog, out in the open where we’d be easy to get at.”
The fog machine is the first and in my opinion the most significant and metaphorically enriched of all of the hallucination of Chief Bromden. Whenever under medication or in fear the Chief imagines fog entering the room clouding his perception and working as a “safe place” where he can hide from the cruel reality that surrounds him. The Fog Machine is a way to put make up on reality and hide the imperfections, but don’t we all do that? Everyone has different ways to cope with loss and fear, some find it on religion, others in art, Chief Bromden hallucinates about Fog Machines.
Ignorance is bliss. Reality was too cruel and too much for the patients to handle therefore the fog clouded the characters vision. McMurphy arrived to clear the fog and bring a new vision to all of those in the hospital, awarding them with freedom and to some extent critical thinking.
The fog machine is also representative of the mind control Nurse Ratched had on her patients, they no longer had free will, they could no longer think for themselves. The dehumanizing process endorsed humiliation and took away the freedom to the point that those, that were in the hospital voluntarily, could no longer withdraw from the ward.
Absolutely. Great points Liz. I encourage you all to think about how Kesey uses symbols like the fog in combination with breaks in the structure of the text to represent such features of Bromden´s psyche. Check out the textual fragmentation on pages 112-116 for example. How does such a stylistic technique reinforce Liz´s interpretation?
The Origin of the Fog
As I read through the book I started thinking, about Bromden’s Fog, and what led to its appearance. At first I thought it was triggered when he felt strong feeling of pain or fear, that the fog was something natural, but then I thought: “the fog is a hallucination, fear and pain are causes of hallucination, but what else causes a person to have such strong hallucinations?” Then in my reading I stumbled upon this quote: “First time for a long, long time I’m in bed without taking the little red capsule (…) When you take one of these red pills you don’t just go to sleep; you’re paralyzed with sleep,”. Right after that he has a nightmare. Now let us take a step back. The fog is how he protects himself from the real world, from things that can scare him. When he doesn’t take the pill he has a nightmare, and nightmares are pretty scary. The fact that he did not take the pill, made him get out of the fog and into something else. This led me to think of the possibility that the fog is just the result of his medication combined with his lack of his sleep. Bromden even says that the Nurse runs the asylum at a strict schedule: “The Big Nurse is able to set the wall clock at whatever speed she wants by just turning one of those dials in the steel door; she takes a notion to hurry things up, she turns the speed up, and those hands whip around that disk like spokes in a wheel.” The nurse controls everything including the time they wake up and go to bed. They suffer from sleep deprivation, which is common among medicine student and they even experience extremely vivid hallucinations. In conclusion his hallucinations might be of clinical origin instead of an emotional one.
it is missing citation so here it is:
“First time for a long, long time I’m in bed without taking the little red capsule (…) When you take one of these red pills you don’t just go to sleep; you’re paralyzed with sleep,” (Kensey 27% - 1382)
“The Big Nurse is able to set the wall clock at whatever speed she wants by just turning one of those dials in the steel door; she takes a notion to hurry things up, she turns the speed up, and those hands whip around that disk like spokes in a wheel.” (Kensey pg. 70)
I would edit the top but i do not see any button for it.
Good points Tiago. The hallucinations may in fact have a more literal cause in the story, but don´t let that detract from the significance of their symbolism.
Response to Gaelle's Post:
I completely disagree with your view on the Big Nurse and how you defended that "Anyhow, we MUST keep in mind that it is Nurse Ratched’s duty and not pleasure to keep track that everything runs smoothly in the ward". After reading the book it is clear that Nurse Ratched is responsible for manipulating the patients in order to keep submissiveness. Her techniques are oppressive just like a "pecking party" as described by McMurphy in page 55. The Big Nurse's methods do not work, since it was her threats and accusations who also led to Billy's suicide. When you suggest that extreme measures should be taken to control the ward do you mean even over medicating and abusive treatments such as shocks? Doesn't that seem a little too much? What the ward needed was someone like McMurphy that could bring back the joy and sense of capability back to their lives. Don't these patients deserve dignity? Unlike Nurse Ratched, McMurphy was able to do much more to the ward. During the fishing trip they took that they all laughed and where interactive, McMurphy sparked much more progress than the Nurse had ever done. "I notice Harding is collapsed beside McMurphy and is laughing too. And Scanlon from the bottom of the boat. At their own selves as well as the rest of us. And the girl, with her eyes still smarting as she looks from her white breast to her red one, she starts laughing. And Selfelt and the doctor, and all" (Kesey 212). The freedom of laughter shown in this quote is something that the patients gained with McMurphy. This scenario is completely contrary to the ward in the beginning of the novel which was described by Chief as a place that: "nobody ever dares let loose and laugh, the whole staff'd be in with notebooks and a lot of questions" (Kesey 19).
Reply to Marina:
I never said that I personally agreed to the fact that harsh measures should be needed in order to keep a ward calm; however I do intend to claim the fact that a second perspective to the story is possible. The Nurse has been proved to be nefarious, malicious, and over manipulative, but let us not forget who the storyteller is? Chief Bromden. As much as his allegories can make sense to us, no one may prove that he is not insane. I say this with total confidence since Bromden has proved several times his fallacious and deceptive psyche: the imaginary fog, the exaggeration of sizes, his biased portrayal of Nurse Ratched due to his rancor towards her (and I believe he exaggerates her meanness due to that hatred too!) His mendacious and imaginary visions of machinery and wires everywhere around the ward are not logical.”What the Chronics are – or most of us – are machines with flaws inside that can’t be repaired, flaws born in, or flaws beat in over so many years of the guy running head-on into solid things that by the time the hospital found him he was bleeding rust in some vacant lot” (Kesey 19). Does it seem normal to you that someone bleeds rust? Well, this is just my point: you are not able to predict whether the narrator is being reliable or not. The same thing happens with the McMurphy story, is he really all that Bromden thinks he is? This novel is deliberately made for the reader to determine whether to believe the facts as true or false. It is our duty to choose the perspective we like to choose, instead of sympathizing with Bromden.
In “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” the mental hospital where the novel takes place can be thought of as an analogy to the society of the 1950’s and 60’s, thus a critique to the conformist society at that time. Such society would not acknowledge the liberal anti-conformist movement that had started breaking the taboos since the 1950’s with the outbreak of the beatnik movement.
In “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” the patients are being oppressed and undermined, being denied their freedoms and opinions, forced to conform due to their fear of Ratched. Nurse Ratched is representing the powerful and orthodox conformists that oppressed society, the patients the weak population that allowed themselves to be controled, and McMurphy the opinionated liberals that enlightened many people with their alternative way of viewing humanity as well as dealing with conformity.
I believe that Kesey, as a liberal himself, meant not only to criticize the conformist society but also ridicule it. When Kesey wrote the dialogue between Mr.Harding and McMurphy he meant to mock the conformists that voted for Einsenhower, an extremeley conformist president: “Mr. Bibbit, you might warn this Mr. Harding that I'm so crazy I admit to voting for Eisenhower.
Bibbit! You tell Mr. McMurphy I'm so crazy I voted for Eisenhower twice!
And you tell Mr. Harding right back — he puts both hands on the table and leans down, his voice getting low — that I'm so crazy I plan to vote for Eisenhower again this November.”
Therefore when Kesey wrote this book he meant to enlighten people to defy the status quo, criticize the true conformist, and mock society in general due to the extent of their submission.
Wow! That last sentence could almost be a thesis statement for an essay. Thank you for taking historical context into account.
What is crazy? 1.mentally deranged; demented; insane. 2. senseless; impractical; totally unsound: a crazy scheme. 3.Informal . intensely enthusiastic; passionately excited: crazy about baseball. (dictionary.com) But, is that really what crazy means? Aren’t we all a little bit crazy? After a great discussion in class I was able to ensemble a personal meaning for this word that can be used in so many different connotations and mean extremely different things. Crazy is the inability to control an emotion and live in consensus with society. We all have a little bit of crazy, and if we think twice it is not really that deep down. Human being are sensible, they live by emotion, even those that say they don’t, there is still something that will tick them off, make them cry or smile. Back to the topic, everybody has crazy, what gives another crazy the credit to judge? What gives him the conditions to lock someone up in the hospital? What makes him less crazy then the patient that just walked in?
I believe that for someone to be put in seclusion without his or her consent, the person needs to have proven to be a danger to himself and people around him. There are events that may trigger the crazy inside oneself, maybe going to war, loosing someone, being bullied in school etc. “What the Chronics are - or most of us - are machines with flaws inside that can't be repaired, flaws born in, or flaws beat in over so many years[…]”(Kessey, 19)It is essential to find the right treatment for the person, some maybe are too far gone and cannot be treated. However, the bad connotation of the word shouldn’t reflect on the way these patients are handled, it is wrong to dehumanize something so human, underneath the immensely explored stereotype and prejudice there is an individual that got lost along the way.
For sure! Thank you for posting these comments in response to class discussion. Interestingly enough, in the other class, this discussion veered into an attempt to identify more specific criteria for diagnosing someone as mentally insane. We discussed biology, brain chemistry, and Freud in an attempt to clarify the definition of "craziness." Unfortunately, as you might predict, there was quite a bit of discord over the topic.
Go BIG or Go Home
The outcome of events towards the end of the novel surprised me. McMurphy’s lobotomy alienated him and destroyed every cell of personality he had, turning him into some sort of “walking vegetable”. It was very disappointing to see such a determined and influential leader be lost, but it also forced his “followers” to step up and break from their oppressor (a.k.a Ratched). Also Chief’s decision to kill McMurphy was actually very nobel, for McMurphy would not have wanted to live this way, and even though he died he had accomplished his mission of saving these people from conformity and the mental and physical prison that was the hospital. It also showed what long way Chief had come since the beginning of the novel when all he did was hide and observed things from far away, pretending to be invisible, for now he was taking actions and liberating himself by running away and living his life.
As I thought about McMurphy’s death it came to mind the madness that the 60’s had become when leaders like MLK, and JFK where assassinated due to their power and ideologies. They were all leaders that impacted society and affected many people’s views. They meant change and that scared many traditionalist, just like McMurphy. When Ratched spiritually killed McMurphy his ideas and teachings still lived, because they were bigger than McMurphy himself just like MLK and JFK. Perhaps leaders that cause such controversy and destined to be murdered, but what people forget is that if they are that big they are probably not going to fade away for their followers eternalize them.
Therefore do you think that by ending the novel with McMurphy’s death Kesey was foreshadowing the madness and annihilation of leaders that was about to come, or was it pure coincidence?
Good question, but do you think Kesey meant to end the novel with such a negative outlook?
Asylum and Society
When I finished the book it made me think about how life in the asylum was really similar to real society and how it tried to repress anything that spoke against it. Then a though crossed my head: Doesn’t this situation sounds familiar? Like, who else stood up against tyrannical powers in order to express their beliefs? Several examples popped in my head, like Aristotle, and Galileo. In this quote by Bromden he shows how McMurphy would not give into the nurse’s tyranny, and he would continue to speak against her: “I tried to talk him into playing along with her so’s to get out of treatments, but he just laughed and told me Hell, all they was doin’ was chargin’ his battery for him, free for nothing.” (Kesey 88% - 4522) McMurphy would not submit, he stood up to the Nurse, like Aristotle stood by his knowledge, and when he was told to take back his word declined and was forced to kill himself. Like McMurphy he would rather die than submit. Galileo with his new found discovery was forced to back down, but before he did he still took a stand, and hid his documents so they could be later discovered. Many other examples appear in my mind, and this leads me to the conclusion that the book is a critic towards society and how it represses anybody that decides to think outside the box.
SOCIETY AND INDIVIDUAL
Kensey, the author, stated about the novel that “rather that society had pushed them out because they did not fit the conventional ideas of how people were supposed to act and behave” and explores this concept throught the novel. The individual is approved by the society until it disturbed another person or the system. Indeed the unexpected and surprising ending that the novel takes also makes the reader reflect more about the individual versus the acceptance in society as a whole. Since from the beginning of the novel we see the individual, McMurphy, goes against the laws of the system that were fully respected my society until he came along. He past the whole novel struggling and fighting with these rules of a small world which is the hospital but can also be expanded easily to the exterior world, since it was the purpose of the author. McMurphy used all his energy in search of a voice for that community inside the society, but he achieved something more important than that: confidence and hope. His actions are what destroyed him completely. The reason why he dies is because he sacrifices his life as an individual to save the life of the other patients due to his hope in that society and dream of the finding life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that was forgotten form the day they were interned there to the day McMurphy entered there life’s. The impact that his death has in society is probably larger than he could imagine. The great majority leave the ward in search of the so wanted freedom since they understand that McMurphy sacrificed his own life in order form them to give it a shot.
The plot of the novel turned around the main character McMurphy and it starts with his entrance in the asylum to the effects of his stay in that place and in the people that coexisted with him. His entrance in the asylum brought change and symbolizes rebellion and chaos, he openly defies rules and causes disturbances in the wards neatly planned out schedules and routines. McMurphy is trying to pull people out of the fog, “dragging them into the open” (Kesey 124). The fog symbolizes the fear and/or under medications, which is clearly considered part the machine’s duty to “fix” these people.
Though in the beginning Bromden is just a spectator to McMurphy’s schemes. Since he is only observing due to the fact he is pretending to be deaf he takes a while to start joining in the rebellion. Not taking the “little red capsule” (78) which keeps him from hallucinating could be considered Bromden’s first rebellious act against “the Combine”. Was the Chief correct in joining the rebellion? was it a personal choice or the community sort of force him to do so? As the story progresses and Bromden begins to rebel more and more, he feels as though the fog is being slowly lifted. The reason why that happens is because he generated courage and starts believing in himself. This results in the character talking again and his final act of escaping from the asylum.
“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” (Kessey, 114). At this point of the book, Chief Brodman implies one of the reasons why the patients are still in the ward. As previously mentioned in the book, most of the patients actually chose to be in the ward, and this is due to their necessity of being safe. By staying in it, they are kept in their comfort zone given that, as The Big Nurse says, “they were unable to adjust to society” and there is no interaction with the outside world. At the same time, McMurphy try to make up their minds, aiming to take them out of this situation and live a normal life. In this part of the book however, the narrator -as well as all the other patients- hadn’t still realized that confronting their problems with real-life experiences rather than therapies, results on an extraordinary progress on their treatment. His hallucination and the fact that Chief Bromden feels safe in it, can be therefore related to the ward as a whole, considering that it is used as a tool to comfort the situation of the patients.
One of the most intriguing questions in the book is certainly Chief Bromden’s supposed deafness, which is only clarified in the middle of the book. The reason why he was claimed deaf is more complex than we can imagine: “I remembered one thing: it wasn’t me that started acting deaf; it was people that started acting like I was too dumb to hear or see anything at all” (Kessey, 178). As we can see, it was the result of a trauma, that begun in his village, going on to the army and finally to the ward. If one considers his personality, the fact that people would refuse to listen to him because of his mental illness made him agree with being “invisible.” As he previously mentioned, this happened since high school, and he came to the conclusion that he would never be listened. This is not a self-steam problem, but being aware of who he represented to other people, and accepting it. This is clear when he mentioned his life in the army: “People first took to acting like I couldn’t hear or talk. In the army anybody with more stripes acted that way toward me. That was the way they figured you were supposed to act around someone looked like I did” (Kessey, 178). Even so, our hero comes and makes him –along with all the others- aware of his problems, which enabled him to open his mind and live with them more naturally.
McMurphy’s image has extreme importance related to what he represented to the ward. “He is not gonna let them twist him and manufacture him. And later, hiding in the latrine from the black boys, I’d take a look at my own self in the mirror and wonder how it was possible that anybody could manage such an enormous thing as being who he was” (Kessey, 140). As soon as he arrived, his roughness intimidated the patients, soon begun to dominate the ward, for example, when he rose above Harding’s control, as he said, “bull goose loony.” With the power in his hands, he was able to persuade them to do what he wanted, which by the end of the book is proved to be beneficial. Even though with time, the patients realized they could deal with him, his first impression was important to gain authority to put in practice his “therapy.” Not only during his arrival, but McMurphy had to maintain his position given that he was seen as an example of courage to all the patients. With that, he was much more proactive than any other patients in the ward, who were timid and fearful. More than what he was in fact, because of his considerable responsibility as a reference to the patients, he tried to maintain his power throughout all book, avoiding any failure that could make him inferior to The Combine.
Victor and Liz were discussing about who is the smartest of all and what defines that. For me, McMurphy is with no doubt the smartest of all. He had an objective and was able to achieve it in the end of the novel, even if this meant his destruction. McMurphy is a true hero and reminded me of people like Martin Luther King Jr., Joan of Arc, Gandhi and any Christian martyr.
The way he always knew what actions to take reflects his high ability of making plans and understanding how to deal with certain situations. Sometimes he was more aggressive, others he was calm and pacific, always getting the response he wanted. Do you think this was just luck or he actually knew what to do and when to do it?
His final action however, reminded me of an immature child. For the first time he decided to physically attack Nurse Ratched. This kept me thinking if he completely lost his mind and was lead by his rage or if this action was like all others, planned and thought over. McMurphy could`ve hurt the Big Nurse physically, but he decided to take out her uniform. Why? He needed to show what she was always hiding and what she considered her weakness. However, displaying her weakness made him lose his own strength, as shown in the following quote. “He gave a cry. At the last, falling, backward, his face appearing to us for a second upside down before he was smothered on the floor by a pile of white uniforms, he let himself cry out: A sound of cornered-animal fear and hate and surrender and defiance, that if you ever trailed coon or cougar or lynx is like the last sound the treed and shot and falling animal makes as the dogs get him, when he finally doesn`t care any more about anything but himself and his dying.” (Kesey 267)
There was a scene that really called my attention and I consider it my favorite. It was the moment that McMurphy showed the other patients they had power, they were capable of being respected and could even cause fear. This was the time when McMurphy exaggerated the conditions of the patients to the attendant in the gas station and consequently intimidated him.
"Never before did I realize that mental illness could have the aspect of power, power. Think of it: perhaps the more insane a man is, the more powerful he could become. Hitler an example. Fair makes the old brain reel, doesn't it? Food for thought there." (Kesey 202) Harding realized that insanity could come alongside with power and from this moment on the attitude and self-esteem of the patients changed completely. This reminded me of myself and served as a lesson for the reader. McMurphy made us realize that even our defects and flaws can be used to our own advantage.
McMurphy changed the lives of every single patient in the ward through his joyous laughter, brave protests and thoughtful lessons. However, this time was the strongest of all, for he actually made the men feel strength, something they thought existed only for the Big Nurse.
Why so serious?
In the book one of the most important moments is when Bromden realizes the importance of laughter. Laughter is one of those little things in life that helps make all the difference in tough situations. Chief Bromden even says: “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. He knows there’s a painful side; (…) but he won’t let the pain blot out the humor no more’n he’ll let the humor blot out the pain.” (Kesey 76% - 3905) The life of the patients in the asylum is a tough one and in this quote he finds something to help him deal with his life. But now that I had some time to think about the story, is laughter really a main symbol? I am beginning to think that maybe it is part of a bigger symbol: the little things. When faced with difficult times, the little things are those that might make all the difference, it might be something unusual to help get out of the routine like a fishing trip, or something small like a second room for games. Laughter is just another one of those small things that matter, but not the only one. Therefore I think laughter is a minor symbol when put in perspective of this bigger symbol.
Connecting - One Flew Over the Cuckoo`s Nest vs. Much Madness is divinest Sense
After working with this poem in class I was surprised to see how it fits perfectly as an epigraph for Ken Kesey`s novel. Emily Dickinson`s poem summarizes the main ideas that One Flew Over the Cuckoo`s Nest deals with. For Dickinson, “Much Madness is divinest Sense”, people who are considered crazy are the ones that are in fact sane. Kesey presents a similar idea, by showing that the patients in the ward start realizing they can live with society and that they are not crazy after all. McMurphy is perfectly represented in the poem in the verse “to a discerning eye”. He is the discerning eye, the critic observer that has the ability to see things the rest of the people can not. After arriving in the ward he makes the patients see what is hidden and what is actually happening between them and the nurse: “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 55)
The last verses of the poem are the ones that basically foreshadows what happens in the book. “Assent - and you are sane -Demur - you’re straightway dangerous - And handled with a chain”. McMurphy is the one who begins to demur and is consequently given special attention and considered a threat for the well being of the ward. Kesey and Dickinson try to explain that society molds people and to be considered sane you have to follow standards imposed.
"I was too young to be a beatnik, and too old to be a hippie," Kesey once said. Find out more about this counter-cultural Merry Prankster here!