One Flew over the Cuckoo Nest and a Raisin in the Sun

Comparative Essays

One Flew over the Cuckoo Nest and a Raisin in the Sun

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From the very beginning, countless men through the age of time have fought battles protected only by the driven pathos of rage.  A common question posed by most of the masses center around what motivates a person to do what is considered futile or totals folly?  The answer is the emotion that puts all self preservation second to the anger.

We examine two well know narratives that expose the human soul in conditions no conventional man would choose if given a choice.  In one case, Randle Patrick McMurphy, the main character in “One flew over the cuckoo’s nest” is a common manual laborer whose vocations have included being a gambler to a carnival barker.  F - One Flew over the Cuckoo Nest and a Raisin in the Sun introduction. Scott Fitzgerald said “Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.”  McMurphy, as a Korean War hero with a dishonorable discharge, assumes his rightful position in the hall of the fallen.  He was diagnosed as a psychotic while serving time at the Pendelton Prison Farm for running confidence schemes.  He is admitted to the mental ward.  Not really insane, he see’s the opportunity as a break in the work routine.

On the other hand, our tragic hero in Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” is Walter Lee Younger.  A man in his middle thirties, he is a husband, a father and son all under the same roof.  He is just another working class hero. Walter works as a chauffeur, however unlike the traditional tragedy of the poor; Walter has a burning desire to improve his lot. Walter sees himself as a man with dreams and a vision.

Hence this is the rub for both of our subjects.  The external forces that bring on the anger are apparently clear.  For McMurphy his personal anger is antagonized by the venomous Nurse Ratchet.  McMurphy’s vent is manifested in the ward by teaching the other patients to question the arbitrary rules issue by the “authority” in an oppressive manner.

Walter’s rage replaces happiness based on the discovery that his mother will receive a $10,000 check from his father’s life insurance.  The vice like grip of obsession of using the windfall to purchase a business venture is all consuming. He envisions financial independence and finally living like other men in the racially oppressive 1960’s. He is black, so the struggles that Walter Lee faces are many more than a white man in his same position.

In the case of McMurphy and Nurse Ratchet it is a power struggle.  During the World Series, McMurphy insisted on having it on the ward television set. When Nurse Ratchet denies permission, McMurphy defies her and turns the television on anyway. Her response is to shut off the electricity to the television. The anger in McMurphy ingeniously leads the ward of patients to remain seated and watch a blank screen.

The righteous and indignation of McMurpy’s is revered by the other patients and they slowly begin to learn the power of anger.

Empirically, “A Raisin in the Sun” is the best example of anger when a life long dream happens along and its dangle before one’s eyes.  Clearly, no psychological study has been rendered and this is merely conjecture.  However the viewer can witness the anger and agony that is directed to all and any of the characters that have a direct impact.  The anger so desperate to be a better provider for his growing family that Walters seeks to invest the entire sum in a liquor store.

“The insurance money acts as a catalyst, projecting the family into a situation that not only causes dramatic conflicts, but tests their individual characters. It is around this check that tension mounts and action swirls as the play progresses.”  (Maitino, 133) Almost as if implied in the title, the audience gets the sense that the constant beating of the sun has caused all hope to dry up only to intensify the anger.

McMurphy verbalizes his anger toward Nurse Ratchet by describing her as a “ball-cutter.” She is able to manipulate the male patients in the ward by enticing them to spy on each other.  Additionally, during group sessions she encourages them to publicly insult and verbally demean each other for therapy sessions weren’t about therapy at all, but an opportunity for Nurse Ratchet to manipulate and intimidate her patients into further submission.

Hand picked by Nurse Ratchet, the orderlies; Washington, Warren, and Geever, for their hostility and strength, enforced the rules of the ward mainly by threatening the patients.  Even for the audience, McMurphy’s anger is justified.  There is no viable treatment or therapy. The mentally ill being was warehoused instead of being treated. The nurses had no interest in helping only to control. Independent thoughts or feelings were punished.

To some degree, Walter has is own Nurse Ratchet in the form of the matriarch of his family.  His mother desperately tries to convince him to use part of the money as a down payment on a house in a white neighborhood instead of investing in a liquor store. The conflict with Walter escalates and causes her anger to soar.  However in the end, one of Walter prospective business partners runs off with the money, a loss which tests the spiritual and psychological fortitude of the family.

In essence, A Raisin in the Sun is a thought-provoking examination of any family in crisis and a character study of interaction of how meeting the simultaneous goals and needs of the individual and family is enormous.

“There is violence in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and death, but much of the violence causes no damage when damage should occur.” (Nastu, 48)   When McMurphy fails to support the patient Cheswick in his assertions that he should have access to his cigarettes, Cheswick commits suicide by drowning himself; combined with Bibbit cutting his own throat while waiting alone in Doctor Spivey’s office.  McMurphy’s anger explodes by attempting to strangle Nurse Ratchet however he fails, but rips open her uniform to expose her large breasts, revealing her sexuality, a fact she feels weakens her authority over the male patients.  Eventually McMurphy was lobotomized after attacking Nurse Ratchet.  The “anger” was absorbed by the tacit yet the ever watch full eye of Chief Bromden as he smothered McMuphy in his sleep and fled to freedom.

For men and their conditions, they only had one thing on their minds; to improve their lot and for those around them. Through their actions, whether success of failure, events things started to change once they introduced many variables and options.

Even through the anger, Walter and McMurpy wanted positive change and progress for the good of the family and his fellow inmates, respectively. They were both ambitious men in their own right.  Walter chose financial security and life long ambition that he could pass down to his children.  McMurphy envisioned dignity and honor that these men could live out their lives in the manner they held at one time and maybe again.

This ruling system appears in different forms and takes on a variety of manifestations. However the anger that rails against is the same, defiant and unyielding.

John R. Maitino, David R. Peck, Teaching American Ethnic Literatures: Nineteen Essays. Publisher: University of New Mexico Press. Place of Publication: Albuquerque. Publication Year: 1996. Page Number: 133.

Paul Nastu, Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Journal Title: The Explicator. Volume: 56. Issue: 1. Publication Year: 1997. Page Number: 48.


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