Analytical Essay – One flew over the Cuckoo’s nest. Ken Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a creation of the socio-cultural context of his time. Social and cultural values, attitudes and beliefs informed his invited reading of his text. Ken Kesey was a part of The Beat generation and many of their ideologies and the socio cultural context of U. S post WWII were evident through characters and various discourses throughout One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, giving us his invited reading.
Ken Kesey is against conformity and societies oppressive rules under Eisenhower and he illustrates this by creating a character that is in constant conflict with Nurse Ratched and the Rules of the ward. In One Flew over the Cuckoo’s nest, Ken Kesey uses McMurphy the protagonist as a symbol of freedom and individuality. He constantly shows McMurphy refusing to conform to oppressive dominant ideals of the time within the microcosm world of the mental asylum and through religious discourses in the book; Ken Kesey portrays McMurphy as a Christ like figure.
Ken Kesey had a Christian upbringing and works with biblical inferences such as the fishing trip with McMurphy and 12 patients, which was an example of Jesus and his 12 disciples at the last supper. McMurphy challenges the rules from the time he arrives, from upsetting the supposedly democratic procedure of group therapy meetings to brushing his teeth out of the scheduled time. He tries to bring upon humanitarianism to the ward patients and believes everyone has a right to their own decisions which is juxtapose to The Beat’s ideologies.
Although the consequences of individuality were much greater than conformity in the ward, patients began to stand up for their rights and tension had released within the ward as patients began to move around more frequently and the sound of laughter steadily increased throughout the novel showing the freedom McMurphy had created amongst the patients. Post WWII saw the rise of conformity among people and those who opposed it were looked upon with suspicion.
The Many of these people were wrongly institutionalized and Ken Kesey’s shows a number of characters in the novel that showed personalities that were frowned upon during his time. Characters like Billy Bibbit, who is too timid, with a speech impediment and Harding who is a closet homosexual and was less avert in sexuality were seen as having mental problems, and were committed to the asylum. McMurphy demonstrated the treating of these patients like normal people, helped them to become more in line with society then Nurse Ratched’s rules and group therapy meetings, or pecking party as Chief Bromden would call it.
Chief Bromden was a Native American and wasn’t insane until he was institutionalized and withdrew himself from everyone else pretending he was deaf and dumb to protect himself. Ken Kesey’s message here with Chief Bromdens silence, was to portray the natives of the time having no voice in the country and to show the controlling and manipulative manner of Nurse Ratched that emasculated and de-socialised these grown men. Mechanical discourses were evident in Nurse Ratched and throughout the entire book from the very start as we see Chief Bromden explaining Nurse Ratched’s image in mechanical terms he quotes. I see her fingers trail across the polished steel – tip of each finger the same colour as her lips”. “Funny orange”. “Like the tip of a soldering iron. Colour so hot or so cold if she touches you with it you can’t tell which”. (pg 9). The mechanical discourse relates to the governments conformity of U. S during 1960’s and Ken Kesey give us the invited reading of the ward as a microcosm of the wider society. Or as Chief Bromden puts it, “the ward is a factory for the Combine”. (pg 36).
According to Chief Bromden the Combine is dehumanizing and homogenizing people or as he quotes in the novel, “each person is a functioning, adjusted, component”. (pg 40). McMurphy builds Chief Bromden’s strength throughout the novel and by the end of the novel Chief Bromden embraces freedom; ideals by the beats and breaks free of the ward overcome the mechanical discourses by lifting the control panel sealed to the ground and throwing it through the window, escaping in to darkness.
Ken Kesey gives us an insight of the socio cultural attitudes and beliefs of his time with the mechanical discourses which represented the governments oppressive and mechanical like ways, doing the same thing, the same way, a behaviour that never changes an action that recurs over and over again. Ken Kesey’s anti-conformist beliefs and individuality, invited us as readers to align with his own world view therefore challenging the relevant discourses of that time.