Rebellion in Fight Club and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest

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All societies have a basic structure, and in order to function well with others, a person must conform to the laws and regulations of said society. In the novels Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, a variety of themes are discussed, with the major theme being rebellion. The main characters of both these novels struggle with the established structure they are living in and are unwilling to conform to its rules. They both rebel by openly defying laws, and disobeying authoritative figures.

The novels’ main characters are furthermore comparable because they not only rebel but also guide others to do the same. The men whom they lead carry on their acts even after their guides have stopped, either on their own accord (in the case of Fight Club) or after they are stopped by an antagonist (as in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). In a comparison between the two novels, the ideas of a “system,” emasculation, monotony, and self-sacrifice showcase the central theme of rebellion.

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The narrator in Fight Club, along with Tyler Durden, creates a club where other men who also feel discontent with their lives experience a sense of freedom through fighting. “ …by exposing himself to the mortality of others…every moment of his life becomes more valuable” (Suglia par. 1). When he is still discontented, he sets out to destroy his boss and rebels by punching himself and receiving a settlement from his company; this enables him to have fight club seven days of the week. His company pays him to stay quiet, and he beats “the system. He also rebels by working for himself and making soap out of human fat that he steals from liposuction clinics. He sells fat back to the same ladies who get it taken out surgically and beats the system once more.

“Tyler and the narrator form a masculine unit that exists apart from the feminized support groups, which are populated by man-women such as Bob, an estrogen-saturated former weight lifter who sprouts what appear to be mammary glands…as well as Marla Singer who appropriates the narrator’s support groups and eventually unsettles their homosocial bond” (Suglia par. ). The main purpose of the fight club is to take back the men’s masculinity, which the capitalist world has diminished. This is the reason for the phallic imagery throughout the novel (Tyler inserts his penis into a dish of orange mousse, and while working as a projectionist he splices images of penises into family films). Almost all of the men who are unhappy and affected by the capitalist way of life are “blue collar” workers; thus Tyler and the narrator have allies infiltrated everywhere: The people you’re trying to step on, we’re everyone you depend on.

We’re the people who do your laundry and cook your food and serve your dinner. We make your bed. We guard you while you’re asleep. We drive the ambulances. We direct your call. We are cooks and taxi drivers and we know everything about you. We process your insurance claims and credit card charges. We control every part of your life (Palahniuk 166). In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Nurse Ratched, who dominates the ward in a tyrannical manner, represents the “system. ” “The hospital is a place, essentially, for the rejects of a matriarchal, increasingly technocratic and fanatically collective society” (Sassoon par. ). Chief Bromden calls the institution “The Combine” which represses everyone’s individuality (Fick). “McMurphy teaches the inmates of the insane asylum to create their own truths and identities. He teaches them to replace an imposed identity with an imagined identity of their own creation” (Fick par. 2). The group therapy sessions that the patients undergo work towards eliminating all secrets and thus completely eradicating the men’s individuality. This especially affects Harding, who is already the least confident of the group.

The discussions they have blur personal boundaries and leave one vulnerable to assimilation by the Combine (Fick). When they go on the fishing trip, McMurphy teaches the patients how to profit from their insanity, something they had always regarded as a weakness. When the two station attendants try to exploit the men, McMurphy helps them gain the upper hand by posing as criminally insane (Fick). Even though the patients “become men”, adult sexuality is conspicuously absent from the novel. It is mainly the men’s cause to “remain boys on their own terms” (Fick par. ). McMurphy’s women are boys’ companions. Candy and Sandy are good bad girls. “McMurphy’s sexuality complements a personal consistency that obliterates the distinction between past and present. Returning from the fishing trip, for example, he stops by his childhood house and tells the men of his own sexual initiation” (Fick par. 9).

The rebellion in both novels is also caused by a sense of monotony. The narrator in Fight Club is discontent with his lackluster life; he is so into his material possessions that he creates an alter ego who destroys them all. I hated my life. I was tired and bored with my job and my furniture, and I couldn’t see any way to change things” (Palahniuk 172). It is only after he gets rid of everything and stops leading a consumerist lifestyle that he is finally free. The tedium in the ward drives McMurphy to rebel, much like the narrator in Fight Club. He feels bored with everyday life and with following the rules; he wants more. The theme that raises questions in both novels is insanity; Tyler Durden is the narrator’s alter ego and McMurphy is in a psychiatric ward.

It is possible that humans live in a monotonous trance and the ones who rebel are labeled as “crazy”. Society shuns the individuals who have their own thoughts and opinions, and labels them as insane when they refuse to conform so as not to disturb the order of things. In “Themes and Construction”, the author questions whether it is a psychiatrist’s job to make people conform to a life they do not like, or to instead encourage them to be true to themselves. “…Kesey questions his society’s definition of sanity, which seem to ask all people to conform to the same standards of behavior” (“Themes and Construction” par. ). Self-sacrifice is also a prevalent idea in both of the books. The narrator of Fight Club sacrifices himself at first by giving up all of his possessions and moving into the dilapidated house with Tyler. Nearing the end of the book, he tries to stop Tyler Durden (to prevent any more deaths caused by Project Mayhem) and shoots himself in the attempt.

McMurphy frees his fellow patients through self-sacrifice. The repeating images of crosses and crucifixion throughout the novel reinforce this theme (Fick par. ). Objects such as the cross-shaped table where patients receive electroshock therapy, or the image of the cross in the Chief’s description of how Sefelt lies while he has the epileptic seizure ‘His hands are nailed out to each side with the palms up and the fingers jerking open and shut, just the way I’ve watched men jerk at the Shock Shop strapped to the crossed table, smoke curling out of their palms from the current’ portray the theme of self-sacrifice (“Themes and Construction” par. 4).

At the end of the novel McMurphy does the ultimate self-sacrifice and takes punishment (in the form of near-death) for his actions. When the nurse performs the lobotomy on him, he falls into a vegetative state. Chief Broom puts him out of his misery by smothering him with a pillow. McMurphy is destroyed not by the “Combine” but by the united needs of the inmates. “McMurphy’s death is a direct consequence of his successful efforts to establish a community of men, a success demanding forms of personal commitment in conflict with his essentially public nature” (Fick par. 15).

According to Fick, when Nurse Ratched tells him that he is committed and cannot voluntarily leave the institution like most of the other patients can, McMurphy stops rebelling temporarily and falls under the Nurse’s authority. Soon after, however, he realizes that his commitment to the other inmates is more important than his own freedom, and acts as their leader. In the novels Fight Club and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, various themes and ideas are shared. The rebellion of society and its rules is central to both the books, yet the way the main characters express their rebellion differs.

In Fight Club, Tyler Durden attempts to strip his “space monkeys” of all individuality. In contrast, McMurphy rebels against the asylum’s rules by encouraging his fellow inmates to be individuals and regain their identities. Both of the main characters rebel because they are sick of the monotony in their lives; the narrator in Fight Club works a job he hates so he can buy Swedish furniture, drive a nice car, and have other things he does not need. He becomes tired of being perfect and creates an alter ego who is free in all the ways he is not.

McMurphy is not content with following Nurse Ratched’s rules, which greatly limit him from living his life as usual. He also does not like the schedule and having to do the same things at the same time everyday. Insanity is also talked about in the novel, and questions about what criteria define a person as insane are discussed. Lastly, self-sacrifice is seen throughout the two novels, supported by images of crucifixion in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Rebellion against society and unwillingness to conform are the themes that mostly shape the stories’ plots.

The narrator of Fight Club and McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest can be seen as Christ figures towards the end of the novels because they both sacrifice themselves for others. The narrator shoots himself (while also shooting Tyler) so that lives could be saved and mischief could be stopped. McMurphy dies while simultaneously liberating the other patients. The authors make the reader wonder if the main characters were truly insane or simply not willing to conform to society’s set rules. Should people be considered crazy when they refuse to behave the way others expect them to?

Works Cited

Fick, Thomas H. “The Hipster, the Hero, and the Psychic Frontier in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. ” DISCovering Authors. Online ed. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Student Resource Center – Gold. Gale. Monsignor Edward Pace High School. 19 Nov. 2009 . Kesey, Ken. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. New York: Penguin Books, 2003. Sassoon, R. L. “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. ” DISCovering Authors. Online ed.

Detroit: Gale, 2003. Student Resource Center – Gold. Gale. Monsignor Edward Pace High School. 19 Nov. 2009 . Palahniuk, Chuck. Fight Club. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005. Suglia, Joseph. “Fight Club. ” Facts on File Companion to the American Novel. New York: Facts On File, Inc. , 2006. Bloom’s Literary Reference Online. 19 Nov. 2009. . “Themes and Construction: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. ” EXPLORING Novels. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Student Resource Center – Gold. Gale. Monsignor Edward Pace High School. 19 Nov. 2009 .

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Rebellion in Fight Club and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. (2017, Jan 24). Retrieved from

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