Compare the Ways Plath and Kesey Present Psychological Disorders and ‘Minds Under Stress’ in the Bell Jar and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest?

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‘One flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and ‘The Bell Jar’ can be linked considerably. Both the novels in question are products of the author’s own experiences and the specific culture in which they were written. They both draw upon similar events throughout, yet the philosophy and reason behind them is often significantly contrasting. However, it cannot be argued that their presentation of psychological disorder and the pressure that it forces on the mind are intrinsically linked due to the circumstances in which they take place.

One of the most patent presentations of minds under stress is reflected in the way that Plath and Kesey portray a gender dominated society. Both novels display a governing gender that suppresses the other, labelling them ‘mad’ in a society that they rule. In ‘One Flew Over…’ most of the patient’s lives have been heavily affected and destroyed by women. Nurse Ratched is the most obvious example of this, and rules the ward with “an iron fist”. She represents the emasculation and dehumanisation of society. Her oppressive and matriarchal nature is reinforced by her nickname, ‘Big Nurse’, a possible reference to the Orwellian character ‘Big Brother’, with whom she shares many traits. ‘The Bell Jar’ shares this theme, although it is a patriarchal rather than matriarchal society that Esther inhabits. However, unlike ‘One Flew Over…’ Plath’s novel does not contain a main antagonist such as Ratched, and it is a combination of characters that inflict a domineering environment upon Esther. One such character is Buddy Willard. Like Ratched, he represents on the surface a near perfect stereotype; the ideal 1950s American male. Esther even remarks that he was the “most wonderful boy I’d ever seen” However, once Esther delves deeper into his persona she discovers that, akin to Ratched, he has fundamental flaws that taint his wholesome image. His constant need for order and plan bores Esther, much like Ratched frustrates the patients in ‘One Flew Over…’ His patriarchal nature also surfaces when he states that poems are like “dust” and that her passion will waver once she becomes a “mother”. Interestingly, the patriarchal society that Esther lives in also includes women further up the line that have unknowingly been sucked into the social order. These include Mrs. Willard, who has embraced the role of ‘home maker’ and encourages Esther to follow suit. Esther’s own mother, Mrs. Greenwood, sends her an article highlighting the importance of keeping her virginity. She convinces Esther to attempt to study shorthand, in the hope that she’d commit to the social hierarchy and become a secretary or typist. Esther states that she “couldn’t stand the idea of being either one”, emphasizing her distaste for the patriarchal world that she lives in. Even seemingly powerful women like Jay Cee succumb to societal pressure and expect Esther to start a family or settle down. This is also demonstrated when a female lawyer, a powerful position regardless of gender, states that women had to be “pure” for their husbands, but emanates clear double standards when discussing men. A man’s emotions and needs are “different” from a woman’s in the novel appropriate to the roles which society has placed them in. This idea of sleepwalking into a one-gender world is also apparent in ‘One Flew Over…’ albeit with Nurse Ratched delegating her duties to her aides, the black boys. Hand picked by her, they “perform her bidding before she even thinks it”, and have submitted to her will easily. Dr. Spivey, the spineless ward doctor, is another example in Kesey’s novel that follows this trend, as even he is “careful not to let himself come right out and laugh”. Other women within ‘One Flew Over…’ also represent a repressive society, such as Billy Bibbit’s mother. Ratched provokes and terrifies Bibbit with warnings “Mrs Bibbits always been so proud of your discretion. This is going to disturb her terribly”. The fear that Billy shows after hearing this...
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