March 24, 2010
Randle Patrick McMurphy, a Tragedy from the Beginning
Would you ever accept a leadership role to a group of beat down patients at a mental institution knowing the consequence would be death? Randle Patrick McMurphy does just that. McMurphy, a con man who seeks institutionalization, becomes a role model for the inmates at a hospital. These male patients are lifeless human beings who fear the institution and its ruler, Big Nurse Ratched. Nurse Ratched runs the ward like an army prison camp with harsh and motorized precision. Nurse Ratched controls the inmates in every way possible, and they have no freedom. When McMurphy comes along, the inmates realize he is their rescuer, and he fights their battle against society and Nurse, Ratched’s control for them. In Ken Kesey’s, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Randle Patrick McMurphy portrays the elements of a tragic hero by revolutionizing the hospital ward, accepting a leadership role to the inmates, and eventually falling to his demise.
Randle McMurphy revolutionizes the ward and begins his rise to power performing the first step of a tragic hero. A tragic hero embodies nobility and virtue within himself and occupies a high status position. McMurphy begins this march to fame as soon as he sets foot in the hospital. He avoids the black boys so he can avoid being hit with a rectal thermometer, which must be given to any new admissions. His initials RPM give substantial meaning to his actions. Richard Blessing outlines this when he says, “he is a personification of motion, energy, and change” (140). He creates a big nuisance throughout the ward with his gambling, singing, laughing, and constant movement. McMurphy runs away from the rules and regulations of Nurse Ratched. He captivates the inmates with his actions and individuality, and this becomes the basis of his success. McMurphy does not understand the system as the inmates do, and thus, the rise to greatness is made easier for him because the inmates lead lives of fear. McMurphy has one major goal,” he teaches the inmates to be same” (Goodwin, 3). This is shown with his actions throughout his time in the ward. Within the first week, McMurphy establishes his dominance when he bets the inmates he can make Nurse Ratched lose her temper in one week and he succeeds. McMurphy leads by example, but the inmates are reluctant to follow his lead because they fear Nurse Ratched. With his physical and mental movement within the ward, he proves the individual can succeed in the type of confinement of the institution. He motivates the inmates to change their appearance as “rabbits” (Kesey 62) and become human beings. The change in the inmates is apparent when the group votes to watch the World Series instead of doing chores. The inmates’ defiance against Nurse Ratched gives reason to believe they are following McMurphy’s footsteps. This proves he is rising to fame like a true tragic hero. The inmates respect and honor for McMurphy increases and he develops into a leader to the patients and takes on the battle against the institution. By revolutionizing the ward, McMurphy makes himself stand out from the inmates and his march to greatness establishes that he is taking the first step of a tragic hero.
As McMurphy becomes more than a leader to the inmates, he becomes an idol, a Jesus Christ-like figure and thus, McMurphy completes his rise to greatness portraying a part of a tragic hero. He transforms the inmates for the better using one tool. Jerome Klinkowitz explains it well when he says, “Laughter is his greatest weapon” (125). By laughing, McMurphy emphasizes the fact the inmates can succeed and will succeed by being individuals and not pawns of Nurse Ratched. She outlaws laughing in the ward and with each laugh, the inmates become for individualistic and less controlled. As he laughs and encourages the other inmates to laugh, McMurphy brings energy into the...