Symbolism in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest

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The critically acclaimed novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest”, written by Ken Kesey, takes place in an Oregon mental institution. The narrator in the story is Chief Bromden, who is of Native American Indian and white descent. He is a paranoid schizophrenic, and pretends to be a mute on the ward as to draw less attraction to himself. The other patients on the ward describe him as being “deaf and dumb”. When the new patient McMurphy arrives on the ward Chief’s world is turned upside down in more ways than he can imagine, and within this stranger he finds friendship and most of all – himself. In the novel Ken Kesey uses a lot of important religious as well as size and power imagery to show the struggles McMurphy has in helping the other patients find themselves and the lack of personal strength in Chief’s world. He also uses the image of the Combine to show how Chief realises there is a system which tries to encourages full conformity within his society.

A lot of the imagery in this novel is religiously based. For example Ellis, one of the Chronic patients on the ward, stands “crucified” to the wall. His position mimics the shape of the table in the Shock Shop, where patients are given Electro-Shock Therapy to help them with their mental recovery. Both Ellis in his position on the wall, and the patients on the Shock Shop table are strapped with arms outspread, just like how Christ was nailed to the cross. When McMurphy and the Chief are taken to the Disturbed ward they meet a patient who says to them “I wash my hands of the whole deal”, which brings to mind Pontius Pilate who washed his hands of Christs crucifixion. In the novel Kesey makes illusions to McMurphy being a Christ-like figure, and the references to him holding this position increase in intensity and number as McMurphy’s martyrdom becomes imminent. A good example of this is when McMurphy takes some of the other patients on the ward on a fishing expedition. The patients attending the trip are...
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