Imagery in One Flew Over the Cuckoo s Nest

Topics: Psychiatric hospital, Mental disorder, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Pages: 8 (2828 words) Published: April 17, 2015
The Image of Insanity
In a world of technology and cities of massive population, in which strangers abound and close relationships are limited, society itself appears to be one large, emotionless machine, chugging along with no care whatsoever for the individuals that make up the huge entity. A proponent of rebellion against conformity himself, Ken Kesey expresses his views on the dehumanization of society in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest through vivid imagery. More than a novel about the struggles of the individual characters or a representation of the dilemma of insane versus sane, One Flew is a statement about the cause of insanity. Through the imagery in Chief Bromden’s narration, Kesey reveals that the dehumanization and conformity of society is the true cause of insanity.

The patients of the mental hospital are constantly seen as an entity separate from the rest of society. The ward is isolated, and initially the only mention of the “outside” world is in a figurative sense. The Public Relation man and the women who he takes on tours of the hospital and the entrance of Big Nurse from the outside both reveal that the world continues moving outside, but Chief can’t see out the windows for the first half of the novel. Because Nurse Ratched must unlock the door to enter, it gives the ward a further feeling of separation from the rest of society. This distinct difference marks the reason that these men are in the ward to begin with: they do not fit in to their roles in society. As Harding says to McMurphy at one point, “All of us in here are rabbits of varying ages and degrees, hippity-hopping through our Walt Disney world. Oh, don’t misunderstand me, we’re not in here because we’re rabbits…we’re all here because we can’t adjust to our rabbithood” (Kesey 61). Here Harding is revealing both the separation between the ward and the rest of the world, and that the reason the patients are in the ward to begin with is that they can’t integrate with society properly. A common vein of Kesey’s works is the “alienated and nonconformist individuals, who attempt…to overcome their limitations and to retain their sanity” (“Ken Kesey”). In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the nonconformists are already labeled “insane” and are struggling to find a place and retain some sense of individuality while the “Combine” attempts to turn them into effective parts of society. Nurse Ratched is the face of the Combine in this endeavor, a “perfect representative of a standardized, conformist, correct outside world, whose elemental desire is to protect itself against non-conformity or incorrectness…” (Waldmeir). In this strictly regimented world of the ward the “nonconformist” patients have already given up for the most part, and the only thing preventing them from becoming just another part of society is their own personalities, which are seemingly out of control. Into this attempt to make the patients fit into conventional society, where Ratched is trying to build “…a little world Inside that is a made-to-scale prototype of the big world Outside” (Kesey 48-49), steps McMurphy, the embodiment of individuality and nonconformity.

McMurphy is the architect of the patients’ rebellion against Big Nurse Ratched and the obedient and unquestioning society she represents. He begins the fight against Big Nurse’s mechanized world. McMurphy represents individuality and self-reliance. He is the wild-west good guy who is a figure of the untamed natural world itself (Klinkowitz 124-125). In contrast, the Combine and society are dehumanized, described in very mechanical terms. The term Combine itself implies the mechanical nature. The unification of society as one, the combining every person into one mass, without any identification of the individual, and also a combine, or a harvester, a machine that gathers crops, or in this case, people. According to Bromden, “the bastards who work for the Combine…slip one of their machines in on you…” (Kesey 12). He also...

Cited: “Historical Context: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” EXPLORING Novels. Online ed. Detroit: Gale,
“Ken Kesey.” Gale Contextual Encyclopedia of American Literature, Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale, 2009. 878-881.
Kesey, Ken. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. New York: Signet, 1962. Print.
Ed. Lawrence Kappel. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2000. Print.
Ed. Lawrence Kappel. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2000. Print.
Tanner, Stephen L. Ken Kesey. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1983. Print.
Detroit: Gale, 2003. Student Resource Center-Gold. Web. 6 February 2010.
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