Ken Kesey's use of symbolism in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest transforms the novel and the hospital within the novel a microcosm of society, a battle between the sane and insane, the conformist and the non-conformist. Randle McMurphy's arrival influenced the lives of almost every person, whether patient or employee. Whether or not his motives and actions were moral or good-hearted is difficult to conclude, however. On one hand, he undoubtedly saved the patients from losing their souls, so to speak, to Nurse Ratched and her ward. Without him, they would not have been able to stand up for themselves or grow a sense of self-appreciation and competence. On the other hand, there was a price to pay for these freedoms. McMurphy's and Billy Bibbit's deaths showed just how much control The Big Nurse had on her patients. The role each character plays in this showdown symbolizes the realistic confrontations between the mentally unstable and the rest of society that has been going on for centuries.
Randle Patrick McMurphy is a powerful, intelligent man, a true non-conformist. He comes to the mental institution to avoid the tedious work forced upon him at the prison he was assigned to. His playful, jolly attitude towards the patients surprises them since they have not seen such contention since they came to the ward. It is obvious from the beginning of the novel as to McMurphy's most superficial motives. He is a con man, constantly making bets with naïve, mentally ill men. The fact that he never tries to outsmart or cheat them, however, makes him respected and admired by the patients. McMurphy's tattoo, a poker hand with ace's and eight's, the "dead man's hand", symbolizes both his obsession with gambling and his eventual death. Despite his consistent attempts to make a profit, McMurphy's main concern is the welfare of his new friends in the hospital. He sees how they can no longer think for themselves or demand their civil rights. Even beyond that,...
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