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The Catcher in the Cuckoo's Nest

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Kesey’s renowned novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, is a tale of self actualization under manipulation and deceit of institutions and repression. Though the novel may be original in it’s setting and characters, the origin of the plot is one as old as time. Many parallels can be drawn from Kesey’s piece to others such as Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the Christian Bible, and, perhaps most notably, Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. The themes and central topics of both Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest bear an uncanny resemblance, however, different conclusions may be ultimately drawn. Both Kesey and Salinger address the topics of undiscovered and repressed sexuality, self-realization, clothing as symbols, insanity, unreliable narration, and the role of women; however, Kesey leads to a pushback against leadership and repression, while Salinger focuses on the loss of innocence and superficiality of society.
It is implied throughout One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest that a healthy expression of sexuality is a key component of sanity, with repression of sexuality leading directly to insanity. Most of the patients in the ward have warped sexual identities due to former and current damaging relationships with women and the perverted sexual expressions said to take place in the ward. Add to that the emasculating power of Nurse Ratched, and the ward is left with, “comical little creatures who can’t even achieve masculinity in the rabbit world” (Kesey 67). Holden is as confused about his sexuality as the patients because, like the patients, he is also subjected to encounters of the perverted nature exemplified by his visit to Mr. Antolini, who Holden awakes to find stroking his hair, perhaps overstepping a boundary in his display of concern and affection. Missing from the halls of the mental hospital and the pages of Holden’s bildungsroman are healthy, natural expressions of sexuality between two people. McMurphy provides a foil to this with bold declarations of his sexuality, which clash with the sterile and sexless ward that Nurse Ratched tries to maintain.
In both novels the characters have a need to expel their pent up sexual frustrations, Kesey feels that the patients need to openly express this through sexual relations, while Salinger shows Holden in over his head when all he desires is human affection. In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, most of the male patients have been damaged by relationships with overpowering women. Bromden’s mother is portrayed as a castrating woman; her husband took her last name, and she turned a big, strong chief into a small, weak alcoholic. She built herself up emotionally by constantly putting them down the Chief and his father. Similarly, Billy Bibbit’s mother treats him like an infant and does not allow him to develop sexually. Through sex with Candy, Billy briefly regains his confidence; thus, his manhood returns until Ratched robs it by threatening to tell his mother, compelling him to commit suicide. Sunny is supposed to be the first girl Holden ever has sex with, but Holden realizes that’s not what he wants. Part of the reason Holden hesitates to have sex with this girl is because Holden sees Sunny as a person, not as a prostitute, it 's difficult for him to treat her like a whore. Both novels present characters and ideas that encourage personal growth and self discovery.
The patients in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Holden are in need of self actualization and guidance as, in the patients’ case, have been repressed for too long, or in Holden’s case, are first stepping into the adult world. The ward receives a guiding light by way of McMurphy, whose refusal to conform to society mirrors his refusal to desexualize himself, and the sexuality exuding from his personality is like a dress waving in the wind like a flag. Meanwhile, Salinger’s Holden spends his novel trying to find his place in society while trying to maintain his individuality as shown through his red hunting hat and seeks unaccommodating advice from elders such as Mr. Spencer. McMurphy attempts to cure Billy Bibbit of his stutter via liberating his repentant sexuality by arranging for him to lose his virginity with Candy. Instead, Billy is shamed into suicide and McMurphy is forced to resort to sexual violence by ripping open Ratched’s uniform. This concept is changed in The Catcher in the Rye, where Holden is perhaps the first person in history to pay a prostitute not to have sex with him. Rather, Holden desires an emotional connection, one founded on understanding; but he believes the adult world is about sexual relations and has been thinking about sex constantly since leaving Pencey. However, Holden is also half the age of the men in the insanity ward, but both novels show that a central idea of the plot is derived from morphed ideas of sexuality and its implications.
In both novels, apparel represents the work’s prime characters as well as a symbol of the novel’s central plot. A literature major gave McMurphy his boxer shorts which are black with a pattern of white whales, which are highly symbolic. The white whales bring to mind Moby-Dick, often regarded to be a phallic symbol, obviously suggesting McMurphy’s unabashed sexuality. However, the metaphor can be taken further to insinuate that McMurphy is to Ratched as Moby-Dick is to Ahab, as Moby-Dick also represents the omnipresent evil that inspires Ahab’s obsessive pursuit. Also, Melville’s Moby-Dick is associated with God, which resonates with McMurphy’s role as a Christ figure. In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden’s red hunting hat is inseparable from the reader’s image of Holden, as it’s a symbol of his uniqueness and individuality. The hat is peculiar, showing Holden’s desire to be different from everyone around him. At the same time, he is very self-conscious about the hat, always mentioning when he is wearing it, and he often doesn’t wear it around people he knows. The presence of the hat, therefore, mirrors the central conflict in the book: Holden’s need for isolation versus his need for companionship.
The theme of insanity is central among both pieces as Kesey’s work takes place in a mental ward and Salinger’s Holden’s sanity is questionable throughout the novel. Although most of the characters in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest are considered mentally ill, Kesey suggests that there’s a thin line between what is "normal" and what is "abnormal", and much of this difference consists of fear. As Harding suggests, he could live in the outside world if only he had the guts. He doesn’t have the guts, so he finds safety in being institutionalized and considered "crazy." Holden’s story ends with the reader to understand that Holden is writing of his troubles under instruction of a psychoanalyst in a tuberculosis care facility. The parallels of madness across novels show that the question of mental stability - or instability - remains central to the story line.
In both novels, main characters describe to the reader the world the way they see it, Bromden and Holden can be highly insightful narrators, as they are very aware of the behaviors and actions of those around him. Bromden describes people by their true size, not merely their physical size, which implies that when people allow others, such as governments and institutions, to define their worth, they can end up far from their natural state. Nurse Ratched’s true size is “big as a tractor,” because she is powerful and unstoppable. (Kesey 5) Bromden, though he is six feet seven inches tall, feels as though he is much smaller and weaker, telling McMurphy, “I used to be big, but not no more.” (Kesey 187) Bromden describes McMurphy as being “broad as Papa was tall”, showing his instant adoration and foreshadowing his future familiarity with McMurphy. (Kesey 43) With McMurphy’s help, Bromden is gradually sees himself return to full size as he regains his self-esteem, sexuality, and individuality. “Phoniness” is Holden’s catch-all for describing the superficiality, hypocrisy, pretension, and shallowness that he encounters in the world around him. Holden explains that adults are inevitably phonies, and, what’s worse, they can’t see their own phoniness. For Holden, phoniness is an emblem of everything that’s wrong in the world around him and provides an excuse for him to withdraw into his cynical isolation. Throughout the novel he encounters many characters who do seem superficial, such as Sally Hayes, Maurice and Sunny, and even Mr. Spencer. But while Chief Bromden saw his own size while, Holden never directly observes his own phoniness. He’d like us to believe that he is an archetype of virtue in a world of phoniness, but that too, is flawed logic. He’d like to think that the world is black and white, with virtue and innocence on one side of the fence, and superficiality and phoniness on the other, but Holden is his own counterevidence.
In both Salinger’s and Kesey’s novels the role of women and masculinity is a point of self-discovery and criticisms of society as a whole. The women in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest are intimidating and terrorizing figures - with the exception of prostitutes – with both Bromden and McMurphy describing the suffering of the mental patients as a matter of emasculation or castration at the hands of Nurse Ratched. The fear of women is one of the novel’s most central features, and the male characters seem to agree with Harding, who complains, “We are victims of a matriarchy here.”(Kesey 59) In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden can 't imagine getting too sexy with a girl he has genuine emotion for; Jane Gallagher being a prime example. Jane has been the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather and Holden 's history of possible sexual abuse are rationale for their stunted sexual relationship. But this doesn 't inhibit their emotional relationship at all; Holden remembers personal, revealing details. He doesn 't focus on the physical, but rather cares about Jane as a person. Through Jane, Salinger wants society to realize that everyone is human and therefore flawed. This is viewed in a different light in Kesey’s piece where “the men who repress their sexuality, and consequently their innate masculinity are psychologically castrated, whereas the rest are sacrificed.” (Meloy)
Both novels use females to present an idea; in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, reinforcing Kesey’s idea of emasculation by The Big Nurse represents sexual repression, while Pheobe in The Catcher in the Rye brings to light the complexity of the world and foils Holden’s thoughts about innocence. When Rawler commits suicide by cutting off his own testicles, Bromden remarks that “all the guy had to do was wait,” implying that the institution itself would have castrated him. (Kesey 71) Finally, near the end of the novel, after McMurphy has already received three shock treatments which seemed to have no effect, Nurse Ratched suggests taking more drastic measures with “an operation.” She means a lobotomy, but McMurphy beats her to the punch with a joke about castration. Both operations remove a man’s individuality, freedom, and ability for sexual expression, and McMurphy sees both operations as symbolically the same. Holden holds his sister Phoebe on a pedestal, implying that she is the only noble character in a world of superficial and phony adults. Phoebe is six years Holden’s younger, but she is more mature than he because she understands that growing up is a necessary process – something that Billy Bibbit’s mother and Nurse Ratchet would like to eradicate. Phoebe represents innocence in Holden’s mind, a place where he wants to stay, as opposed to the cruel world of shallow adult hypocrisy, where he’s afraid to go. The image of Phoebe in Holden’s mind can be likened to the walls of the ward in the mind of the patients; they’re afraid to leave the safety and learned comfort of their current lives. But Phoebe does not fit into Holden’s romanticized vision of childlike innocence, just like the ward isn’t everything the patients imagined it to be, something they discover at the gas station after leaving for their fishing trip. Phoebe seems to realize that Holden’s bitterness toward the rest of the world is really bitterness toward himself; the opposite of the patients, who think they have a problem with the world when the outside world is the one with the problem.
Kesey leads a generation of pushback against leadership and repression, while Salinger provides sustenance for adolescents across time who feel isolated and misunderstood. “The Catcher in the Rye is … about a boy who takes the chances his readers do not feel capable of risking”, this parallels One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as both are worlds the reader lives in but cannot feel free to experience. (Privitera) Undiscovered and repressed sexuality are central to both novels, the patients, most notable Billy Bibbit, express their lack of sexual freedom as being the only reason for their being in the hospital, while Holden has confused view of sexuality and examines the way in which sexuality affects young adults. Both the patients and Holden experience self-realization over the course of their respective pieces, whether the pinnacle being through McMurphy’s words, sexual favors via Candy, or watching sister Phoebe spin on a carousel. Both McMurphy and Holden represent who they are and what they stand for through clothing, McMurphy with sexual-laden boxer shorts, and Holden through and individualistic hunting hat. Both Kesey and Salinger examine the thought of those who either are or are thought to be mentally unstable and the implications of their narration. Finally, women are central to both pieces showing sexuality and its implications and being a higher judgment on the protagonists.

Bibliography
Kesey, Ken. One Flew Over the Cuckoo 's Nest. New York: Penguin Group, Inc., 1962.
Meloy, Micheal. "Fixing Men: Castration, Impotence, and Masculinity in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." Journal of Men 's Studies (2009): 12.
Privitera, Lisa. "Holden’s Irony in Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye." Explicator (2008): 4.
Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. New York: Penguin Group, Inc., 1945.

Bibliography: Kesey, Ken. One Flew Over the Cuckoo 's Nest. New York: Penguin Group, Inc., 1962. Meloy, Micheal. "Fixing Men: Castration, Impotence, and Masculinity in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." Journal of Men 's Studies (2009): 12. Privitera, Lisa. "Holden’s Irony in Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye." Explicator (2008): 4. Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. New York: Penguin Group, Inc., 1945.

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