02. 20. 16 Identical in Independence or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Loons In Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the significance of conflicting values is present around every corner McMurphy hates the idea of being locked up inside the institution; however several patients turn out to be enrolled voluntarily because they find comfort in being confined. Nurse Ratched’s extensive rules and regulations are present to keep the patients under control, whereas McMurphy’s free spirit produces an aura of resilience that inevitably dissipates the dull atmosphere.
The patients respond positively once they realize they’ve been living under petty rules in shame. Puritan and Romantic ideals are in fierce rivalry once McMurphy arrives, yet the men slowly but surely transition towards nonconformity over the course of the novel. The narrator Chief Bromden plays a pivotal role in analyzing McMurphy and the men’s progress, whilst also throwing in his personal views and connections with his own life. He looks up to McMurphy in a way nobody else on the ward does, and truly appreciates his attempt to transition the group of Acute men back to their own state of mind.
Despite how polar McMurphy and Ratched and their views appear to be, they are in some ways alike. Both of them for example are constantly trying to manipulate the patients. This brings into question if Ratched should even be necessarily classified as an antagonist – isn’t she just doing her job? Their long term goals of shaping the men do of course contrast: Ratched wants to prepare them for society and for life whereas McMurphy wants to enliven and inspire them for the moment.
He is appalled and in complete disbelief when the men explain to him they are almost all voluntary at the institution. He states in disappointment that all they do is “complain about how [they] can’t stand it in this place,” and goes on to preach about how they should all be living life to its fullest potential – “in a convertible… chasing girls… ” Why would a man choose repression over freedom? He goes on to tell the men they are more insane than the average man walking on the streets right now, which sets the foundation for the patients’ fight against conformity.
By challenging Ratched’s vision of normality, which from what he has seen appears to be extremely narrow and coordinated with her rules, he implores and encourages the men to exercise their right to free will and the pursuit of happiness. He jokingly calls himself the “bull goose loony” several times throughout the story, and refers to the men synonymously with nick-names that relate to insanity. After escaping the institution to go fishing, he tells the men they are no longer lunatics or loony, but fishermen.
He even makes sure to wear one of the few life jackets on deck, so that men like Billy and Harding have the opportunity to be men and enjoy the feeling of being courageous. “What do you think you are crazy or something? Well you’re not! ” he passionately tells the men. By refuting Ratched’s definition and views of normality, he is constantly pushing the men to break through the walls of her oppression and reject the Puritan-esque state of living they’ve been chained within for years. One such man that has been locked up internally for years is Chief.
He sweeps the floors of the building and watches everybody react with one another silently. Once McMurphy arrives however, Chief is enlightened and appears to become happier and happier by his continued presence. His first words to him are a muffled “Thank you”, something he has wanted to say ever since McMurphy started changing things in the ward. By relating McMurphy to his father, he goes on to tell him near the end of the story how everybody “worked” on his papa, similar to “the way they’re working on [him)”.
When faced with the repression of society, his father escaped into a crippling alcoholism which left him blind. Neither a big city nor a mental institution is enough room for such a large man. By introducing size to McMurphy as the magnitude and intensity of the heart rather than the clear physical/external reality, he affirms his admiration of the size of his father and McMurphy’s ability to live freely and behave as clear individuals and Romantics rather than slaves to their respective institutions.
This connection of father and friend is a sign of Chief’s respect for McMurphy, which is also very present within the other patients of the ward. The men had finally learned to stop worrying and love themselves, something they could not accomplish without the help of McMurphy. Deep inside they did not know who they were; they were caught in the same cycle that everybody around them was following and everybody else was in. Is Ratched wrong for trying to help these men though? Through the eyes of Chief and expressions of the men, the reader views her as the antagonist for conflicting with the main character.
This is exactly what the story’s message is though: the men do not want to be classified as insane by some nurse or by society – they want to live their own lives rather than that which is being written out for them by the institution. Why does the reader then label Ratched as a negative influence so naively? Perhaps if the Big Nurse was the narrator the reader would view things from a different perspective. Perspective is what keeps this story moving smoothly. The reader attentively enjoys the witty and electric shenanigans of McMurphy more than the dull and machine-like ways of Nurse Ratched.
She is described in the beginning of the story as unfavorable and vague. Who are we to judge her? This is just her job; she’s doing what she’s told to do just like the men are doing what she tells them to. By following a strict layout of rules, her proper way of handling things is to “go on with [the] daily routine” despite what may happen. Puritan ways may somewhat seem to overcome Romantic ideals every now and then. The main point being is Romanticism ultimately is more sought after than Puritanism or nonconformity.
People like the idea of living life to the fullest so we side with McMurphy and follow his message. This is not to say One Flew is antiPuritan, but it is surely pro-Romantic. Kesey’s choice of title in conclusion is certainly appropriate. The entire poem, which is remembered by Chief during his electroshock treatment, is allegorical to the institution. “Tingle, ting-le, tang-le toes, she’s a good fisherman, catches hens, puts ’em inna pens… wire blier, limber lock, three geese in a flock, one flew east, one flew west, one flew over the cuckoo’s nest… O-UT- spells out… oose swoops down and plucks you out” (285) Nurse Ratched is the “good fisherman” who “catches hens and puts them in pens”.
Her job is to treat these men therapeutically, however she deliberately sets them against each other by encouraging them to tattle on each other for rewards. Despite this, she technically has good intentions; the reader can decide whether or not she is truly evil. Referring to himself as the “Bull Goose Loony” several times, McMurphy is the goose who flies over the cuckoo’s nest. The nest of course resembles the hospital, which contains a flock – the patients.
Chief is the one who is plucked out by the goose who flies over the nest, because he breaks out of the hospital. Billy and Cheswick flew in one direction from the nest to their death; they couldn’t handle being stuck in pens any longer. They were not mentally strong enough to handle more life inside walls, and in the midst of their attempt and progress at escaping they instead died. On the other hand, some geese fly in another direction towards finding themselves. It is hinted throughout the story that Harding is a homosexual, and that is why he decides to stay in an institution.
After McMurphy flew over the nest, he is inspired to explore the road of finding his true self instead of hiding in the nest any longer. Martini is included in card and board games despite his extreme hallucinations, as well as Scanlon who has fantasies of blowing things up. In reality, people will appear in life who will attempt to fly over the cuckoo’s nest – Martin Luther King for example. Some will fly east, some will fly west, and he who decides to fly over the cuckoo’s nest will try their best to pluck as many out as they can, despite the consequences they are sure will follow.