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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Project
Transcript of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Project
AP English IV 1/14/13 Plot Synopsis About the Author Ken Kesey Symbols Discussion Element So What's the Big Deal? “High high in the hills , high in a pine tree bed. She's tracing the wind with that old hand, counting the clouds with that old chant,
Three geese in a flock
one flew east
one flew west
one flew over the cuckoo's nest” Born: September 17, 1935 in Colorado
Died: Novemeber 10, 2001 In 1957, Kesey attended Stanford University as a creative writing major. In 1960 he experimented with the mind altering drug, LSD as part of an Army experiment at a VA hospital. During this time, he becomes addicted to the drugs, and frequently invites friends together for acid trips. This is also when he began working at the mental ward of the hospital. The hallucinations he experienced while under the effects of the drug proved to change his outlook on life and inspire his works of literature. The Inspiration behind Cuckoo's Nest... Kesey began interviewing patients of the mental ward of the VA hospital, which gave him the idea for the novel. He found inspiration for some of the characters in the ward, and realized how broken the mental health system was. He didn't believe any of them were actually insane, but rather that society had rejected them for their individuality and unwillingness to conform. He sometimes interviewed the patients while under the influence of LSD, which he believed gave him insight into the patient's minds. Kesey promoted drug use as a means to find out "who you are." He is the essence of the counterculture the nation faced during the turbulent Sixties. He and a group of friends founded a group known as the "Merry Pranksters" and traveled the country in a wildly painted school bus named "Futher." Can you say Hippie? McMurphy challenges authority, and demands what no other patient has ever demanded: freedom. He breaks down the "system" and frees the men in the ward in the kind of way that the Big Nurse frowned upon.. giving them their individuality. Choices. Freedom. Making them human again. Multiple incidents of rebellion, including a World Series viewing sitin, a fishing trip, gambling and games, and a party with some of his sleezier and easier friends, eventually land McMurphy in the "Disturbed" unit where he is given a lobotomy. Chief, out of care for his friend, suffocates McMurphy with a pillow during the night and escapes. Chief's escape from the institution gives readers hope that "The Combine" didn't win after all. The story takes place in a 1960's mental ward. It's clear from the start that the head nurse, Nurse Ratched (aka Big Nurse) runs the whole show down from the minute the patients leave the cafeteria to the music they listen to. She is in charge, with absolutely no one to question her power. The narrator is Chief, an Indian who is known for his massive stature and for being seemingly mute. He sweeps the place per instruction, and is often called "deaf and dumb." Chief calls the place "The Combine" and finds it inescapable. It's a suffocating place that nobody can defeat.
We meet other characters, and are introduced to the "Chronics" and "Acutes." Chronics are patients that are 'in for good.' There are three types of chronics: Walkers, Wheelers, and Vegetables. Acutes are those that still have a shot at getting out of the ward, however unlikely. The situation looks really bleak until a new patient, Randle Patrick McMurphy checks himself in.. Meet the Characters... Randle Patrick (R.P) McMurphy A rebel, cocky and confident. McMurphy got out of work at a local prison farm after managing to convince people he was "insane." He believes life at the ward is ideal at first, until he realizes how oppressive the place really is. He vows the break the Big Nurse down, and to show the patients that they're not the crazy ones.
"What do you think you are, for Chrissake, crazy or somethin'? Well you're not! You're not! You're no crazier than the average guy out walkin' around on the streets and that's it." Nurse Ratched A force to be reckoned with. Nurse Ratched maintains complete control over her staff and patients. She demands all patients must have "therapeutic" activities. McMurphy compared her to a Communist leader. Chief Bromden A towering Indian with paranoid schizophrenia. He is thought as being "deaf and dumb." He acts mute until McMurphy brings him out of his shell. He is the narrator of the book, and explains that he stopped talking when people stopped listening. Billy Bibbit A stutterer. He's an Acute patient, whose mother controls his entire life. Billy ends up commiting suicide after being humiliated by Nurse Ratched after his first sexual experience with McMurphy's friend. Harding, Bancini, and Cheswick Harding is an acute patient, who has a very attractive wife whom he feels inferior to. Bancini is always tired, and constantly tells people. All talk and no action. Cheswick supports McMurhpy's fight against the Big Nurse, but does little by himself. Drowns in a swimming pool about midway through the novel. By now you've probably figured out that this isn't just a novel about a bunch of psychiatric patients fighting against an oppressive nurse. There is, of course, much deeper meaning. The hospital represents society, in the most controlling and conformed light. McMurphy is the breakthrough protagonist. He represents individuality and free expression. His lobotomy at the end of the novel obviously indicates society's "fix" and forced conformity. Chief has hallucinations of the ward staff being machines forcing all to conform and be controlled. He had similar experiences as a child, when the government booted his family (Indians) off their land and onto reservations. He doesn't see those in control as people, but as rusty machines. He has faced much dehumanization throughout his life and viewing people as machinery is due to this. Nurse Ratched represents unbridled control and power. She is mechanical and precise in her actions, appearance, and emotions. When McMurphy rips her shirt open at the end of the novel, she is exposed and is never able to regain power. He shows her human side, as she is embarrassed and humiliated and very human under her uniform. The importance of individuality and beating the system (society) is the biggest theme in the novel. Society will make you feel like the odd one out, like you're the one with the problem, just as the patients felt in the book. Refusing to conform and holding onto your individuality is the only way to keep your sanity. The 1960's were a wild time. There was Vietnam, drugs, hippies and the Beatles. Increasingly, there was a sense of going against the grain. People were discovering their own beliefs and breaking free of the 1950's "Ideal American" mold. Suscipion of the government and those in charge was growing, as people disagreed with war decisions. Kesey was ultimately making a statement about individuality, but not without commenting on the poor state of the mental health system. Electoral Shock Therapy was in wide use and patients were not treated properly. While the message still rings true some 50 years later, the time period played a large role in the novel. It was shocking and provocative when it came out. It made the nation rethink what it means to be mentally ill in a powerful, relateable way. It brought the idea of mental illness to it's knees, so to speak. The themes on conformity and individuality are also important. Lets also not forget that no novel would be a classic if it weren't well written and had great, dynamic characters. Narrator Choice The way in which Kesey told the story definitely had an effect on it's interest level and "feel." Instead of choosing the protagonist, McMurphy, as the narrator he choose an outsider of sorts, Chief. Chief is able to convey more about himself, and the pre existing characters of the ward and their interactions with McMurphy's. Readers pick up on Chief's observant nature as he pretends to be mute. Because he is mute, Chief is let in on several staff meetings, where we are exposed to even more infomation. We are also "let in" on vivid hallucinations that are hard to tell if fact or fiction. These compromise some of his reliability, but give more metaphorical insight as to what is going on. Themes Individuality The Power of Rules/ They're Made to be Broken. Nurse Ratched had an extensive list of pointless rules. There was a rule and regulation on absoutely everything, including the use of toothpaste. Rules aren't here to protect people, instead they're here just to hold them down. The Fine Line Between Crazy and Normal Throughout the novel, those that are "mentally ill" seem less crazy than as those in charge. Fear is what holds them back, and what really seperates them from the others. This is the epigraph that appeared at the beginning on the novel, and is a reference to a child's rhyme. The one that flew over the cuckoo's nest, is referring to the mentally ill or being crazy. Doctor Spivey A cowardly doctor that was hired by Nurse Ratched, undoubtedly so that she could control him. McMurphy gets him to assert himself much more, just like the rest of the characters. Candy Starr A prostitute that McMurphy knew before his time in the ward. She's aloof and easily amused. Candy accompanies the crew on a fishing trip and a late night party in the hospital.