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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Animals as Symbols

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Cassy Thompson

on 5 April 2013

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Transcript of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Animals as Symbols

Animals as Symbols One Flew Over
the Cuckoo's Nest “Is this the usual pro-cedure for these Group Ther’py shindigs? Bunch of chickens at a peckin’ party? ...“Why then, I'll just explain it to you.' McMurphy raises his voice; though he doesn't look at the other Acutes listening behind them, it's them he's talking to. 'The flock gets sight of a spot of blood on some chicken and they all go to peckin’ at it, see, till they rip the chicken to shreds, blood and bones and feathers. But usually a couple of the flock gets spotted in the fracas, then it’s their turn. And a few more gets spots and gets pecked to death, and more and more. Oh, a peckin’ party can wipe out the whole flock in a matter of a few hours, buddy, I seen it. A mighty awesome sight. The only way to prevent it—with chickens—is to clip blinders on them. So’s they can’t see.' … 'And you want to know somethin’ else, buddy? You want to know who pecks that first peck?' Harding waits for him to go on. 'It’s the old nurse, that’s who.'”(pg. 55, Kesey). "We must learn to accept it as a law of the natural world. The rabbits accept their role in the ritual and recognize the wolf as the strong. In defense, the rabbit becomes sly and frightened and elusive and he digs holes and hides when the wolf is about. And he endures, he goes on. He knows his place. He most certainly doesn't challenge the wolf to combat." "... we're not in here because we are rabbits -- we'd be rabbits wherever we were -- we're all in here because we can't adjust to out rabbithood. We need a good strong wolf like the nurse to teach us our place." (pg 60-61, Kesey) In this quote, the chickens represent the people in the ward, and the 'pecking party' is the way they all accused Harding in the Group Meeting. The men all listen and pay attention during the meetings because the Nurse tells them to. When the Nurse orders around one person to make them cooperate, the rest of them follow in behind because they do not want to be humiliated and singled out by the Nurse. This could also relate to society and conformity. It only takes one person to conform because they feel the need to, and the rest of society will follow along, just like in the meeting how one man fell to the Nurse's control and accused Harding, and the rest followed right along. "Friend... you... may be a wolf" (pg. 63, Kesey) In these quotes, animal symbolism is used to describe the natures of the patients,
McMurphy, and the nurse. Mr. Harding uses metaphors to compare the patients to rabbits
because of the way they act scared, and do not stick up for one another.
He compares the Nurse to a wolf because of the way that she rules over
everyone through fear and keeps the patients in their places.
When Mr. Harding says that McMurphy could be a wolf, he is referring to the fact
that McMurphy is strong and will not accept the nurse’s reign over everyone in
the ward. He means that McMurphy could be the only one who is powerful enough to
stand up to the nurse and win. "'We must face up to this. No more than right that it should be this way. We must learn to accept it as a law of the natural world. The rabbits accept their role in the ritual and recognize the wolf as the strong. In defense, the rabbit becomes sly and frightened and elusive and he digs holes and hides when the wolf is about. And he endures, he goes on. He knows his place. He most certainly doesn't challenge the wolf to combat. Now would that be wise?'" (pg. 60-61, Kesey) This quote is basically saying that the world is a dog-eat-dog world. The rabbits represent the weak people whereas the wolf represents the stronger people or the more upper-class type. In society the strong look down upon the weak and the weak accept it because it’s just how the world is. It also shows how the men in the ward are too scared to stand up to a wolf, such as the Nurse. They are more content to stay where they are and go along with her, rather than challenge what they know to be wrong. "The shorts under his work pants are coal black satin covered with big white whales with red eyes. He grins when he sees I'm looking at the shorts. "From a co-ed at Oregon State, Chief, a Literary major." He snaps the elastic with his thumb. "She gave them to me because she said I was a symbol.'" (pg. 76, Kesey) "The honking came closer and closer till it seemed like they must be flying right through the dorm, right over my head. Then they crossed the moon -- a black, weaving necklace, drawn into a V by the lead goose. For an instant the lead goose was right in the centre of the circle, bigger than the others, a black cross opening and closing, then he pulled his V out of sight into the sky once more.I listened to them fade away till all I could hear was my memory of the sound. The dog could still here them a long time after me. He was still standing with his paw up; he hadn't moved or barked when they flew over. When he couldn't hear them any more either, he commenced to lope off in the direction they had gone, toward the highway, loping steady and solemn like he had an appointment." (pg. 142-143, Kesey) In this quote, the flying geese represent people in society conforming in order to fit in, and the dog represents the people in the ward. The dog stops barking at the geese to watch as they fly by, and barks at them afterward because they are gone. It is almost as if he does not bark expecting they see him, but barks afterward because they did not. This is like the people in the ward. They are stuck there, unable to escape and they are hidden from society, where people do not have to worry about them. They want to be noticed and to be let out and free, but they are not. They are stuck there without notice or concern. The geese also represent freedom because they are free to do what they want and go about their own business, without noticing the dog, or the patients in the mental institution. “Ting. Tingle, tingle, tremble toes, she’s a good fisherman, catches hens, puts ‘em in pens… wire blier, limber lock, three geese in a flock… one flew east, one flew west, one flew over the cuckoo’s nest… O-U-T- spells out… goose swoops down and plucks you out.” The “good fisherman” who “catches hens” represents the nurse and how she “catches” the men in the mental institute. Also when it says “puts ‘em in pens” it is referring to how the nurse puts the men in the ward and sets them against each other, pecking at each other, in the group meetings. Kesey is referring to how McMurphy came and picked Chief Bromden out of the fog when he says “goose swoops down and plucks you out.” This also relates to how Bromden escaped in the end; McMurphy swooped down and gave him the power to leave the institute. The fact that McMurphy took over as the “bull goose loony” of the ward supports his being the goose that “plucked” Bromden out. Throughout the novel, animals are used as symbolism when Kesey is describing what is wrong with the patients in the ward, and society in general. This motif also reoccurs when describing and comparing things, usually through metaphors. Kesey uses symbolism to help display the theme of control as well. The climax of the motif of animals as symbolism within the novel is when Harding is talking about how the men in the ward are like rabbits. This is the one point in the novel where animals are used the most, and are used as metaphors for how most of the main characters are living their lives. THE END
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