Conformity has been the target of many works of literature even before Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye spewed angst about everyone around him being a “phony.” To many people, there are forces in the social order that shape others to fit a certain mold, and one who does not fit the mold will be considered an outcast by society. During the 1960’s, rebellion was a shared act among the majority, including authors and artists; this was due to the conflict in the East as well as the Civil Rights movement. To these people, the government was a criminal, even a machine perhaps, which threatened one’s individuality. This provides some historical context on the background of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Ken Kesey, the author, worked in a mental hospital, and he realized that society simply regarded the patients as being “too different” and thus cast them out. In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Kesey utilizes both blatant and subtle devices to send his message to the world: there should be an uprising against a society that forces conformity upon everyone.
Bromden’s crazed hallucinations of machinery and mechanisms convey a feeling of confinement, which Bromden attributes to the Combine. Conceptualized by the Chief, the Combine is the sum of oppressive forces in society that force others to conform. This belief of society repressing others can partly be attributed to Chief Bromden’s father and his past. Chief Tee Ah Millatoona married a white woman who made him feel small and act subservient; this submission affects how Bromden views society and the way it destroys the natural order. The government is characterized in the novel as the ultimate form of the Combine and causes tribulation for the Chief. Before the events of the novel, the Chief lives in a peaceful fishing area with his tribe, but the government away the land that he lives on and forces his fellow tribe members to become workers that are restricted by routine. Most of the characters are truly plagued by the government, as it rejects any sort of nonconformity in society. Patients such as McMurphy are forced into the ward because they refuse to conform to the normal standards of civilization, and thus they must be fixed. The Combine’s machines of oppression cause many to conform, and eventually leads to the fall of many, including McMurphy.
Personified as Nurse Ratched, the Combine’s tyranny causes a major conflict with McMurphy throughout the novel and much of the persecution that he endures. McMurphy rejects compromise and constantly fights the Big Nurse as she tries to emasculate him and the other patients. McMurphy, as the representative of the individual, fights against the grip of the mechanized civilization that has forced him into the ward. He tries to enrage Ratched to cause disorder and thus destroy the foundation of regularity and consistency; he succeeds in this when he and the other patients pretend to watch the World Series and Ratched explodes in anger.