Discourses of Conformity in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Advice to Young Ladies
Any text, despite an appearance of neutrality, is underpinned by specific discourses. Throughout the novel One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest written by Ken Kesey, and the poem Advice to Young Ladies crafted by A.D. Hope, there is evidence to suggest that the discourses represented by the characters in both text unveil the ways discourses of conformity underpin the characters’ actions, perceptions and motives, as well as inviting and silencing beliefs, attitudes and values of individualism. The author and poet are able to strongly convey their beliefs about the importance of individuality to the reader from their point of view. The three dominant discourses that both the novel and poem share and represent are: conformity, sexuality and Christianity. These values are privileged by the novel and challenged by the poem.
The dominant discourse of conformity in the novel is characterised predominantly by obeying the rules described by Kesey. At the start of the novel, all the acute and the silenced chronic patients conform to the rules of Nurse Ratched, the main antagonist, before the arrival of McMurphy. This is demonstrated by the following quote: “…she blows up bigger and bigger, big as a tractor...” (p.5). McMurphy is portrayed as a Jesus figure in the novel. After he arrives, he begins to take control of the patients. He begins to take the role of leader. Kesey has foregrounded the character of McMurphy to be different thus creating a binary opposite that is represented in the novel. Kesey shows the binary opposites as being good versus evil. The former is represented by the con-man, McMurphy, and the latter is represented by the Head Nurse, Nurse Ratched. Nurse Ratched is characterised as harsh and mechanical in nature; a machine. “She’s carrying her wicker bag…a bag shape of a tool box with a hemp handle…” (pg.4). McMurphy is portrayed as being a good character, revitalising the hope of the patients by strangling Nurse Ratched and tearing her dress; diffuses her power. “…ripped her uniform all the way down the front …” (pg.303). Therefore, Kesey endorses the conformity discourse of sexuality and Christianity.
Power and sexuality are discourses that are depicted in the novel. One of Kesey’s central messages is how McMurphy creates a power and a sexuality structure using conformity. In the novel, McMurphy is positioned to be above in the power play between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched. This is exemplified by the following quote: “Nurse Ratched started popping her mouth and looking for her black boys, scared to death…” (pg.186). This clearly demonstrates that McMurphy is dominating her and has more power. Another example can be found at the end of the novel when McMurphy attacks the Nurse Ratched by ripping her clothes and exposing her breasts. “…When he grabbed for her and ripped her uniform all the way down the front, screaming again when the two...