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One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, By Ken Kesey

1144 words - 5 pages

Every American has grown up with these words, lived by these words, and thusly, accepted them as a given: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” This sentence has made its place in the United States Constitution as well, and there are variations of this all over the world—“liberté, egalité, fraternité” (liberty, equality, fraternity) in France, “Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit” (unity, justice, and freedom) in Germany, and many more. Not having to curtail speech, have every move checked, or suppress individuality are gifts, often taken for granted in today’s society. People go about their day, not having a second thought about choosing when to smoke a cigarette or being able to play a game of cards with friends without fighting for it. But in Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, personal freedom, a sense of self, and individuality are withheld from the patients in an Oregon insane asylum. The asylum itself is symbolic of society and how it pressures people to act a certain way, and portrays how deviating even slightly from the label “normal” is cause for being confined. In One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, characters such as Chief Bromden and Dale Harding are prime examples for how society manipulates differences into weaknesses, and only with the aid of Randle McMurphy are they able to reassert themselves and defy society’s conformity.
Chief Bromden is the narrator of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and although in the beginning he appears to readers as physically formidable, he is a docile and unusually subdued man. He is a staggeringly tall Native American at six foot seven, and there are several points in the book where the reader can infer that he was a good war soldier and played football well. All of these signs point to the fact that he should be at the very least, self-assured. But he is not. The very point that he is a resident of an insane asylum, pretending to be deaf and dumb, indicates otherwise. The root of the problem lies in the past. The government wanted to purchase the reservation—Chief’s home and the home of other Native Americans—in order to build a dam. A dam, apparently, more important than the livelihood of a group of people. Chief’s father refused, saying, “What can you pay for the way a man lives? What can you pay for what a man is? (Kesey 187)”. There is no payable price. Prejudice is exhibited openly here, with Native Americans looked down upon as the minority, and disdain for the fact that Chief’s father would not willingly give in to society’s pressures. However, his father eventually loses to the government with the help of his Caucasian wife, and this breaks Chief. But with the help of McMurphy, Chief is able to regain his sound state of mind. After lifting the control panel, he thinks with clarity, “No. That’s not the truth. I...

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