Society is an incredibly powerful social phenomenon that is influential from the moment of birth. Taking on the challenge of changing even a small microcosm of society such as the ward in Ken Keseys “One Flew Over the Cuckoos’ Nest” is a futile task for a single person. Society is structured as such that those who inhibit it are nurtured to be perfect individuals, complicit and expected to conform to the rules. Breaking the pattern, as seen with the struggles of characters such as Billy Bibbit, Dale Harding and Randle McMurphy, can be viewed as a herculean task.
The deep-rooted and dangerous effects of uniformity on the human rain can be seen in childhood and beyond, clearly shown with Chief Bromden’s past and present. Breaking such norms takes an enormous amount of willpower and self-actualization, characteristics present in one of the novel’s protagonists in the form of McMurphy. The war against society will never truly end because of its profound links within the human psyche and the inability of a rebellion to be performed with a sole individual.
Considering that certain aspects of behaviour and personality can be acquired through socialization, society encompasses and shapes an individual at an extremely young age. In the context f a controlled environment such as the mental institution, this leaves the patients within the novel especially vulnerable to conformity. Harding’s acceptance of the unjust power dynamics within the ward is a splendid example of the lethargy present. “This world… belongs to the strong, my friend! to accept it as a law of the natural world. (Kesey 54-55)
He doesn’t seem particularly content in which the manner of his environment is taking place, but makes no effort to change his situation because he has been beaten down by the microcosm’s unspoken laws. This type of sleepy, non-abrasive obedience can We must learn e seen in nearly all the other patients and is equally present in Billy Bibbit. His situation is a tad different, considering the direct manipulation from the Big Nurse, but his initiative to conform remains the same.
Nurse Ratched, and by extension the Combine, represses Bully as society does and bullies him into submission, leaving him to continue fearing not just her, but his own mother as well. “Feeling powerless in his forced conformity … and unable to express himself due to the ward’s rules, he commits suicide to exert his own control over the situation. ” (Mettler) In a melancholic comparison, Cheswick’s ntimely death is all too similar. Cheswick’s suicide after McMurphy refuses to give him support on his cause requires McMurphy to realize that it is not worth conforming to Nurse Ratched for his own selfish reasons.
McMurphy is also susceptible to conformity’s hold, even if it is ultimately for his own personal gain. These men clearly all have their struggles with society, but they must overcome the repression before any deep societal change can take place. Without a change from their original, rule-abiding behaviours, the men will continue to conform to the Nurse’s totalitarianist control and jeopardize heir personal freedom and expression. Chief Bromden is portrayed as a partially unreliable narrator, and perpetuates that label by consistently hallucinating objects that are not there and repeatedly losing track of reality at the slightest inclination.
Throughout the beginning of the novel, he is surrounded by a curious white fog that only seems to recede with McMurphy’s presence. The fog represents a symbol of safety and uniformity, a sort of spell that the ward has been placed under by the Big Nurse herself. Chief cannot see beyond himself in the white, and avoids the outside world; “Nobody omplains about all the fog. I know why, now: as bad as it is, you can slip back in it and feel safe. That’s what McMurphy can’t understand, us wanting to be safe” (Kesey, 128).
One could say that the fog is a symbol for society’s pressures, as it is much easier to blindly follow orders than face reality. Another tool to force conformity within the ward’s small society is the mechanical model of it – Chief feels that “the environment is structured and organized, unresponsive to change as an intangible force. ” (Rutten) He sees his first voluntary act of rebellion as forced and not of his own doing, when McMurphy leads for Chief to vote with him, and Chief’s hand slowly raises. “I can’t stop it.
McMurphy’s got hidden wires hooked to it, lifting it slow just to get me out of the fog and into the open where I’m fair game. He’s doing it, wires. ” (Kesey 112-13). Even then, he is unable to accept that he could ever go against society. In his childhood, Chief witnessed white men desiring to destroy his home village to make a hydroelectric dam. This shaped his opinions on both nature and society, and found that with his limited views of the world society will always win and there is no use in fighting it.
He witnessed the Combine shrink his village and father down to nothing – and that is exactly what has happened to Chief inside the institution. It takes an astonishing amount of willpower to resist societal norms, notably when one feels alone and an entire community seems against you. McMurphy manages to empower the men throughout his stay at the ward through various daring acts. He initially defies authority by refusing to do simple tasks, like the cleaning required from each patient. This is a test on Nurse’s resolve, and she eventually loses control of her temper and thus looses credibility.
This pattern continues, McMurphy always seeming to be a step ahead of the Nurse. His competitive mindset can be summarized; “I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest. ” (Thoreau) The power balance continues to fluctuate, until McMurphy seals his fate by smashing his fist through the class window. He is acting altruistically now instead of for selfish reasons, and the Nurse must scramble to find a way to stop his rampage. After her taunts lead to Billy’s death, McMurphy assaults her and although not planned, she sends him down to Disturbed.
He suffers as a martyr to help the other men see the truth and fight with his cause. Although initially impressive, McMurphy’s victory seems to be a sour one – he is lobotomized, and so severely incapacitated that Chief kills him out of mercy. This isn’t a true victory – in fact, it brings to question who won the battle. Nurse Ratched is still alive, and still exercising her power. She was not fired, but she did lose everything she had made for herself. Being the person that she is, however, she will have no problem building her strength back up despite her colleagues’ inevitable incoming remarks.
This is indeed a major setback in her plan – but she is not destroyed and continues to function as per usual. Had it been just Randall McMurphy, she would have inevitably won. Ultimately, it was the patient’s strength together that forced Nurse Ratched to relinquish control in the ward. Without someone acting as a martyr or as inspiration, it is fundamentally impossible to take on the all-encompassing hold of society. To do so alone, as an individual, can only be out of a death wish or an utterly insane state of mind – which wouldn’t be considered a stretch due to the novel’s setting.
The men uffering under intense conformity and rules do so because they’ve been taught that that is the norm and see no other alternative. From childhood, certain have witnessed countless struggles for control against society and have seen society win each time, reminding them that resistance is futile in such an environment. Even those with enormous reserves of determination and strength fail to destroy society’s wrongdoings, and instead put forth their power to defend and help others. Society is a part of us, and requires an educated following to a cause to be present to see a significant change.