In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey tells the story of Randle McMurphy, a rebellious, boisterous and overtly sexual man who utilizes his extroverted qualities to win over his fellow patients in the mental institution. McMurphy’s confident nature and non-conforming attitude brings hope to everyone living in the ward. Ultimately, he sparks dissent and inspires them to go against the oppressive head nurse, Nurse Ratchet. McMurphy’s confidence does not waver until he realizes that Nurse Ratchet will always have the upper hand over the patients. Nevertheless, this does not stop him from concocting plans to provoke and get rid of her. McMurphy receives many harsh punishments for his actions and eventually loses the battle against the head nurse. Not only does he lose against Nurse Ratchet, but he eventually loses himself through the process. Additionally, in the film The Experiment, the protagonist Travis, undergoes an adversity which is comparable to what McMurphy faces in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The development of both characters can parallel each other through the similarities of their actions.
Kesey first introduces McMurphy to readers when he is brought to the mental institution. At first glance, McMurphy can be viewed as a con man. He committed the crime of statutory rape but instead of accepting a jail sentence he convinces the judge that he is not straight in the head and is thus sent to a mental institution. Most patients at the ward are unresponsive, yet when he first arrives at the institution, he introduces himself to everyone. The patients and nurses are taken aback by McMurphy’s feisty attitude. Unlike the other patients, McMurphy is loud, arrogant, and capable and it is evident to everyone that he does not belong in a place like that. After the wards group meeting, McMurphy sees firsthand how Nurse Ratchet abuses her power as head nurse. He makes a bet with all the patients in the ward that he can make lose her temper. The patients warn him and insist that Nurse Ratchet not one to be messed with but he still acts otherwise.
In this instance, McMurphy’s rebellious nature shines through. It is made clear to readers that he will not allow Nurse Ratchet to win over the patients for long. He wants to give her a hard time and hopefully get rid of her. Nurse Ratchet sees McMurphy’s deviance and knows that she must break him, just like she broke all the other patients so she can continue her oppressive leadership over the ward. After numerous confrontations between McMurphy and Nurse Ratchet, the patients in the ward find the incidents quite amusing. Eventually, McMurphy is able to rile up all the patients and encourage them to watch the World Series on the television. Although it was not their allotted time to watch the television, they all participate in the rebellion. Through McMurphy actions, the patients see that they should not view Nurse Ratchet as an oppressive and domineering force.
They begin to feel hope inside themselves and begin to envision that living in the ward will not be as miserable as it once was. Nurse Ratchet’s patience begins to wear thin and once McMurphy physically attacks her, she quickly makes the decision to have him lobotomized and leaves him neurologically disabled. After this event, the patients can no longer live in the ward. McMurphy was a friend to all and they could not stand living under Nurse Ratchet’s rule. She loses all control and the patients transfer to other wards or check out of the institution completely. McMurphy’s eventual destruction and death was not out of vain as he was able to transform the patients into believing that each person was an individual and should be able to freely express themselves. He left them with a belief that would aid them for the rest of their lives.
Randle McMurphy’s feisty and strong-willed character can easily parallel many dominant male characters in films. For example, in the 2010 film The Experiment, Paul T. Scheuring directs the story of 26 men who are selected to take part in a 14 day experiment where some participants act as guards and others as inmates. The guards have only one rule to follow – they must make sure the inmates obey the basic rules of living in a prison. Eventually the power wielded by the guards gets to their heads. They abuse their roles and exploit and humiliate the inmates. They become great oppressors and being to forget that the inmates are only human. Violence begins to ensue. The protagonist, Travis, is selected to be an inmate in the prison. From the beginning, it is made apparent that Travis is not buying into the whole prisoner concept.
Just like McMurphy, Travis acts out as an individual. He is not one to follow others and ceases any opportunity to give the guards a difficult time. He then begins to act out in defiant ways. He mobilizes the inmates and leads rebellions against the guards. He and many other inmates firmly decide that they will not be silenced into submission. Eventually, the experiment goes wildly out of control and is stopped by researchers. Like Randle McMurphy, Travis fights back against the oppressors. He did not like seeing his fellow inmates get taken advantage of. Travis begins rebelling and disobeying the rules in small ways, such as refusing to eat his meals. Eventually, he uses physical force to end the tyranny in the prison.
Randle McMurphy and Travis are similar characters in many ways. They both were able to unite the group of men that were facing the same adversity. They did not like seeing any of their own getting harmed. Furthermore, just like McMurphy, Travis acts in defiant ways to get into the guards heads. And finally, both use physical force to hurt their oppressors at the very end. To sum it up, they are the spark that brings hope to the oppressed and lead the rebellions against the oppressors.
Courtney from Study Moose
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