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Laughter is a distinct human trait that gives an individual a sense of control. However, it can be easily taken away when an oppressive authoritative figure strips an individual of their freedom by dehumanizing them to conform to societal expectations and lose their individuality. The idea of laughter being a gateway to freedom is expressed in Ken Kesey’s profound novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Kesey uses imagery and symbolism to illustrate the necessity behind laughter to break free from the dictatorial grasp the ward has on its patients.
Nurse Ratched is the primary antagonist that manipulates the men in letting go of their identity and become submissive to her every command. However upon McMurphy’s arrival, things shift as genuine laughter is reintroduced to the ward. The patients soon learn that humor and laughter are the key components of breaking Nurse Ratched and escaping .
In the beginning, narrator Chief Bromden describes the mental institution as a prison that follows precise routines and has strict rules to “cure” their mental problems.
There is a distinct divide between the patients and the workers. The Orderlies make life miserable for the patients, Public Relation is oblivious to the corruption within the ward and Nurse Ratched is the scheming puppeteer controlling everyone’s actions. The first exposure to laughter is a pivotal moment, where McMurphy is the new incoming patient that acts the most insane with is outbursts of laughter. Chief observes, “Nobody can tell exactly why he laughs; there’s nothing funny going on.
But it’s not the way that Public Relation laughs, it’s free and loud and it comes out of his wide grinning mouth and spreads in rings bigger and bigger till it’s lapping against the walls all over the ward. Not like that fat Public Relation laugh. This sounds real. I realize all of a sudden it’s the first laugh I’ve heard in years,” (Kesey, 12). The Public Relation laugh is an insult to injury in the sense his laugh is not genuine but much rather pitties the patients and their situations. After being viewed as an object all this time, Bromden experiences the human quality of laughter which makes him become intact with his long lost emotions. There is a realization in Chief that McMurphy reflects the world outside the ward and that he was not insane, but the atmosphere of the institution is driving patients insane.
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