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Through Kesey’s use of literary features, his novel helped base an understanding on what society decided to believe is normal. Kesey highlights the significance of the insane and their positive energy. He uses McMurphy as a tool to highlight each patient’s positive side whereas society only searches for the negative. Kesey’s outlook on mental illness is simple; he uses his novel to point this out. His novel shows how the patients in the ward are there because society placed them there. Society labeled these people to be against the norms or conformities, which in return allowed the patients to feel inferior and out of place.
This novel stresses the fact that each person should not be forced into a corner; they should be given rights to live regular lives with other people. Society should not force inferiority complexes on these patients. The fact that most of the patients were voluntary helps prove this point. It shows how society forced them into a completely different and inhumane lifestyle. Another novel that joins this rebellion against society in relation to insanity is The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. In this novel, Plath interprets insanity in her own way trying to prove practically the same point as Kesey.
Plath’s use of description, metaphors, and characterization help provide her main point of allowing insanity to merge with reality. The Bell Jar is a novel equipped with descriptions that allow the reader direct access to the main character’s mind. Plath uses an abundant amount of physical descriptions such as the description of Esther’s surroundings at all times to help give examples of how society has forced this woman to think. Esther’s thoughts on life, death, and the world all seem to be reasonable and justifiable thoughts. She is capable of convincing the reader that those thoughts are not insane.
Through the use of descriptions, Plath was able to highlight the unjust life of a 1950s woman. Plath also uses metaphors to highlight the suppression made by society on the women. The title of the book is the major metaphor that best represents Plath’s idea on society’s conformities. The entire novel revolves around the idea of the bell jar and this jar represents how society analyzes and reduces the contents provided in the jar. The jar represents insanity. Esther feels secluded and isolated from the real world when she is labeled as mad.
She feels like she is an airless jar that ruins her perspective of what the real world is. It signifies a buffer that ends the connection between Esther and the real world4. These literary features were all used to highlight Esther’s alienation from the real world. It shows how a young woman from the 1950s was forced to act. Esther wanted to pursue a writing career and is supported completely, but her thoughts begin to change when the fact that she cannot merge her career with being a mother come to place. Esther becomes depressed and her thoughts begin to change on the world.
These individual thoughts begin to accumulate leading to actions that are condemned upon by society. Society expects a lot from Esther such as the idea of her virginity. Esther rebels against the conventional role of virginity with women at that time by embarking on a sexual experience. Esther did not become insane because she believed against the norms of society but rather insanity fell on her. The treatments in both novels are similar in many aspects. At first, the hospitals provide healthy conversations between the patient and a professional psychiatrist.
In both novels, the sense of talking is important because a lot of information is released about society and what they think of it. Another treatment usually done after talk therapy is electroshock therapy. Electroshock therapy was created in 1936 in order to help patients clear their mind5. As years passed, this treatment began to evolve which therefore led to the change of its purpose. In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, ECT was used as a form of punishment. Patients were punished for doing anything out of the ordinary.
In The Bell Jar, Esther Greenwood undergoes several electroshock therapy sessions to clear her mind. She continuously states how painful the therapy is and tries to refuse treatment. Her recollections of these treatments show the inhumanity in medical treatments. Another treatment that falls into the controversial category is Lobotomy. It is shown insignificantly in The Bell Jar, one patient briefly converses about it. On the other hand, Lobotomy has a major impact in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The main character undergoes a lobotomy at the end of the novel.
This act completely criticizes the ways of society in relation to medical treatments. Many forms of medical treatments on insanity exist but whether they provide a positive outcome is the main question. Society and mental illness are very closely related in the sense that society creates the separation between sanity and insanity. That separation is miniscule and changes constantly over time. Both of these novels emphasize isolation, suppression, and seclusion forced by society. Society forces these on the ideas that are condemned or not wanted.
These ideas should not force inhumane actions but rather welcome ideas as an advantage to a better society, a more open society. Mental illnesses and treatments are used as major themes in novels to help highlight the negative aspects of what society creates. Through showing the unjust actions forced by society on people, the idea of insanity should evolve from punishment to help.
Word Count: 1,605 1 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey. 2 Gale, CD-Rom, HS Library. Source 1 3 Gale, CD-Rom, HS Library. Source 1 4 Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography, 1941-1968; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-20.