Jimmy Buffet as soon as said “If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go outrageous.” When an individual is no longer capable of chuckling, he is likewise no longer capable of being in control of himself. This occurs when a greater authority has the power to reject an individual of their laughter; which, inevitably, rejects him of his liberty. Ken Kesey communicates the concept that laughter and flexibility go hand in hand throughout his novel One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
Kesey represents laughter as a parallel to freedom through various literary symbols and imagery in order to highlight how the power of laughter can free a guy who is under the control of an unfair authority.
Through the characterization of Nurse Ratched and McMurphy, Kesey highlights how the manipulation of others and the difficulty of authority is a crucial part in the capability to laugh. Through the characterization of Nurse Ratched, Kesey shows how someone can manipulate others for her own specific intents.
Throughout the story, it is clear that Nurse Ratched (Bug Nurse) manipulates the patients and professors to manage them so she has all the power. As the book starts, we are right away brought into this psychological ward in the eyes of Chief Bromden. As he walks down the hall, and the help insult him because he is dumb and deaf.
However, little do they know that Chief is the exact opposite. As they continue to speak as if he weren’t there and hand him the broom, “They laugh … [it is a] Hum of black machinery, humming the hate and death and other healthcare facility tricks” (10 ).
The laughter of the black help is not clear and freeflowing like laughter should be. Instead, it is described as a “hum” which highlights that even the help do not have the liberty to laugh. They are “black equipment” or descendents of the combine which demonstrates that the professors on this ward is under the control of Nurse Ratched and the combine.
It is also evident that they are all working together because when machines are working correctly, they hum in synchronization, just like these men are doing with their empty laughter. Along with the machine-like laughs, the men also know what is going on in the ward because chief implies that their humming contains all of the mysteries. Kesey uses machine-like references and imagery in order to illustrate Nurse Ratched’s influence on her employee’s; she is the reason there is no laughter on the ward.
Another cene that expresses Big Nurses power is when Chief is describing how Big Nurse hates when things are out of order. Chief explains that even her uniform has to be crisp and clean at all times, and when its not, she still smiles and pretends not to care, but inside it bothers her to no extent. He makes it clear that he sees, “her sit in the center of this web of wires like a watchful robot, tend her network with mechanical insect skill, know every second which wire runs where and just what current to send up to get the results she wants” (30).
Big Nurse is portrayed as a mechanical spider who has the knowledge and ability to control whatever is in her “web. ” Kesey references her as machine-like figure due to her constant necessity to be in control. Everything she does must be in a certain order and flow a certain way. When Chief says she knows how to “get the results she wants” it makes it clear that she is able to manipulate everyone. This demonstrates that her manipulation takes away all of the patients power to do anything; it even takes away their freedom and laughter.
Another example that portrays this idea is in the article Salvation Through Laugher. The author, Stephen L. Tanner, is analyzing Kesey’s work, and as he discusses the first chapter of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, he notes how, “Miss Ratched is pleased when a ‘completed product’ goes back into society as a ‘functioning, adjusted component'” (Tanner 57). Tanner’s analysis expresses how Big Nurses intentions are to create these robots that do not have the ability to think for themselves. A “completed product” or success, will be think and act like the faculty, just another part of the machine.
The pleasure Nurse Ratched gets out of these success’ illustrates that she loves gaining power and taking away people’s freedoms. Nurse Ratched manipulates the men on the ward and the faculty in order to gain power and take away all of their freedoms, even their freedom to laugh. Kesey conveys that the challenge of authority is the key to finding true identity. The protagonist, McMurphy immediately is introduced as this man with a huge, impenetrable ego. From the moment he steps on the ward, Chief notices that he’s different.
Upon McMurphys arrival, Chief is awakening from the fog he is in. He’s in the day room with his inmates and is listening in on their conversations. Suddenly he hears Nurse Ratched announce that there is a new arrival. McMurphy enters the ward and is laughing. Chief notes that, “.. it’s free and loud…[it] sounds real…it’s the first [real] laugh I’ve heard in years” (16). This illustrates how McMurphy, even from the beginning, has the intentions to challenge the rules. Before him, no one laughed on the ward, or even spoke above an indoor voice.
However, as soon as he arrives, his laughter is “loud and free” which demonstrates that he is boisterous and independent. The combine will not succeed in taking away his freedom, nor will Nurse Ratched take away his ability to laugh. A second example is the scene in which McMurphy and his inmates disregard Big Nurses orders that they cannot watch the world series and watch it anyway because they had the majority in the second vote. As they all stop cleaning and sit down in front a blank TV screen, Nurse Ratched’s anger builds.
Finally, she loses it and screams at McMurphy that he is , “‘supposed to be working during these hours! ‘ Her voice…a tight whine…a saw ripping through pine” (127) “her voice sounds like it hit a nail”(128). McMurphy’s breaking of the rules and influence on his inmates drives Nurse Ratched to the edge. Her voice hitting “a nail” illustrates authority running into a large bump and stopping it right in its tracks. The whining in her voice demonstrates that McMurphy is frustrating her, he is testing her power and this worries her, because she does not want to lose her power, and McMurphy is threatening her.
However, no matter what Nurse Ratched does, she cannot seem to stop McMurphy and his free laugh. One of the most vital scenes is when McMurphy breaks the glass in the nurses station just after Cheswick commits suicide. He walks up to the nurse’s station, “…as big as a house! …[and says] in his slowest , deepest drawl how he figured he could use one of the smokes he bought…then he ran his hand through the glass…[it came] apart like water splashing”(172). McMurphy, haven been gone for a short while, challenges Big Nurses power and shows her that he’s back and is not losing this war.
Him being “as big as a house” gives a visual that his power is radiating off of him. When he asks for his cigarettes, its in a slow and deep voice, and he does not wait for a response, just runs “his hand through the glass” it illustrates that he is not asking permission for anything. He will go against all of her rules because she cannot control him. The imagery Kesey uses to illustrate the glass shattering because when water splashes, there are many droplets and its not just one massive drop.
McMurphy did not just break the glass or scratch Big Nurses power, he shattered it. He made his point that he has the power, not her, and he will always be free. Throughout the story, Kesey continues to have McMurphy constantly breaking the rules and challenging conformity in order to put across the idea that challenging authority can bring individuality. Ken Kesey, the author of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, conveys the idea that laughter and freedom go hand in hand when it comes to a person being an individual.
Through the characterization of Nurse Ratched and McMurphy, Kesey suggests that manipulating others and challenging authority is an essential part of laughing and freedom. I have come to learn that freedom can be achieved by laughing and it’s a necessity to laugh, therefore it’s a necessity to be free. After reading this novel, it is clear that laughter is crucial part of individuality and without it, we would all be mechanical robots because as Kesey once said “if you lose your laugh, you lose your footing. “
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