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McMurphy, the tragic hero of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, fits a Christ-figure archetype in his roles as a leader, healer, and martyr. The twelve patients with McMurphy are vastly similar to the twelve disciples of Jesus in the Bible. They are all stuck in a controlled community and it is as if they are waiting for a savior to change their lives. In the New Testament, Jesus stands back and reassures his doubtful followers that there would be enough fish to feed everyone from the barren sea.
Jesus indeed finds fish and blesses two small fish and five barley loaves, miraculously feeding five thousand people when they crowd around him to be healed. Some of his healing prowess is shown when he makes blind men see and dumb and deaf men speak. After he performs these miracles, Jesus’ followers become astonished and no longer doubt him. Many of them go on to become bishops and priests to spread his word.
In the novel, McMurphy leads “the twelve [mental patients] toward the ocean” for the fishing trip that McMurphy arranged in order to learn more about them (203). The Acutes are shocked to find that there are many more fish than expected. The heavy fish that the men catch made it so that “the boat to creaked and pitched all the way back to shore” (213). McMurphy goes on to perform another miracle by encouraging the supposedly dumb and deaf narrator of the story, Chief, to speak again: “and before I realized what I was doing, I told [McMurphy] thank you” (185).
Chief starts to change ever since he starts talking as he can better voice his opinions and speak up for himself and the other men in the ward. The mental patients no longer doubt McMurphy, who becomes their leader. McMurphy’s early examples of leadership are hinted at when he invokes a protest against the restriction of television watching.
The Acutes, who are the younger patients who can be fixed, decide to follow McMurphy and they sit “there lined up in front of that blanked-out TV set, watching the gray screen just like we could see the baseball game clear as day, and [Big Nurse] ranting and screaming behind us” (128). Normally the Acutes would be scared to hold any sort of rebellion against someone like the Big Nurse, who controls every aspect of the men’s lives, since they have witnessed the consequences of revolts in the past. However, knowing McMurphy has their back, they boldly turn their backs away from the hospital they call home and face a chance of freedom.
McMurphy and Jesus’ tragic sacrifices share a cause: to die fighting oppression and evil in their societies. The lobotomy he receives and Jesus’ crucifixion are both the sacrifices they chose to make in order to make an impact. McMurphy chooses not to escape because he knows that he is fighting not for himself, but for the other men. Jesus’ sacrifice leads his followers to believe that Jesus died for mankind’s sins. Jesus and McMurphy may be physically gone, but their legacy lives on in their people’s minds.
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