'One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest' by Ken Kesey is the story of a prisoner name McMurphy, who is shifted to a mental care facility for treatment. The hospital ward then becomes the playground for McMurphy’s activities which slowly become troublesome for the authorities. This work is in fact a reflection of the social conditions prevailing at the time when it was written and one can clearly see the difference, if the incidents portrayed in this work are compared with the prevailing conditions of today’s society.
The story is narrated by Chief, a patient who has remained in that ward for an extended period of time. McMurphy, the new patient upon arrival takes some time to understand the prevailing conditions of the hospital ward. He closely observes the way in which patients are treated and he soon realizes that Nurse Ratched exerts absolute control over the lives of patients. Due to his inherent nature of accepting challenges, he takes the initiative to challenge Nurse Ratched’s authority.
McMurphy possesses the required leadership skills that are needed to motivate his fellow patients. So, in a very short time, he manages to turn them into his followers who are willing to accept his orders. This ‘kingdom within a kingdom’ is not quite appreciated by Nurse Ratched, who happens to be the real master of this ward. The struggle between both parties continues, until McMurphy gets the courage to choke Nurse Ratched and tear her clothes, thereby exposing her breasts; a symbol of femininity. Ultimately, Nurse Ratched takes control of the situation and sends McMurphy for lobotomy; a procedure that renders McMurphy powerless and totally dependent upon others for the rest of his life. At this point, McMurphy is murdered by the Chief, who then sets himself free by utilizing a technique that was taught to him by McMurphy during his lifetime.
Taking a closer look at the story reveals that this work reflects the norms of the society of that time. Women were regarded as being the ‘weaker sex’ and they were expected to behave in a similar fashion. The act of exposing Nurse Ratched’s breasts conveys the meaning that in a world (ward) full of men, the authority cannot belong to a woman. Moreover, law and rules are made to intimidate people, as manifested by the way Nurse Ratched decides McMurphy’s fate; she sends him for lobotomy merely due to her personal grudges against him. Lastly, the only people who benefit from conflicts are opportunists like the Chief, who acts dumb and deaf until he realizes that he can set himself free.
Based on the above discussion, it is clear that this work clearly depicts many bitter realities of life in a very interesting manner. A comparison of the conditions portrayed in this work with the present conditions provides a deeper insight into how our society has evolved over time. Human behaviors are certainly very complex and a portrayal of a variety of human behaviors, makes ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ a unique work, that will continue to inspire the minds of readers.