One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: How Characters Are Affected by Fear BY mtck333 How are the characters in Ken Keseys, “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” affected by fear? In the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey uses several characters to demonstrate the theme that a person must fght his fears in order to remain healthy and sane. Kesey uses the characters Billy Bibbit, Dale Harding and most importantly Chief Bromden to illustrate this theme.
Fear is a key theme in the book, from the first line, “theyre out there” we can see how the narrator is paranoid nd fearful for whoever they are, and it shows how Chief Bromden from the start is terrified of the ward and everything about it. He goes on to say how “they got special sensitive equipment” that “detects my fear”, this notion that Bromden is afraid to feel fear is so powerful as it demonstrates the influence the ward has on its patients.
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Bromden also refers to the “hum of black machinery’, and throughout the novel he makes references to mechanical devices designed to catch out the patients. The idea of this was to make the narrator constantly on edge and fearful of everything, the combine” and Big Nurse were played out from the start to be omnipotent and omniscient. This demonstrates how from the beginning Bromden’s fear rules over his judgement and his sanity, that he cannot make decisions and observations clearly as he is so afraid.
Nurse Ratched desires order, and she wants complete power, so she manipulates her patients and the staff to do fulfil her desires. From early on when we are introduced to her Bromden knows she is the human face of the combine, however she still manages to terrify most patients on the ward. Her appearance and resence create fear amongst the patients, her fingernails are described as being, “like the tip of a soldering iron”, this simile is apt, because it demonstrates how Bromden perceives her, as a cold emotionless machine, designed to contain and control the patients of the wards.
Finally it shows how the patients fear for big nurse comes from her dehumanisation, into more of a machine. The character of Billy Bibbit is key to understanding fear in the novel, like so many other patients on the ward Billys life, and his reasoning for being in the ward lies with the women in his ife, his mother, a friend of big nurse, treats him in an almost sickening way. It also shows us how she is the one who should really be in the institute not him, “she opened her lips at him”, and “made a wet kissing sound with her lips”.
These show how Billy is afraid of doing anything to displease his mother; however this means going along with the institute. He is also afraid of if his mother was to think any differently of him. When Big Nurse threatens to tell Billys mother about him and his “girl” Billy loses It completely and we see Just how terrified he is if this were to appen, “he shook is head begging her “you d-dont n-n-need! ” “This image and scene emphasises Just how much Big Nurse and his mother terrify him, and how it is this fear that leads to his suicide.
The idea of a matriarchy is key into understanding the fear for many of the men, and at the time Kesey views were considered sexist and misogynistic, but the novel tries to emphasise how women were seen as castrators for men. The character of Harding created a theory that formed from his fear of Big Nurse and the combine, “All of us in here are rabbits”, symbolises that all the men on he ward are terrified rabbits and Big Nurse in the “wolf”.
This demonstrates how Harding dealt with h9is fear by coming u with deranged ideas about rabbits, but this theory symbolises the truth, the the men on the ward have no power and are scared of Big Nurse. McMurphy is introduced and from the start the fearful patients do not know what to make of him, and they doubt his attitude will last very long when he is put through the same experience they were, but after a time it is clear McMurphy is not changing. It is clear after some time that McMurphy starts to heal the men of heir fear, with laughter and courage.
When McMurphy first laughs, “That big wide open laugh”, the patients are shocked having not heard laughter for years and we come to realise that laughter can be therapeutic. McMurphys laughter also symbolise defiance against big nurse and the combine. Soon the other men in the ward are starting to laugh, and forget a lot of their previous qualms about being more free to act how they want. From this we can see that Kesey presents McMurphy as a Christ like fgure, and the solution to curing the men or the fear of the ward.
One hing that creates fear among the men of ‘One flew over the cuckoo’s nest’ is the threat of treatment. The shock shop treatment is electric shock therapy designed to cure the men, but it only induces fear and sends them deeper into their mental state. Bromden is in constant fear of being sent to the shock shop, or even worse to be lobotomised like McMurphy at the end of the book who becomes a hollow shell of his former self. It is the fear of these brutal punishments that entrap the men the most.
This therapy was common at the time, and lobotomies could go as primitive to ushing a needle through the top of the patients eye. This is one of the things Kesey stands up against in his book; Kesey was part of the beat movement that presented new ideas about the social implications of life in America Fear and Terror are the two main weapons of the combine in the eyes of the patients, and it is this that creates the bleak and depressing life that they lead on the ward, it is only through the work of McMurphy that the men start to recover from the torment and entrapment they have been put through.