Individuality In One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey was published in 1962. Through the narration of a native Indian suffering from paranoia and hallucinations, it follows the lives of men in a 'fictional' mental hospital. Kesey was an anti-authoritarian participating in experimental LSD trials and working in a psychiatric ward. These experiences impacted his writing as he explored societal conventions and freedom. His work argues that repression maintains power and eliminates individuality. This is achieved with use of setting, characterisation and description of the effects of drug use.
Kesey’s use of setting in the novel reinforces the theme of societal repression over the individual. The majority of the narrative takes place inside the confines
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Throughout the entire hospital all patients wear the same clothes, have the same haircut and do the same repetitive actions. Their self, all things that differentiate the men from one another are eliminated. They are described as being placed on a ‘production line’ for ‘fixing up mistakes made in the neighbourhoods and in the schools and in the churches’ (40) so that they can be viewed as ‘normal’ and be accepted by society. The moulding of their personality is systematic but ironic as in reality there is no normal because everyone is different. The culture of conformity is highlighted in the character of Nurse Ratched. To ensure her absolute domination of patients, Nurse Ratched represses her sexuality thereby appearing more masculine. Throughout the novel emphasis is placed on her body, specifically her ‘large breasts’ which are mentioned multiple times. She feels her femininity is frivolous which is why she does “her best to conceal [her chest] but never could”. The juxtaposition between Ratched’s emasculation of the patients and her adoption of a male roles emphasises that she values power and control more than her own gender and sexuality because it allows her to repress the patients further. The patients become so repressed that it doesn’t even occur to them that they should “at least try” to make decisions of their own, and instead follow Nurse Ratched’s instructions …show more content…
The setting of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is used as a metaphor for the repressive society of the 1950s. Similarly, the characterisation of the patients shows how individuality is stifled. Kesey explicitly depicts sexual repression used to gain power, and drug as a repressive force over the patients’ power to act and underscores the author’s view that society unnecessarily represses, i.e. impose judgement and control where there should be freedom and individuality. Today, societal repression still occurs throughout schools, the workplace and in mental asylums and Kesey’s logic is still

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