Monday, 11 July 2011

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - The Mad Man Against the System

Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn,
Apple seed and apple thorn,
Wire, briar, limber lock
Three geese in a flock
One flew East
One flew West
And one flew over the cuckoo's nest

Nursery rhyme

The man against the system or the society - a conflict as old as the world itself. So many authors have devoted novels, non-fictional works, articles, investigations, etc on the subject that more or less we are familiar with the problem. The system strives for conformity; it hates the different because it fears them. The unconventional are the only ones who can shake the stable postulates of society and to invoke a rebellion. This is pretty much common sense. However, what about other non-conformists. The ones that are isolated from the world because they are harmful to themselves and to others. The ones that society voluntarily placed in the hands of the system to be transformed and returned as "normal" people, or in other words "people that fit". These are the mad men, the patients in the asylums, the ones that see a different world but are told this world doesn't exist because they are crazy. They are dangerous to society and they have been placed under the system - to be changed whatever the means.

This subject is explored in Ken Kesey's most famous novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Told through the perspective of the enormous but mentally disabled Native American Bromden, the book follows the rebellious Randel McMurphy, who after entering the asylum prompts the other patients to start questioning the system. McMurphy is an outcast, a man who pretends to be crazy to escape the hard labour. When he arrives in the asylum, the power belongs to Ms. Ratched - the tyrannical head nurse. She controls the hospital through the means of power, coercion, and fear. She doesn't hesitate to restrict the patients' access to basic needs such as medicine, amenities, television, etc. Whatever serves her goals, that is to transform these men into boneless brainless individuals, she is ready to do. Before McMurphy she didn't encounter any rebellion but with the appearance of this strange, fun-loving, rebellious worker, her power is about to be shaken.

McMurphy changes the atmosphere in the asylum. He prompts the other patients to doubt the status quo, to oppose the head nurse, to ask for amenities, and to see the limitations of the society order. Through little rebellions, mischiefs and jokes, soon he becomes the role model for the others, the one person who opens their eyes to the unfairness and cruelty that prevails under Ms. Ratched's rule. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest follows the inhuman methods used in asylums to supposedly "cure the patients". Electroshock, lobotomy, drugs, etc are used to suppress individuality, to control rebellions, to turn people into rabbits, and to safely release them in society. These mad men are not real men; they are emasculated by the system; their soul is destroyed by society. In this hopeless situation McMurphy organizes and performs his rebellion against the subtle and coercion methods used upon people, against conformity, against cruelty and power.

In that sense McMurphy and the other patients fly over the cuckoo's nest. They go beyond themselves, they enter into trouble, and some of them indeed are beaten by the system. But some are not. Some survive and escape Ms. Ratched, the electroshock, the asylum, the control, the madness. Others are defeated and lobotomized so that they stand as a manifest to all those, who dare fight.

Ken Kesey himself visits a mental institution, spends time with the patients, takes psychoactive drugs, and eventually starts sympathizing to this mad men. His knowledge of mental facilities, the way they operate, and the feelings of the patients and the staff are believable and convincing. I still must mention that it is a strange book, at times very difficult to read. Kesey takes us on a trip through the mind of the narrator, Bromden, who pretends to be deaf-mute. His visions are blurry, unrealistic, fantastical. Through them, though, a clear and witty mind is scarcely visible; however a mind that slowly rots under the shadow of The Combine.

McMurphy is one of the greatest characters in world literature. I cannot wait to see Jack Nicholson in the role of the ironic rebellious young man, who becomes the patron of a whole bunch of mad men.

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