Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest is an analysis of the anti-cultural movement of the 1960s. Kesey’s reflection on the spirit of the 1960s is embodied in his main character, Mc Murphy. He illustrates the author’s commentary on the 1960s in three ways: he exemplifies the Hippie movement, he leads other by example, and he persuades others to follow him through his charismatic behavior. Some brief plot summary is necessary before discussing Mc Murphy’s character as a charismatic rebel leader. Mc Murphy chooses to live in a mental health institution despite the absence of mental illness. He finds other men in the same situation. These institutionalized men are called “acutes”. These men are felt to be hiding from society. They are contrasted to the “chronics”, men on the ward who have suffered lobotomies or who are not socially functional. An important scene that will be referenced is the watching of the World Series game. During one of the group meetings, Mc Murphy requested a change the daily schedule so the patients can watch the Series.
The nurse agrees to a vote and only four out of ten of the acutes participate. In anger and frustration at this refusal to stand up to the nurse, Mc Murphy bets everyone he can lift an old hydrotherapy control panel. Everyone bets against him, and rightly so because he cannot lift the panel. Yet he states that he at least he tried. Later in another group meeting, Mc Murphy asks for a revote to which the Nurse agrees. The vote, being ten to zero, only counted the acutes. The Nurse states it was not a majority vote because the chronics were not included. This does not stop Mc Murphy. He goes to the TV, stands in front of the blank screen, and begins to call the game as if it were on television. The men then leave their jobs to watch the game. In another group meeting, Cheswick, an acute demands the end of the cigarette enforced by the Nurse because the men were gambling them all away to Mc Murphy. The nurse continually puts Cheswick off. Cheswick becomes increasingly angry, begins yelling, and demands the rationing be stopped.
Pandemonium erupts as Mc Murphy breaks the window in the nurses’ station to get a box of cigarettes for Cheswick. In another occurrence, Mc Murphy is able to convince the doctor of the therapeutic value of a basketball in the ward itself. He is also able to convince the doctor to let the acutes go off the property on a fishing trip. These events will help explain how Mc Murphy embodies the spirit of the 1960s. The first way Mc Murphy embodies the spirit of the 1960s is his personification of the Hippie movement. Originally, the Hippe movement grew out of the Beat-Generation and fused with the youth counter-cultural movement from Germany, The Beat-Generation promoted clubbing and more social activities, attacking the old folk traditions of the German people. Originally, the Beat Generation, or Beatnik movement, was a literary movement whose “writings promoted anti-conformist attitudes” – [Moral Journal]. Eventually, it fused with the German movement. Like the Beatnik movement, the Hippie movement was peaceful. The Hippies, protested most notably the Vietnam War, and demonstrated against authority. Mc Murphy also rebels against the authority of the Nurse.
When she doesn’t allow him to watch the World Series on television, he narrates a fantasy game himself in front of a blank screen. “We’re all sitting there lined up in front of that blanked-out TV set, watching the gray screen just like we could see the baseball game as clear as day, and she’s ranting and screaming behind us.” [Kesey-138]. In the world of the men on the ward, the Nurse is the ultimate power or authority figure. She controls every aspect of their world. Mc Murphy embodies the anti-conformist attitude established by the Beatniks and continued by the Hippies when he refuses to obey to the authority figure of the nurse. As Mc Murphy rebels against the authority of nurse, he leads by example. In doing so, he rallies other people to the cause. “Mc Murphy is an inheritor of the western hero tradition at the end of a long line of men standing up to the banalities of civilizations”- [Barsness John OP CIT Potts Stephen W.]. As it applies to Ken Kesey’s novel, the Nurse creates these “banalities” by restricting the men’s.
Mc Murphy’s actions during the World Series incident proved that the Nurse is not all powerful. He does this by getting his way despite the Nurse deliberately refusing his request to watch the World Series game on television. The Nurse loses control of the men. This demonstration gives Cheswick the courage to demand a change in the cigarettes policy. Cheswick followed Mc Murphy’s example and stood up to the Nurse. The men on the ward realize they have a choice: “they must choose either the disordered world of R.P. Mc Murphy or the intolerable ordered world of the Big Nurse.”- [Babo xii] Mc Murphy leads by example and the men on the ward follow him. They followed him when Mc Murphy made a fantasy game on the television. Eventually all the men stop their chores and choose Mc Murphy’s disorderly game over the structured chores forced upon them by the Nurse Mc Murphy’s charisma inspires others to follow him. “He got enough guys together for a basketball team and some way talked the doctor into letting him bring the ball back from the gym to let the team get used to handling it”-[Kesey 193].
In this scene, Mc Murphy convinced the doctor to oppose the Nurse, who forbade the basketball on to the ward. The doctor told the Nurse that the basketball had therapeutic value despite her objections. This is a big change; normally, the Nurse controlled the doctor. Mc Murphy’s charisma win’s the doctor over. This occurrence signals a monumental change in ward policy. That occurrence allows Mc Murphy to assert his charismatic attitude on the doctor even more; to the point where the doctor allows the acutes to go off the grounds of the hospital on a fishing trip. “He stopped in front of the window and in his slowest deepest drawl he said he could use one of those smokes…Then he ran his hand through the glass.”- [Kesey 189-190]. Mc Murphy’s charisma inspires action. Cheswick screamed at the Nurse, to change the cigarette rationing.
This demonstrates Mc Murphy’s charisma, because Cheswick stood up to the Nurse on his own. Cheswick was not following, but acting on his own accord. Mc Murphy is a charismatic leader because he inspires people to do things on their own. It also shows that Mc Murphy supports Cheswick because he went and broke the glass to give him the cigarettes he demanded. The spirit of the 1960’s is embodied in Ken Kesey’s character Mc Murphy, who illustrates the author’s idea of the Hippe movement in three ways: Mc Murphy embodies the Hippe movement by going against the authority of Nurse on the ward he leads other by example when he rebels against the Nurse and the men on the ward follow him; Mc Murphy persuades his peers to follow him through his charismatic behavior, which brings people like the doctor, who had been controlled and completely manipulated by Nurse, to his side. Through these actions, Mc Murphy symbolizes the 1960’s Hippie counter-cultural movement. Word Count 1250
Potts, Stephen W. “Rebel, superman, bull goose loony: the hero as adolescent.” Northwest Review 45.1 (2007): 148+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 6 Dec. 20 Kesey, Ken. One
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