How is the theme of suffering portrayed in ‘Othello’, ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’? The theme of suffering can come in numerous varieties; under categories both physical and emotional. Suffering is presented as a key concept in ‘Othello’, ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. All three texts explore many aspects of suffering in parts, however the most obvious and concentrated facet leans towards the psychological aspect rather then the physical side. In the three chosen texts many of the characters suffer from some sort of emotional trauma. Psychological suffering and distress is a major topic in all three chosen texts as the authors use this ailment in order to drive the storyline forward, invoke pathos and ultimately decide a characters fate. In this essay I will look at all types of suffering explored in the texts; closely studying how each character copes individually and looking at their experiences during their period of torment. The majority of the main characters in this all three texts suffer mentally and emotionally at some point in their own way. Psychological suffering is a prominent aspect in Shakespeare’s Othello.
The most obvious character that falls into this category is Othello. The celebrated Moorish general is infatuated with the lady Desdemona; a love so great that it should transcend cultural and social differences, but instead it leaves them defenceless before the deadly intrigues of the vengeful Iago. Through the constant manipulation from Iago, Othello becomes the paranoid figure we see for the majority of the play. Iago persuades Othello that his beloved has been ‘cuckolding’ with the character Cassio. Iago expertly conducts this act in a sly manner, being coy with his answers to Othello’s questioning, which automatically sparks off Othello’s suspicions and the irremovable essence of doubt. Like Iago is the main instigator to Othello’s psychological suffering, in One flew over the cuckoo’s nest there are men on the ward whose problems have clearly been caused by other outside influences also, mainly other people. The character Billy Bitter, who has a severe stutter, suffers from this ailment due to his mother’s oppressive treatment towards him.
The character Dale Harding also suffers emotional turmoil in the form of sexual jealousy merely by the attractiveness of his wife. Both of these characters psychological suffering is not aided by Nurse Ratched who is often referred to as ‘the mother’ on the ward. Her oppressive nature is evident, particularly when she frequently threatens to report Billy’s behaviour to his mother if he steps out of line. “You know Billy, what worries me is how your mother is going to take this.” Due to his vulnerable condition, such threats inevitably lead to Billy’s eventual suicide. In contrast, the character Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights has no outside influences when it comes to his emotional state. The characters jealous obsession for his only love Catherine directly corresponds to his psychological suffering. After what he sees as a betrayal when Catherine marries the respected Edgar, Heathcliff’s main objective in life was to gain revenge using his power and manipulation. This representation is very similar to the objective of the character Iago; manipulating others in order to satisfy his own ends.
Unlike Othello however, Heathcliff’s revenge was not directed at Catherine, but those elements that prevented them from being together. Hindley, who at the point Catherine was married to Edgar, had taken to gambling and drink in order to contest his own psychological suffering over the death of his wife. At childhood, Hindley described Heathcliff as a “Cuckoo!” An invader into the family, and mistreated Heathcliff every time the opportunity arose. Again, when Mr. Earnshaw died and Hindley became master of Wuthering Heights, he enlisted Heathcliff into servitude and prevented his contact with Catherine. These acts upon Heathcliff made him suffer both physically and emotionally, “He shall have his share of my hand, if I catch him downstairs again till dark.” Such events lead to Heathcliff’s desire to gain revenge on Hindley. Heathcliff eventually becomes master of Wuthering Heights as well as treating the unwanted son, Hareton after Hindley had died in the way his step-brother had treated him.
Othello’s love for Desdemona was so deep he could not bear the thought of another being with her; “If she be false, O! Then heaven mocks itself. I’ll not believe’t.” Iago uses the characters of Cassio and the obsessive Roderigo as his weapons in his cunning plan. Iago drives the idea into Othello’s mind that Desdemona has been unfaithful, inciting him into a state of jealousy. “Excellent wretch! Perdition catch my soul, but I do love thee; and when I love thee not, chaos is come again.” Othello growing insecurities about his wife’s faithfulness only adds to his psychological suffering which in turn acts as a catalyst towards the suffering of other characters involved in the play.Iago tells these lies with the intention of driving Othello insane as well as establish his dominance and influence the situations of those characters close to Othello. Evidence of this comes in one of Iago’s soliloquies from act two, scene one; “That Cassio loves her, I do well Believe’t: That she loves him, ‘tis apt and of great credit.” This section shows that he is trying to convince himself that his own manipulative lies are true and is trying to reassure his motives by justifying his own actions.
By convincing Othello that Desdemona may be fornicating with his lieutenant Cassio immediately engages his suspicions as he knows the pair have a close bond anyway as Cassio was the one who wooed Desdemona for Othello in the first place. In One flew over the cuckoo’s nest, all the characters on the ward are considered mad. The psychological issues each of the patients suffers all invoke different interpretations by the audience into how their ailment was caused. The author Kesey however, strongly suggests that rather then outside influences from society, residents on the ward are there due to the fact that they just can’t deal with society’s pressures for them to conform. Their Psychological suffering/ insanity has been caused by others who have left an impact on their lives. Similarities can be drawn between this situation and that of the play Othello. The character Iago, in these terms being an outside influence, is the cause for the psychological suffering of characters such as Othello and Roderigo via his manipulation.
Very much like Iago, Heathcliff plays on the emotions of Edgar in order to inflict as much suffering he can on the man who stole his beloved. Knowing full well that Catherine still had feelings for Heathcliff, Edgar attempted to keep them apart but to no prevail. When Catherine reveals to Heathcliff that Edgar’s sister admires him, he sees this as a prime opportunity to inflict suffering upon Edgar. The developing romance between Isabella and Heathcliff leads to Edgar suffering a psychological blow when he loses his sister. The union of Heathcliff and Isabella mentally disturbs Edgar to the point where he refuses to have contact with her, “I never want to see your face again or listen to your voice again as long as I live.” Twelve years after Catherine died in childbirth, Heathcliff, now an emotional wreck still seeks to gain yet more revenge over Edgar. Heathcliff cleverly cultivates a relationship with his son Linton and Edgar’s daughters Cathy to the point where he eventually imprisons Cathy and makes her marry Linton.
This act is the final part of Heathcliff’s revenge in the novel. Once Edgar, who’s physical suffering and illness cause him to die shortly after the union; Heathcliff will become the master of Thrushcross Grange, once the inevitable death of his frail son takes place. All of the false truths Iago presents to Othello challenge his psychological boundaries to the point where he is so consumed; his actions replicate his emotional state. This is obvious near the end of the play when Othello actually kills Desdemona. He commits this crime, under the guise of righteous indignation instead of revealing his true reasoning. This situation suggests that Iago has corrupted Othello’s emotional state; that his inner suffering has driven him to commit the murder of an innocent with false evidence. Even though Othello has an obligation to allow his wife to contend the charge of adultery, he disregards this in order to satisfy his own fixations. Othello’s internal suffering is the prominent factor in his actions, bringing him to conclusion that the only way to end his suffering and the future suffering is to end her life. “Yet she must die, else she’ll betray more men. Put out the light, and then put out the light.”
This quotation suggests that he is using false reasoning to justify his actions. By killing her, he is ending his own suffering as well as preventing Desdemona from causing another man to suffer. Othello’s psychological suffering would remain as long as this internal battle was present. The removal of the cause would be justified in Othello’s eyes if it brought an end to his inner infliction. This is not the case however as, after murdering his wife he is overwhelmed with emotional suffering and regret for his actions, speaking with hysteria “My wife! My wife! What wife! I have no wife!” For all the psychological suffering he has had throughout the play, his actions only intensify his emotional turmoil. This overwhelming essence of mental suffering can only be ended with the taking of his own life: “I kissed thee, ere I killed thee: no way but this, Killing myself, to die upon a kiss”
Through this act the audience see some kind of semi-redemption of his suffering throughout the play. Although the novel One flew over the cuckoo’s nest is based around how the pressure of society causes these psychological ailments to the men on the ward, their recovery must come from within themselves; In contrast to the characters Othello and Heathcliff, Othello, overwhelmed with self doubt eventually murders his wife Desdemona. Othello took his life as he would never be able to recover. In similar fashion, Heathcliff also takes his life, due to the inner torment he feels for his beloved Catherine. The characters need to actually find it within themselves through each other, to overcome their emotional issues and paranoia. The message the audience receives from this concept is that mental institutions can be oppressive places; and in order for an individual to recover from their psychological ailment, they will have to find a way to combat the issue themselves. Similar to Othello, after he murders Desdemona;
Heathcliff’s suffering only intensifies after the death of his love Catherine. The death of Catherine is presented ironically, to have been caused not by childbirth, but the spiritual link between her and Heathcliff being separated. Earlier in the novel, Catherine states the phrase “I am Heathcliff!” Know that she is dead and Heathcliff fulfilled his desire for revenge, nothing is worth living for. He is constantly haunted by the memories of Catherine, which only increase his psychological suffering. He becomes so mentally unstable that he actually has Catherine’s coffin lid opened. Similar to Othello, in order to end this unrelenting emotional suffering death is the only option. Constant impressions of Catherine on Heathcliff state of mind are evident when Heathcliff speaks to Nelly: “What does not recall her [Catherine]? Those two [Catherine Linton and Linton Heathcliff] are the only objects which retain a distinct material appearance to me; and, that appearance causes me pain, amounting to agony.”
In the end, in order to escape all the psychological suffering Heathcliff, like Othello, takes his own life. The beguiled character of Roderigo also suffers within the play via the manipulation of Iago. Roderigo, who is deeply in love with Desdemona, assists the character Iago in sabotaging the situations of the other characters, in belief that Iago will help him win Desdemona’s favour. However, Iago has no intention of assisting the needs of the sorry Roderigo; instead only using the gullible figure to achieve his own desires. Again, Iago plays on the emotions of Roderigo. He inconspicuously flatters Roderigo; making out that the only way he can be with Desdemona is to perform such acts that will inevitably bring the downfall of the surrounding characters. Evidence of this can be seen when Iago persuades Roderigo that the removal of Cassio will help in his aim to be with Desdemona. Inevitably, Iago’s manipulation leads to the demise of Roderigo by none other then Iago himself, pretending to be the honourable face in front of those witnessing the attack on Cassio, “O murd’rous slave! O villain!” Roderigo’s suffering is directly related to Iago’s interference which in turn, leads to him being murdered.
This suffering inflicted upon Roderigo has been caused by his own naivety and the trust he holds for Iago’s manipulation. The character Nurse Ratched can be compared to Iago for her manipulation of those patients on the ward. Her manipulation is evident when Nurse Ratched tells the patients that the shock shop and other surgical procedures are good for you. Even though the patients are well aware that they are not healthy, they are all so psychologically damaged that they will not go against the authority. Similarities to Iago’s use of Roderigo and Nurse Ratched’s methods can be compared to the relationship between Isabella and Heathcliff. Isabella, who at first deeply loves Heathcliff, “I love him more than ever you loved Edgar; and he might love me if you would let him”, sacrifices her relationship with her brother in order to be with Heathcliff. He however does not feel the same way about her. Heathcliff reasoning for marrying Isabella is only to gain revenge over Edgar. Heathcliff treats Isabella with foul contempt during her stay at Wuthering Heights.
This lack of reciprocal love Isabella craves causes emotional suffering on her part, to the point where she leaves to live in London with her unborn child Linton. The innocent character of Desdemona is the personification of fidelity within the play. She demonstrates unwavering love for Othello throughout the play, even in front of her father Brabantio: “So much I challenge, that I may profess due to the Moor, my lord.” Before being murdered, lots of punctuation is utillised in order to break up the speech, which adds to the increasing tension and emotional suffering on Desdemona’s part: “What, my Lord? / How? Unlawfully?” We also see the first major aspect of fear in the play. She pleads to be sent away rather then be killed, “O banish me, my lord, but kill me not…Kill me tomorrow: Let me live tonight!” This emotional turmoil clearly emphasises to the audience that Desdemona’s vulnerability and terror only adds to her emotional and inevitable physical suffering. Again, her final line in the play after being smothered by her husband professes her loyalty and undeviating love towards Othello.
This is evident when Emilia asks “O, who hath done this?” Desdemona replies, “Nobody; I myself. Farewell.” Even after being murdered, she does not want Othello to be punished for killing her. It is this loyalty and innocence that marks her out as the character that has had no self inflicting part in her suffering. Others manipulation and doubt are the cause of Desdemona’s demise. The vulnerable state Desdemona was in can be directly compared the majority of the patients on the mental ward. The men on the ward suffer from dehumanisation and even emasculation. This is evident by the character Old Rawlet’s death by castration. The methods of manipulation Ratched uses prey on the vulnerable state of the inmates. Threats of public embarrassment are enough to keep the patients in line, not wanting to suffer anymore inflictions. “If Mr. McMurphy doesn’t want to take his medication orally, I’m sure we can arrange that he can have it some other way. But I don’t think that he would like it.”
When the character McMurphy is proving to be a problem, Big Nurse attempts to punish him via shock treatments. As well as a punishment, McMurphy is used as an example to the other patients, clearly emphasising what will happen if you go too far. This treatment was being used by the Nurse to shock those other patients into not supporting McMurphy and stating that others will suffer if it continues. In the play Othello, threats are not made at all. In contrast, the character Othello does not give Desdemona the chance to repent and, rather then suffer any more psychological turmoil, kills her. The character Catherine from Wuthering Heights can be seen as the complete opposite to Desdemona. Her union with Edgar was out of convenience in order to improve her social status. This is evident when Catherine exposes her self centered and status conscious nature, “It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now.” To improve her standing in society was the main reason why Catherine marries Edgar. This is the opposite of Desdemona who married the man she loved in spite of cultural differences. Again, Catherine’s suffering was mainly self-inflicted.
The betrayal of her feelings for Heathcliff acted as a catalyst for the suffering of others within the novel, especially Heathcliff. Even though Catherine loves the idea of Edgar, she still believes that Heathcliff is her soul-mate. Not being able to be with Heathcliff, seeing him with Isabella only increases her psychological distress which in turn was a major contributing factor into her death. In all three of the texts explored, the theme of suffering is evident throughout. It is one of the key factors which drive forward the storyline. It is evident that each author has individually designed their characters to be affected by different types of suffering in different ways.
Those characters who psychologically suffer within these extracts have often been manipulated by other people or outside influences which in turn puts them in their situation. The authors use those characters who suffer life experiences as the main foundations for their storyline. The reactions each of these characters make and how they affect others around them is a constant recurring factor throughout each extract. Suffering makes the basis for each characters role in their designated text, whether it happens to them, affects them or is caused by them. The theme of suffering is a crucial element in which without it, both novels and the play would have been less successful.