Courseworks

A Close Reading and Critical Discussion of a Passage Selected From Part I of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ by Ken Kasey

Paying Particular attention to the creation of atmosphere in this extract, consider in what ways its themes and narrative style are characteristic of the novel as a whole.The opening to ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ introduces a wide range of themes and ideas which are later developed by Kasey as the novel progresses. The way in which he portrays his ideas within the extract is unique and powerful as he uses a number of techniques such as figurative language, which allow the reader to produce an extremely vivid image of the atmosphere felt within the asylum. The narrative, provided by Chief Bromden, allows the reader to relate closely to the experience felt by those confined within the ward, and therefore sharpens the emotions and imagery put forth by Kasey. This form of narrative is extremely effective as the reader is continually able to completely immerse themselves within the lives of the patients, giving the book additional depth and realism.The proposal that horrific abuse is present in the ward is instantly planted by Kasey. Chief Bromden introduces the impression that the ‘black boys’ sexually violate patients within the hospital while the other patients sleep. The atmosphere presented is one of great oppression, the black boys are described as ‘hating everything’ giving a sense of pessimism and total lack of hope. Chief Bromden is described attempting to avoid the attention of the aides by creeping ‘along the wall quiet as dust’. This could be interpreted as an indication that after spending so long in the hospital any form of free will has disintegrated, hence the reference to dust. The religious idea that when a person passes away their body turns to dust could also be apparent here, those held on the ward are dead on the inside. Kasey creates an atmosphere of repression and sadness in which patients would rather become invisible than face the consequences of being singled out by workers within the ‘system’. This theme continues through much of the novel, with many of the patients still unwilling to step forward and challenge the authority present within the ward. McMurphy brings a sense of life back to those left empty, reinstating a sense of hope.The way in which Chief Bromden is treated by the aides is degrading and cruel. They deprive him of his humanity and treat him like an animal rather than a human being. Any dignity left within a patient is soon taken away, for example, they hand Bromden a mop and simply ‘motion to the spot they aim’ for him to clean. There is no compassion, it seems that within the hospital humanity has taken a step back and human rights no longer exist. A hellish image is created as the Chief sees the ‘eyes glittering out of the black faces’ transfixing him with ‘fear’. The reader is overwhelmed by the malicious intent of the ‘black boys’ as they ‘detect’ his terror.Kasey uses animalistic imagery to further advance the theme of savagery within the hospital. There seems to be a pack mentality as the aides ‘all look up, all three at once’ and as they mumble ‘heads close together’. The idea is taken further when examining the role of the ‘Big Nurse’ in the group. It seems that she is the leader and has control over the male aides. This links in with the proposal that she denounces her sexuality and takes the role of the ‘alpha male’, losing her feminine traits and taking on more of a dominant role. In her bag she carries no ‘woman stuff’, no evidence that she is anything other than a dominant figure. By hiding her sexuality she eliminates any weakness associated with the female race, therefore giving away nothing to those who oppose her. The idea that she can easily intimidate three males who are clearly strong themselves illustrates her immense power, it seems that she is infallible and lacks a weakness.The animalistic imagery is revisited later in the extract, as Nurse Ratched ‘shape shifts’ into a creature ‘bigger than a tractor’. The idea that she hides within the body of a woman, yet is really a horrific animal is terrifying, and linked with the implication that she is unstoppable; a machine with no self control makes the idea even more effective.The dominance that Nurse Ratched shows can link in with several other ideas within the extract. Bromden states that the black boys perform ‘sex acts in the hall’. In a male ward this seems extreme as one would not normally relate sexual pleasure when only one sex is present. It seems that perhaps under the rule of the Nurse the black boys suffer from immense sexual oppression, and therefore have no other option than to seek a reprieve early in the morning when nobody is there to see, almost as if they feel guilty. This theme revolving around sexual abuse continues, McMurphy is continually challenging the sexual oppression, which comes to a climax at the end of the novel when he exposes the Nurses sexuality to everybody on the ward.Kasey introduces the idea of mechanical dominance within the extract. There are many references to Nurse Ratched and machinery, and many more general references to a mechanical system being in place. When she enters the ward, the lock on the door seems to respond to her touch as it ‘cleaves to the key, soft and swift’ as if it itself knows the importance of the person about to pass through. Her fingernails are ‘like the tip of a soldering iron’. This suggests that she is the link, bonding the machinery with her human ‘disguise’ to create a system working in seemingly perfect harmony. Her bag is compared to a ‘toolbox’ full of ‘a thousand parts’. The concept that she uses these items on the patients further advances the notion that humanity is taken away stage by stage and replaced by machinery that the nurse can control.Kasey makes several possible references to religion. In her rage Ratched moves as if to wrap herself tightly around the ‘black boys’ like a snake. In story of Adam and Eve the devil takes the form of a snake to corrupt the human race, one must question whether Nurse Ratched is representative of the Devil, an idea which links in with the fate of McMurphy later in the novellas he is punished upon the ‘crucifix’ shaped table like a Christ figure. At times of desperation one can assume that everyone will turn to a higher power, and in this case one must question whether the situation in which patients find themselves within the asylum forces them to turn to God. This links in with the hellish imagery put forth by Kasey and experienced firsthand by Bromden.In conclusion it seems that Kasey uses a variety of techniques to create a terrifying atmosphere within the asylum and ward. The patients are deprived of their humanity, and in a way destroyed by the system. The use of imagery and religious connotations allows the reader to experience the suffering felt by the patients due to the immense power of Kasey’s writing. The novel is characterised by the dominance of a single figure, and the oppression felt within the ‘combine’, these themes run throughout and produce atmosphere, emotion and an overall sense of absolute desperation characteristic of the characters within ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’.

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