Individual vs. Society in Ken Kessey's Novel and Film "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest"

Essay 2005 5 Pages

American Studies - Literature


In my essay on the book One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey and its film I will show with some sequences from both genres how it is impossible for the individual to change the strict rules of a society. “Individual versus society” is also change versus status quo or conformity.

This is focussed on the one hand on the protagonist Mc Murphy as an individual who wants to change society and on the other hand we have Ratched, the big nurse, who is simply the oppressor of the non conformist people. Chief Broaden, the narrator of the book, coined the name Big Nurse for her alluding to Big Brother, simply because she represents the controlling mechanization, dehumanization and in the case of emasculation of modern society.

What exactly is going on in the novel?

I will better answer the question by using the following book review of the novel (Ken Kesey 1962):

In this classical novel of the 1960´s Ken Kasey’s is Randle Patrick Mc Murphy, a boisterous, fun-loving rebel who swaggers into the world of a mental hospital and takes over. A lusty, life-affirming fighter, Mc Murphy rallies the other patients around him by challenging the dictatorship of Big Nurse. He promotes gambling in the ward, smuggles in wine and women, and openly defies the rules at every turn. But this defiance, which starts as a sport, soon develops into a grim struggle, an all-out war between two relentless opponents: Big Nurse backed by the full power of authority…Mc Murphy, who has only his own indomitable will. What happens when Big Nurse uses her ultimate weapon against Mc Murphy provides the story’s shocking climax.

The above book review shows us that there is a perpetual struggle in the novel between Mc Murphy and Mrs Ratched, the Big Nurse, an instrument of the combine. Big Nurse, according to many sources symbolizes authoritarianism and dictatorship. She influences patients in the hospital on two levels:

a) The physical level

Big Nurse is acting totalitarian with tight control over every aspect of the ward.

b) The mental level

Through her behaviour we can identify her with a machine, because she has total control over her own emotions. We can even notice that in the first few pages of the novel.



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ISBN (Book)
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Institution / College
University of Siegen – Anglistik/ Amerikanistik Institut
Individual Society Essay Kessey´ Novel Film Flew Over Cuckoo’s Nest”




Title: Individual vs. Society in Ken Kessey's Novel and Film "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest"