By means of a close reading of the passage ‘The big hard body… ‘ to ‘… I been away a long time’ consider in what ways this is an appropriate conclusion to one flew over the cuckoos nest. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (which shall now be referred to as Cuckoo throughout this consideration) was written by Ken Kesey and published in 1962. In the novel, a character called Randal McMurphy enters a mental institute to avoid a work farm, and comes up against the suppressive regime of Miss Ratched, who he sees to be manipulating and destroying people by removing their identity.
Before the conclusion of the novel, McMurphy, in a culmination of events in which he tries to make the patients in the institute regain knowledge of who they are, is given a frontal lobotomy. The importance of energy, vitality and recognition of the right to be free in Cuckoo is always apparent. McMurphy is a character that breathes life into the whole novel, with his bright red hair ‘This guy is redheaded… with a broad white devilish grin’ and flamboyant personality. ‘… he commences to laugh…
But its not the way the Public Relation laughs, its free and loud and comes out of wide grinning mouth… ‘ he is always referred to as having an independent mind, and although he has faults, for example gambling, the reader is aware that McMurphy is better with his faults than without, faults are what makes a person different from the rest, and faults are what makes a person who they are. In the concluding passage the Cheif smothers McMurphy and considers a person without a mind to be already dead. ‘I saw the expression hadn’t changed from the blank, dead-end look the least bit’
Kesey manages to make the reader visualise a truly cold image of a person without a mind which sharply contrasts to McMurphy’s character throughout the novel. Thus he expresses the importance of using our mind and retaining our individuality, and not allowing ourselves to become virtually lobotomised without an operation. This is an adequate and memorable conclusion on the theme of not conforming to society’s unwritten laws to the point we are indistinguishable from everybody else. A person without individuality is not a person.
Cuckoo was considered at the time to be a shocking novel, exposing the cruelty of the existing mental institutes on a small scale, but passing judgement on the unwritten social laws of society at the time also. Kesey gives the reader the ultimate shock when he concludes the novel with McMurphy’s death. One does not expect the character in the book, which has provided so much hope to the patients, to die himself. However, by making McMurphy a martyr, Kesey both imprints the twist in the novel in people’s minds forever, but also makes the reader run a parallel with Jesus.
Jesus died so that mankind may live in the kingdom of heaven. Similarly, McMurphy died to save chief and the other patients so that they may live on earth. The death of McMurphy can be seen as a warning sign as to the devastation society’s opinions on the deviation from normal can cause, and once again he supports the message of the importance of freedom of expression. The imagery he uses in the death scene is dramatic and profound ‘… I finally had to lie full length on top of it and scissor kick the legs with mine while I mashed the pillow into the face… ‘
So this creates a sound conclusion to a potentially very dramatically and profound introspective book. The novel is narrated by chief Bromden, and throughout we watch as McMurphy has a positive influence on the chief, making him believe in himself again. McMurphy encourages the patients to be themselves and be independent, unlike miss Ratched, who makes them too scared to be themselves, and dependant on others. The imagery used when the chief escapes is very romantic. ‘… i ran, seeming to step and float a long ways before my next foot struck the earth. I felt like I was flying free…
‘ This concludes the novel on a hopeful note after many dark ideas have been constantly enforced onto the mind. It fills the reader with the knowledge that they can escape society’s oppression and re-find themselves. Chief says ‘I been away a long time’ and this summarises just what oppression does to people, it makes them forget who they are and they lose touch with the world. For example Billy has never had life experiences such as being with women before, and the chief has somewhat symbolically never spoken for many years in his life just to avoid trouble.
His lack of speech can be looked at as the loss of his identity, therefore, in the conclusion of the novel, we get the sense that Chief will go away and reclaim himself. He is not going to be anyone but himself either as demonstrated when he doesn’t wear McMurphy’s cap. The hat symbolises who McMurphy was and the Cheif briefly flirts with the idea of trying to live like McMurphy when trying it on, and then realises that finding himself is most important. ‘I’d like to see what they’ve all been doing since the government tried to buy their right to be Indians…
Mostly, I’d just like to look over the country around the gorge again, just to bring some of it clear in my mind again’ This is a traditional upbeat ending to the book, and also throws open the question of what happened to the chief, and leaves the reader back over thinking about the contents of the novel. Therefore, even after the book is finished there is a lot of room for thought and analysis of the ideas; there is no definite ending just like there is no definite ending in life.
The conclusion of Cuckoo ties all the themes together with powerful imagery and firmly imprints the ideas contained in the novel on the reader’s minds forever. It also allows room for individual perceptions on what happens next. By throwing the ending open to individual perception, Kesey perhaps leaves a final conclusion that life is we make it, and our mind forges own destiny thus never abandon our individuality or our lives are not worth living.