Critical Analysis of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

Essay by mpagriHigh School, 11th gradeA, April 2004

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Identity Theft

How the institution strips the inmates of their manhood

One's identity is what makes one stand out from society; without identity the world's population would be able to fit into one common mold. Ken Kesey explores the ideas of identity and conformity in his book One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. An individual's identity is his manhood; stripped of one's manhood one is left without willpower and is forced to succumb to the authority. Kesey's mental institute is clearly designed to depict a society stripped of their manhood, or forced into conformity. The 'Theory' of the institute implies that the goal of the ward is to shape the inmates to better blend into society. McMurphy tries to show the patients that the only way to fight the system is to beat the routine and win back their identity. The entire system for creating individuals that fit better into the societal puzzle begins with the 'Theory of the Therapeutic Community'.

The Theory of the Therapeutic Community is a speech given by Dr. Spivey to each new admission; it is summarized for the reader by the narrator, Bromden, who has heard it repeated numerous times. Bromden explains that the theory says "How the group can help the guy by showing him where he's out of place; how society decides who's sane and who isn't" (pg 48). The group can help the guy by pointing out how he is different and to help him become more like the rest of them, so that, then, they can all fit snugly back into society. All of them the same, and all without identities. Also it says, "...working towards making worthwhile citizens to turn back Outside onto the street." Of course, it is implied, that it is society that decides what a worthwhile citizen...