Literary Essay "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" by Ken Kesey

Essay by Anonymous UserCollege, UndergraduateA-, January 1996

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Many protagonists are considered heroes, ranging from Hamlet to Hercules. All of these heroes also did something to earn the honoured title. In today's society modern heroes have been found, one of which is the traditional Western hero. We also have a hero in Jesus Christ, saviour to some, yet a hero no matter what religion those who look upon him follow. In One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Ken Kesey uses both of these heroes of today, amalgamating them so that his protagonist displayed characteristics of each. McMurphy, the protagonist, is a character aided in creation by those two images with opposing characteristics, yet McMurphy was also given a characteristic that was shared by the two heroes, a willingness to help people.

Randle Patrick McMurphy is portrayed in the novel as similar to the traditional Western hero. Appearing quite early in the book, he immediately gives the impression of being bound to nothing at all; he was shown as unrestrained from the beginning.

Chief Bromden, the narrator, presents evidence of this by describing McMurphy's laugh as 'free and loud'(Kesey p. 16). The Western hero is known to be carefree, and so was McMurphy when he was first admitted as he 'laces his fingers over his belly without taking his thumbs out of his pockets,'(Kesey p. 16) a very relaxed poise. McMurphy also appears to be much like the Western hero, a risk taker; he would go to meet a challenge, ready to risk a confrontation, usually with the Big Nurse. One such occasion was when McMurphy rose to meet the Nurse's confiscation and rationing of cigarettes by breaking her window and taking the cigarettes. The Chief comments on this confrontational aspect of McMurphy's character when he says of McMurphy:

He was the logger again, the swaggering gambler, the big...