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“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kessy Literature Analysis


Written by Ken Kessy, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a masterpiece that relates closely to Kessy’s experiences with mentally sick people. Several themes come out clearly and they expound America’s unrelenting efforts to root out communism and despotism around the globe. For instance, themes of individuation and insurrection against conformism stand out in this book.

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Plot Overview

The main character in this novel is Chief Bromden, a mental patient in a hospital in Oregon where he stayed for more than ten years. Bromden’s life is overshadowed by fear; characterized by fears and illusions. He calls these fears, ‘Combine’ (Kenny Para. 5). The combine is a force that compels people to conform to some set standards.

In this hospital, patients fall into two broad categories depending on the intensity of their sickness. Chronics are the terminally ill while Acutes can be treated. The patients are placed under the care of Ratched, a retired army nurse; unfortunately, she handles the patients mechanically and harshly, probably due to the years she spent in the army.

As the story unfolds, Ratched encourages acute patients to assault one another to make them submit. In case of rebellion on the part of any patient, he receives electroshock and lobotomy in some cases. These practices are prohibited across all medical fields (Perring Para.6).

As the story unravels, McMurphy checks into this hospital. After meeting Ratched in the first group meeting, McMurphy concludes that she is a castrator. Other patients describe Ratched differently; however, Ratched is a brute who cannot be defied. However, McMurphy vows to tame her in a week.

McMurphy shows outright rebellion towards Ratched; while at first other patients sit back and enjoy the events, they join in the rebellion soon afterward. Finally, Ratched loses her temper and screams at the rebelling patients. According to Bromden, any visitor in that place would think everyone in that room is insane including Ratched. In part II, despite McMurphy’s continued rebellion; he is not taken to the Disturbed Unit.

However, McMurphy learns that he will stay in the hospital as long as Ratched wants and therefore he decides to submit to her demands probably to win a faster release. Unfortunately, other patients see McMurphy as their natural leader and when he submits to Ratched, they are dismayed. Cheswick, one of the dismayed patients commits suicide by drowning in a pool due to McMurphy’s betrayal.

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In part III, McMurphy experiences electroshock, and this makes him reevaluate his rebellious stand, especially after realizing that he was the cause of Cheswick’s death. In the last part of the novel, McMurphy becomes rebellious again prompting Ratched to refer him to electroshock treatment in the Disturbed Unit.

Though he pretends not to be affected by these treatments, other patients can see his sapped energy, and they urge him to break away. However, McMurphy cannot escape for he had planned Billy to have sex with Candy that night. After bribing one of the guards, Candy finds her way in the hospital and things go on as planned.

The following morning, Ratched finds Candy with Billy and threatens to report this to Billy’s mother. Billy kills himself prompting McMurphy to attack Ratched. Consequently, Ratched sends McMurphy to a lobotomy. This makes McMurphy a cabbage and Bromden kills him in his sleep. Ratched loses her autocratic authority over the ward. Bromden escapes the ward after killing McMurphy. Other patients check out of the ward.


Part I

Chief Bromden is the narrator of this story. He pretends to be deaf; therefore, the staff discusses many privacy issues in his presence. Consequently, he knows a lot about the ward. However, his mind is full of hallucinations and fear. He sees the world as a tyrannical force that compels people to conformity.

On the other hand, the hospital is the repair shop for individuals who cannot conform to these societal forces. If a person cannot conform to these forces, he or she is branded mentally ill and should check in a hospital for ‘repair’. According to Kessy, mental hospitals symbolize the oppression that dominates modern society (Perring Para. 9).

Coincidentally, Kessy wrote this story before the regression of the counterculture that became pronounced in the 1960s. Kessy’s argument here is that hospitals are only dehumanizing units, not curing centers. Ratched represents oppressive society. This life is becoming more unproductive as women rise to power, evidenced by the fact that Ratched is a castrator, ending reproduction.

McMurphy stands out as a person who is willing to defy all odds of this oppressive society at any cost. He deliberately rebels Ratched by use of his sexuality as all other patients join the rebel, Ratched screams, something that makes Bromden observe that everyone is insane.

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This shows that everyone is insane; however, some people conform to the forces of society while others cannot conform. Ironically, those who fail to conform are branded insane while everyone is insane (Kelly Para. 9). However, with a devoted leader, the society can dissolve these forces, and McMurphy is the symbol of this leader.

Part II

Ratched spares McMurphy because she does not want to look defeated. Society has confirmed for long, and this is what Bromden realizes as he notices that McMurphy stands his grounds by “being who he is” (Kessy 50). This is what is lacking in society; people cannot stand to be who they are; they choose to conform to the standards of this world.

Bromden says that “the car and the dog are headed to the same spot of pavement” (Kessy 59). Car here symbolizes the oppressive forces in society while dog symbolizes the ‘tamed’ human beings and as they try to rebel, they will be crushed by the ‘car.’ Those who try to resist these forces in society suffer the same fate as the dog, death.

Part III

McMurphy continues with his rebellion, and this depicts how people were determined to embrace counterculture in the 1960s; they would not let go. Bromden; a symbol of a common person in this oppression turmoil, starts to gain self-knowledge. People had to rise to their feet and demand what was rightfully theirs, and this is what McMurphy stood for.

As a leader, McMurphy came to the rescue of other patients, and this leads him to sneak in a prostitute, Candy, at least to show them that they are still normal people subjected to cultural conformities; hence, the need for the counterculture.

Part IV

McMurphy’s physical attack on Ratched signifies how people were ready to break from tyrannical rules. The ripping of Ratched’s uniform symbolized the end of tyrannical rule ushering in the counterculture.

McMurphy dies a dignified death, and Bromden escapes from the ward. As aforementioned, Bromden symbolized the common person in a society subjected to oppression. His eventual escape signifies how people broke loose from these tyrannical powers and ushered in the counterculture, characterized by free lifestyles de-linked from established tyrannical cultures.

Theme Analysis

Kessy tackles different themes; however, the outstanding theme is society’s established cultures that intimidate people as they pursue individuality and freedom. Throughout the novel, it is clear that Kessy was against established cultures, and this explains why counterculture was inevitable.

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Bromden; being the common person in society is in a ward which stands for the societal established tyrannical cultures. Ratched symbolizes the powers in society. On the other hand, McMurphy is the figure of the people pushing for counter the culture.

Even though Bromden remembers the time, he had free will to choose things like fishing; now he is full of fears and hallucinations. The government had converted their fishing ground to electricity generation site. This shows the extent to which tyranny had established roots in society during those times. However, there were people like McMurphy who had unbridled personalities, and they are the champions of course counterculture.

Even though most of these champions died like McMurphy, common people had the chance to escape from the tyrannical rule and ushered counterculture just the way Bromden escaped the ward. The tyrannical rulers, symbolized by Ratched, remained ripped of the powers they had exercised for long. Other themes include sexuality as a weapon against intimidation, incorrect insanity diagnosis, and women rising to power as an impediment to society’s reproduction for they are ‘castrators.’


One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest emphasizes how tyrannical rule had proliferated in the society trapping people in and making them conform to some set rules. However, few individuals stood for the rights of humanity rebelling against these rules. Consequently, the counterculture was inevitable, it finally happened in the 1960s, and people broke away from tyranny just as Bromden broke away from the ward.

Works Cited

Kenny, S. “Book Review: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” 2004. Web.

Kessy, K. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” New York: The Viking Press, 1962.

Perring, C. “Review: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Fiction. 2007. Web.

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StudyCorgi. (2020, May 3). “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kessy Literature Analysis.

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"“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kessy Literature Analysis." StudyCorgi, 3 May 2020,

1. StudyCorgi. "“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kessy Literature Analysis." May 3, 2020.


StudyCorgi. "“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kessy Literature Analysis." May 3, 2020.


StudyCorgi. 2020. "“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kessy Literature Analysis." May 3, 2020.


StudyCorgi. (2020) '“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kessy Literature Analysis'. 3 May.

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