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“Ordinary People” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”: Book Report

Fault and Responsibility Taking People apart in the Ordinary People

The major theme of the book by Judith Ann Guest in 1976 is education and upbringing conflicts that follow both parents, Cal and Beth Jarrett. The reason for such discrepancies is first of all their background – Cal is the orphan who never knew his father and saw his mother very seldom until she died in his childhood. Thus, he grew up alone and never had a father’s experience, not knowing how to bring his own children up. Such parentless childhood influences his relations with his sons – Beth often accuses him of being too soft and yielding before his sons, the man who is unable to be firm and who is ready to fulfill every wish of his kids.

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But Cal himself relies on responsibility as the main principle of children’s upbringing: he wants to be the best father in the world, being ready to give his kids everything they would ever want:

“Responsibility. That is fatherhood. You cannot afford to miss any signs, because that is how it happens: somebody holding too much inside, somebody else missing signs” (Guest 9).

By these motives of his actions may be his too much concern over Con after the death of his second child and his despair because of the inability to help him. He constantly discusses Con’s mood, actions, and life with his wife, Beth, by which he destroys her moral equilibrium.

The principles of education pursued by Beth are perfection, preservation of her reputation, and moral stability:

“They learned, all of them, that certain things drove her to the point of madness: dirt tracked in on a freshly scrubbed floor; water-spotted shower stalls; articles of clothing left out of place. And, he had to admit, he liked a clean house; he liked the order she brought into his life, perfectionist that she was” (Guest 83)

She surely is torn apart by the death of one of her sons, and the second son who feels guilty for the death of Jordan is killing her with accusations, though silent ones, clearly shown by his suicide attempt. She tries to live as if nothing happened and fails to do this because of the constant worries of Cal.

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The roots of Beth’s attitude to education can be well traced in the grandparents of Cal – Beth’s parents, Ellen and Howard. They have probably raised Beth in the same strictness as she shows towards Con, which is evident in the conduct of Ellen constantly being very critical and attentive to all minor issues connected with Con. Even on Christmas Eve and at the period of time when Con stays with Ellen and Howard, they harass him with questions about his lateness, about his academic progress, etc. even seeing that he is better now, dating a girl, and not thinking about any suicide anymore. This highly attentive attitude they show towards him shows that they place perfection before education and before certain moral, spiritual issues. Even seeing their grandson is better they are more concerned about his doing everything properly, the way they see it. Hence, the similar lines of behavior can be seen in the attitude of Beth towards Con – she cannot stand the fact that something went wrong in their family and decides not to think about that and to pretend that everything is fine instead of trying to find the way out of the critical situation in which they all got.

The present book raises much thought about good parenthood – since Cal failed to be near Con and to help him in the critical situation of his life because of his softness, it is possible to suppose that his model of a father is not the one worth following:

“He was supporting his family, his boys, in style: whatever they needed, whatever they wanted, they got. He had arrived. He was here. Not bad for the kid from the Evangelical Home” (Guest 10).

Beth is also the mother who hides from the problems instead of solving them, but still composes herself and tries to keep her life ordinary without harassing Con with constant concerns that may bring him a new nervous breakdown. Upon thinking about the real role of a good parent, it is possible to suppose that a really successful parent should have the feeling of attachment to his or her child and should feel when he or she is necessary and when not. It is destructive to blame children for the things they have not committed, but not explaining the true sense of things is also fatal. Thus, all parents should always keep track of their kids’ mental status and should detect the moments when they feel bad – the equilibrium between silence and a sincere task, the balance between paying enough attention to the child and neglecting some minor faults acquires essential meaning at times. It is necessary to let the child understand that you care about him or her, but at the same time not to impose your will and let him or her develop and grow their own way. This is probably the key to success in a family.

The Verge Between Sane and Insane: the Conflict of Characters in the One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

The middle of the 20th century has been marked by a great number of grand events in the world, such as the post-war period in the US and the Cold War with the USSR that could not help leaving its trace on the lives of people, on the everyday affairs that took place and were seen by the common public. Surely, it was the period of depression as many people felt the downfall of economics and the degradation of society; in addition to this fact, state governments were obsessed by winning the devilish game for power with their neighbors, often neglecting the needs of society and striving for dominance and not democracy or social welfare. Often the US citizens became victims of institutionalization, the style of governing a country that was adopted after World War II – there was no time to think about human needs, and all people were considered faceless, without regard to their individual peculiarities, needs, and wants.

A clear example of such a drama can be seen in the world-famous novel of Ken Kesey that was published in 1962 and narrated the life of a rebel who died in the relentless struggle for being heard, understood, and accepted as he was – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The author himself worked in the mental illnesses institution and felt the action of psycho-modulating drugs because he was engaged in a testing program arranged by the government. Thus, he spoke about burning issues in his book trying to turn the public’s attention to the problem of authoritative power that destroys everything on its path and imposes its will on human beings who are crippled by such influence.

The novel is told from the perspective of the huge Native American “Chief” Bromden who is sent to the medical institution and pretends to be deaf to stand the horror and discrimination he sees there. One day the delinquent Randle Patrick McMurphy is also sent to the same institution because he does not want to subdue the law enforcement officers, and they make a decision to let him be treated as a mentally ill person to calm down his explosive character. Being at the hospital McMurphy has fun with the ‘acutes’ and even manages to escape together with all of them to go fishing.

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All fun ends as soon as McMurphy finds out he is not free to leave as soon as he wants and realizes that he has become the captive of Nurse Rached. While arranging his escape with “Chief” Bromden who has already become his best friend, McMurphy arranges a love affair for Billy Bibbit, a shy nervous young man with who he sympathizes. However, the escape fails because of drugs mixed with alcohol, Billy commits suicide because of Nurse Rached’s intimidation, and the infuriated McMurphy attempts to kill the tyrant. His attempt fails and he is taken to the surgery where the doctors make him a lobotomy, leaving him a freak for the rest of his life. “Chief” Bromden sees the drama, kills McMurphy to relieve him from sufferings, and commits the escape McMurpjhy wanted so much with the help of the symbolic water control panel.

From the plot summary, it becomes clear that the main protagonist is Randle McMurphy – he is the same person urged to live with people with mental disorders, but he does not lose his optimism and manages to live a satisfied and happy life even under such awful conditions. He perceives other patients as normal people and sees that they are not mentally ill, but they are made to think so because of the pressure of the system embodied in Nurse Rached in the present novel:

“I mean—hell, I been surprised how sane you guys all are. As near as I can tell you’re not any crazier than the average asshole on the street—” (p. 63).

This fact is proven when the Nurse turns McMurphy’s attention to the voluntary stay of the majority of patients. McMurphy is a rebel by nature; there are no rules for him, and he is never guided by the considerations of morality and ethics. This truth about his character and the actions described in the book are closely connected and symbolically described in the child’s song that gave the name to the novel – “[o]ne flew east, one flew west, one flew over the cuckoo’s nest… goose swoops down and plucks you out” (p. 272).

He is really a delinquent, but his fierce search for the truth strangely causes sympathy from the very beginning of the novel. He further on shows himself as a humane person who takes care of others and is kind deep in his soul. But the reader understands his anger is caused by unfairness and the ugly world that surrounds him, his unwillingness to surrender and live like all others – in fear and slavery.

The main protagonist, the Nurse Rached, is the complete opposite of the active, passionate, and vivid character of McMurphy. She is nearly faceless – she never raises her voice, she is always serene and smiling, but from the very start the reader understands that an ugly, cruel soul is hidden under the mask of friendliness the Nurse wears. She is a queen of her own estate – she intimidates and conducts pressure on her patients making them stay because of the feeling of blame; she uses electro-shocking when she needs to calm them down, which already shows her treatment for patients as inhuman.

Finally, she makes Billy Bibbit commit suicide, initially knowing how unstable and vulnerable he is, and does not feel any regrets about this, even taking into consideration the fact that she knows his mother well. The only reason for such cruelty appears to be the wrongdoings of her patients whom she considers her property. These are the main characteristics of the governmental system that are transferred in a symbolical way through the image of the powerful, tyrannical, and indifferent nurse.

The conflict of the story is shown in the relations of McMurphy with the Nurse and with the rest of the patients. As soon as he comes, he is acting violently, mocking everyone and feeling that he is the leader at least for one reason: because he is sane. He commits many tricks, even instigating the ‘acutes’ for an escape, making a bet that he will raise the water control panel or taking the patients fishing, etc. But the conflict gets much deeper when it becomes clear for McMurphy that Nurse Rached with keeping him there as much as she wants, and he decides to escape. The way McMurphy arranges his escape is also not a trifle – by the debouche they arrange in the hospital he wants to show to Nurse Rached that he does not care a bit about her rules. But the plan fails, and the main events are only coming – the tension rises, both characters understand that no one will give up, and each of them does what they consider necessary.

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The climax comes when Billy Bibbit’s death becomes evident – McMurphy gets mad at the Nurse and strangles her, seriously hurting her throat and depriving her of the main strength, her voice. McMurphy gets lobotomy done, and “Chief” Bromden finally breaks the water control panel, kills McMurphy, and fulfills their common dream. The ending is very sad, with many victims, but still, the final pages show that McMurphy managed to achieve his goal and Nurse Rached does not have her formed power anymore.

Thus, coming to a conclusion on the One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest it is necessary to say that the book is a true call for humanity and for reduction of pressure of the governmental system on the weak, separate individuals, which cripples and breaks them. Through the micro-world of a mental disorders institution, the author shows that the problem is common for sane people as well, and it is a true question to find out who is sane and who is not, since the reality under these conditions is strongly distorted and the truth is very hard to distinguish.

Works Cited

Juest, Judith Ann. Ordinary People. Viking Press, 1976.

Kesey, Ken. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Viking Press & Signet Books, 1962.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, November 14). “Ordinary People” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”: Book Report. https://studycorgi.com/ordinary-people-and-one-flew-over-the-cuckoos-nest-book-report/

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"“Ordinary People” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”: Book Report." StudyCorgi, 14 Nov. 2021, studycorgi.com/ordinary-people-and-one-flew-over-the-cuckoos-nest-book-report/.

1. StudyCorgi. "“Ordinary People” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”: Book Report." November 14, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/ordinary-people-and-one-flew-over-the-cuckoos-nest-book-report/.


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StudyCorgi. "“Ordinary People” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”: Book Report." November 14, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/ordinary-people-and-one-flew-over-the-cuckoos-nest-book-report/.

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "“Ordinary People” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”: Book Report." November 14, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/ordinary-people-and-one-flew-over-the-cuckoos-nest-book-report/.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) '“Ordinary People” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”: Book Report'. 14 November.

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