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Religion In One Flew Over The Cuchoo

’s Nest Essay, Research Paper

?As he [Jesus] landed he saw a great throng, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a Shepherd.?(Mark 6:34) Jesus? entrance is much like R.P. McMurphy?s entrance onto the ward in Ken Kesey?s One Flew Over the Cuckoo?s Nest. Much like Jesus, McMurphy saw the people on this psychiatric ward as metaphorical sheep, leaderless and subject to the cunning fox, in the form of Head Nurse Ratched. In this novel, told from the point of view of a deaf and dumb mute, Kesey illustrates the plight of the ward members such as Billy Bibbit, who quivers at the mere mention of his mother; Harding, who is petrified of people noticing his femininity; and Chief Bromden, the narrator who has retreated into a deaf and dumb shell to avoid people. McMurphy acts as a Jesus figure to these people by sticking up for their rights, disobeying the head nurse, and challenging senseless rules; and in doing so, empowers them. Ken Kesey uses religious imagery throughout One Flew Over The Cuckoo?s Nest in order to make the characters seem more victimized, innocent, and self-sacrificing.

The patients in One Flew Over the Cuckoo?s Nest are not treated well. Big Nurse Ratched and the nursing staff have free-reign over the patient?s lives; this free reign creates the need for a savior on the ward. Patients, such as Harding, have to sit through a metaphorical ?pecking party,? where afterwards it seems as if friends got ?sight of a spot of blood? and they all go to peckin? at it,?(55). The members on the ward are so jaded by experiencing this humiliation on a day to day basis that they are convinced by the hospital and particularly Big Nurse Ratched that the ?pecking party? is for their ?own benefit? [and] that any question or discussion raised by Miss Ratched or the rest of the staff is done solely for therapeutic purposes.?(56) The patients on Nurse Ratched?s ward are all powerless, this sense of powerlessness creates a strong need for a savior, a Christ figure. The EST in One Flew Over the Cuckoo?s Nest also victimizes patients and harms them, the victims; whomever Nurse Ratched chooses. When Harding describes the EST to McMurphy, he likens it to a cross: ?You are strapped to a table, shaped, ironically, like a cross.?(64) Harding then deepens the religious imagery by comparing the EST table specifically to Jesus? crucifixion, ?? with a crown of electric sparks in place of thorns.?(65) By comparing the EST table and the sparks to Jesus and his crucifixion, Kesey emphasizes the innocence of the members of the ward who are its victims, to Jesus who was still killed and crucified all though he was a ?righteous man?(Matt 27:19), a man in whom Pilate had ?found in him no crime deserving death?(Luke 23:22).

An example of the innocent person being electro-shocked can be seen in Chief Bromden?s description of the former acute Ellis. Ellis, who, ?came in an acute and got fouled up bad when they overloaded him,?(20) and then turned into a Chronic. Chronics are kept in the hospital, ? to keep them from walking around the street giving the product a bad name? [People who] are machines with flaws inside that can?t be repaired,?(19) otherwise known as people with un-curable mental deficiencies. Ellis went from being an acute to being, ?? nailed against the wall in the same condition they lifted him off the table for the last time, in the same shape, arms out, palms cupped,?(20) the irreversible product of the ?Shock Shop.? By showing how the EST table turned a curable Acute patient into an incurable Chronic, Kesey illustrates the cruel treatment of patients on the ward. By placing Ellis in a crucified pose, Kesey further shows the innocence of Ellis by comparing him to Jesus, another innocent man nailed to a cross.

McMurphy becomes the Savior needed so badly on Nurse Ratched?s ward by helping empower those patients who are continuously victimized and abused by nurse Ratched and the nursing staff. McMurphy acts like a Christ figure when he tries to help the patients on the ward by encouraging them to stand up for themselves and then leads them by example. McMurphy?s ability to act as a savior can be seen when he gets Chief Bromden to speak and simultaneously begins to empower him. The night before the big fishing trip, after an aid takes away all of Chief Bromden?s gum, McMurphy gives the Chief a fresh pack of juicy fruit gum, and in doing so, prompts the chief to speak: ??before I realized what I was doing, I told him Thank you.?(184) This is the first time Chief Bromden has spoken in the novel, let alone during his stay on the ward. Clearly, parallels can be drawn between McMurphy and Jesus, who healed, ?a demon-possessed man [who] could not talk? [This man] was brought to Jesus. And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke.?(Mathew 9:32) Another parallel can be seen when McMurphy convinces chief Bromden that he is no longer the diminutive product of the Combine, ?I looked down and saw how my foot was bigger than I?d ever remembered it? twice its size.?(225) Chief Bromden?s sickness was that he felt small and unimportant By convincing the Chief of his real size McMurphy, began to cure Chief Bromden?s problem of being ?way too little?(186). By making the Chief feel bigger, he empowers him, for without this empowerment, Chief Bromden would not have, ?walked back to the dorm, telling [himself], The hell with that? I never went against what the black boys ordered before,?(191) the Chief would have just obeyed the black boys and let the black boys use him. McMurphy?s effect on Chief parallels Jesus? effect on Peter as when he told Peter that he could walk on water: ? ?Lord, if it?s you,? Peter replied, ?tell me to come to you on the water.? ?Come? [Jesus] said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water, and came toward Jesus.?(Mathew 14:27-29) Jesus convinced Peter that he could walk on water much like McMurphy convinces Chief that he was actually getting bigger. By creating parallels between McMurphy and Jesus, Kesey transforms McMurphy from a simple man trying to help others, to a righteous man who helps people as much as he can.

Like Jesus, McMurphy is not altogether an eager messiah, as is Jesus? case in the Garden of Gethsemane, McMurphy doubts his ability to keep helping people while at the same time, sacrificing himself. While saving the ward from the evil ways of Nurse Ratched, McMurphy begins to doubt himself and his power to defy the nurse. When McMurphy meets the life guard from disturbed, he finds out that his time on the ward does not have a specific end, ?You?re sentenced in a jail, and you got a date ahead of you when you know you?re gonna be turned loose.?(147) After McMurphy realizes the implications of this statement, Chief Bromden notices that, ?McMurphy doesn?t stand up for us [the patients] any longer.?(150) Just as McMurphy has doubts about sacrificing himself, so does Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane where he prays to God to relieve him of his duties as a savior, ?And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, Oh my Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou [wilt].?(Mathew 26:39) By drawing another comparison to Jesus, Kesey illustrates the role McMurphy plays as a Christ figure and savior to the patients on Nurse Ratched?s ward. Although not wholeheartedly willing to be the group?s savior, McMurphy abandons his policy of laying low when he sees that most of the patients were at the Hospital voluntarily because they felt they could not handle the real world.

When McMuphy sees how desperate the situation is for most of the ward, he begins to empower the patients again. For instance, McMurphy helped Rub-a-dub George, who had a ?thing about sanitation?(193) to not only join the fishing trip, but to captain the boat as well. George, an old fisherman, was afraid that the boat was ?awful dirty.? By convincing George otherwise, McMurphy empowered him and gave him a chance to regain some of his past life. The religious parallels deepen, when McMurphy takes ?twelve of us [patients] towards the ocean,?(203) Just as Jesus had twelve disciples, McMurphy had twelve followers. This fishing trip was a turning point for many on the boat for instance, Harding who was made ?second in command?(207) and Sefelt who stopped ?worrying about a seizure,?(209) and instead, upon seeing the fish had his ?eyes pop and got so excited.?(209) Another one of the twelve, Billy Bibbit, is a man of thirty who is still treated like a child. McMurphy helps Billy with his lonliness by introducing him to Candy and then helping him ?cash in his Cherries.?(245) While McMurphy aids and empowers Billy, the favor will not be returned later on.

Unfortunately for McMurphy, there is a Judas figure among his twelve ?disciples.? Judas, the Biblical figure and one of Jesus? disciples gave Jesus to the Romans for crucifixion; and in doing so made him a martyr. Billy Bibbit, who McMurphy helped out throughout the novel with getting a girlfriend and overcoming his shyness, eventually gives McMurphy up. After throwing a party, McMurphy and all the acutes are shocked to find that they are caught. When the nurse catches Billy, he immediately blames McMurphy for being in a closed room with the prostitute that he felt he was in love with. When asked who forced him to do it, Billy responds: ?And M-M-McMurphy! He did.?(264) Billy gives up McMurphy just as ?Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves? Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus.?(Mathew 26:47-50) The results of both Billy?s and Judas? actions were the same. When the nurse takes charge, McMurphy is dealt with. A few days later after the party, McMurphy returns on a gurney, his chart saying: ?McMurphy, Randall P. Post Operative. And below this was written in ink, Lobotomy.?(269) While McMurphy was not dead, he was what was known on the ward as a vegetable. He could no longer truly function as a person. In effect, R.P. McMurphy died because Billy Bibbit gave him up even though he had helped him. In the final chapter of One Flew Over The Cuckoo?s Nest McMurphy dies because of his actions as a savior, by doing this, Kesey completes the religious imagery in One Flew Over The Cuckoo?s Nest and in doing so shows the reader that a major facet in McMurphy?s life was helping others, a trait shared with Jesus. In the novel?s closing, Chief?s empowerment paralells that of Peter?s again. After Chief ends McMurphy?s pain by, ?mashing the pillow into the face,?(270) and suffocating him, he escapes into the real world by catching a ?ride with a guy, a Mexican guy, going north,?(272) Chief?s escape from the ward mimicks Peter?s departure from the sepulchre: ?Then arose Peter? and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass.?(Luke 24:12) Kesey immitates the departure of Peter after Jesus? death, by having Chief Bromden run away from the ward.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo?s Nest is full of religious imagery. By specifically comparing one character, R.P. McMurphy, to Jesus and the other patients to the people who Jesus was a savior to, Kesey turns this story from a mere novel into an epic much like the story of Jesus? life in the New Testament. By turning One Flew Over The Cuckoo?s Nest into an epic, Kesey elevates the novel?s importance, making the novel a commentary on society. One Flew Over The Cuckoo?s Nest illustrates the dangers of letting people lose control of their lives and giving up their rights as a human beings, creating a need for a savior or Christ figure. Kesey clearly illustrates that it is quite important to defend one?s self and to keep control of one?s life, eliminating the need for a savior and martyr like McMurphy.