Whenever I hear the convenient talking point of “1984” or “Animal Farm”, you know the schtick. Whatever I don’t like…is “Orwellian”. Here’s the thing about Orwell and his fantasy stories, they are simple stories that allow the reader to walk away, suddenly believing they can finally “see the matrix”.
Another story and writer that I believe has a better grasp on the individual vs. society struggle or order vs. chaos, would be Ken Kesey and his 1962 story titled “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”.
There was a film also that I’m sure most are more familiar with.
the three main characters in the book and the movie are as follows:
The first charter is a fella by the name of Randle Patrick (Mac) McMurphy.
The second character is a gal who is referred to as Nurse Ratched.
The third character is the setting, the Psychiatric Hospital in Oregon.
Mac, comes from a rough background, but more recently has been found guilty of the battery and statutory rape of a girl. He figures he can game the system and avoid prison by having himself declared “insane”. Figuring he’ll complete his sentence in a relaxed and comfortable environment.
Once Mac is transferred to the Oregon Psychiatric Hospital, he meets Nurse Ratched. Nurse Ratched runs the facility and her word is enforced like law. She is responsible for everything that takes place within the facility and she is responsible for each and every patient there as well as the other nurses and support staff.
Mac, doesn’t like these two characters that seem to hold him back from enjoying his sentence, Nurse Ratched and the hospital. However, this is a minor inconvenience, since his sentence was relatively short…or so he thought. It’s not until he is told by Nurse Ratchet that since he was declared insane, that he could be an inpatient of that hospital and under her jurisdiction for the remainder of his life. This news, pushes him over the edge, he contemplates escape and attempts to be as rowdy and destructive as possible, all while rousing support from his fellow inpatients. To add insult to injury, he discovers that the majority of patients are self-committed.
This new revelation confuses Mac, almost to the point of madness. Since he, himself does not maintain his own authority to simply leave whenever he wants. So, Mac begins to buck Nurse Ratched by continually breaking the rules. He is a sane man surrounded by both the insane and the sane, who tend suffer more from fear than anything else. All the while, with this institution being a medical facility, the medical staff assemble throughout the film to discuss each patient and their progress. Mac trying to get his diagnosis changed, only seems to further the notion that he is insane, the harder he tries to get out of this new quandary, the further he finds himself stuck.
Mac is portrayed as the hero and Nurse Ratched is portrayed as the villain. Yet, Mac is the one who asked to be committed, he entered Nurse Ratched’s world, and she is solely responsible for the wellbeing of the patients and the organization of her entire ward. Nurse Ratched takes some liberty herself, by attempting to control Mac with ever increasing measures that simply enrage Mac even further. Nurse Ratched exerts her control through passive aggressive means as well as through shame and manipulation of not only Mac, but the other patients as well as her own staff.
Was this always the toxic atmosphere of the Oregon Psychiatric Hospital or did the atmosphere evolve to maintain control once Mac got there? The old adage of “the squeaky wheel gets the oil”.
Anywho, Mac eventually goes too far, egged on by Nurse Ratched and attempts to strangle her to death, Mac blames her for manipulating and shaming one of the other patients to the extent that the patient commits suicide. One of the orderlys’ knocks Mac out when Mac was on top of Ratched, trying to choke her to death. Mac disappears for a day or two and the other patients think that Mac has somehow escaped. It isnt until a few days later that one of the orderlys’ brings Mac back to the ward and lays him in his bed that the other patients realize he is still there.
One of the patients that Mac grew close to comes over to talk with him and check on him, upon further inspection and no response from Mac, the fellow patient sees the scars across Mac’s head. He realizes that Mac was given a lobotomy. The patient, who had looked up to Mac as inspiration takes pity on Mac and smothers him with a pillow. The patient felt that Mac would rather be dead than simply brain dead, forever loosing his rebellious and free attitude.
So, what is there to garner from such a story? Perhaps the human condition of the individual vs. society or chaos vs. order. You see, it’s easy to constantly look outward at what is taking place and attempt to place blame. It’s the notion of good versus evil, yet, who is truly good and who is truly evil?
To live in society, whether you like it or not, there are established norms, values and laws that one must adopt to successfully integrate into society. Society doesn’t value the individual and society cannot function with a bunch of individuals. In order for society to maintain its order, dissidence must be eradicated. Since dissidence not only threatens society, but it threatens every person in a society.
However, what are the lengths you are willing to undertake to fit into society? How much do you value your own traits to the extent that you would willingly set them aside to function within society?
Who is to blame for Mac being institutionalized? Mac is.
Why is Nurse Ratched portrayed as evil and maniacal when all of the responsibility rests on her alone?
Did Mac cause his own catastrophe?
Did Nurse Ratched have to continue to push Mac?
When you think of the paradigm of these three characters, what do you walk away with? A sense of rebellion or a sense of responsibility for your own path in life?
You are either in or out, there is no nuance to whether you are part of society or if society wants nothing to do with you. Believe it or not, it’s not about and it is never about what you want, its always about society and what you are willing to sacrifice to fit into that society.
Perhaps we all are sellouts in some form or fashion, since rebellion is a death sentence.
Who’s responsible for your lot in life?