Society In Microcosm

After reading the novel and watching the film of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” I realized how much this story tells us about ourselves and our society.

For those who haven’t been exposed to the story, here’s a short summary:

Randle McMurphy gets admitted to the hospital/asylum, pretending to be insane to get out of the prison work farm punishment for rape.

The other main character is a half Indian named Chief Bromden, an inmate who pretends to be deaf and dumb so no one will bother him. He is a mountain of a man, 6 feet, 8 inches tall.

McMurphy is a larger than life character who stirs up the inmates so as to challenge the head nurse Ratched’s authority. He does this by upsetting the routine that the nurse enforces. Nurse Ratched takes away the men’s individuality and will by her strict rules. She punishes them by electro shock treatment and lobotomy.

In the end, McMurphy gets so aggravated with Ratched’s controlling tactics, that he starts choking her. For this he is sent for a lobotomy and returns as a vegtable. The Chief, who McMurphy has instilled with self-confidence, smothers him to death, knowing he wouldn’t want to be a prisoner in his body. Then the Chief escapes out into the world.


The conflict between the authoritarian nurse and the free spirit McMurphy, investigates the theme of individuality and rebellion against conformity.

McMurphy symbolizes individuality, free expression and self-determination. These attributes are everything an oppressive society wants to stifle. McMurphy wants to bring individuality and self-worth to the other inmates. In the case of Chiet Bromden and a few others, he succeeds.

Throughout the story, you wonder if McMurphy is really insane or is he completely sane and just has a problem with authority. The hospital has complete control through nurse Ratched just like society has social control over the people.

What is the difference between sanity and insanity?

Sanity is about being aware of yourself, your surroundings and circumstances and coping with reality.

Insanity is the distorting of reality and being out of touch with reality.

There is a gray area in between these extremes, it’s called, “losing the plot.” This means losing one’s ability to cope and understand what’s happening.

The risk-taking, self-reliant individual was once celebrated, not now, society keeps individualism down. The government and society (the hospital in the film) wants to exercise willpower on our behalf and make choices for us. Horrors!

The individual according to Sartre and Nietzsche, has to create their own values and meaning in life, rather than rely on external socially imposed codes.

But, in the end, we have to obey the rules of society to maintain some order.

So, society restricts individual actions and choices because it believes the individual will make the wrong choice, for themselves, for others, or both!

So, the hospital/asylum is society in microcosm. The inmates represent the problems of coping with the pressures that society puts on them to conform to the “norm.”

Some inmates are definitely not crazy, they are just having difficulty coping with society’s pressures!

There is a lot of existentialism in the story. This is the philosophy that says individual existence, freedom of choice is mandatory. Humans should define their own meaning in life and make rational decisions despite living in an absurd world.

McMurphy shows the inmates that living an authentic life is more important than being accepted by society. He teaches them that their lives are in their control, not society’s.

Nurse Ratched symbolizes the methodical, oppressive, and indifferent nature of modern society.

McMurphy represents individualism.

The inmates represent the majority of people that conform to society and it’s “normal” rules.

McMurphy tries to teach the men to live an authentic life, which is wearing no masks and being true to yourself. You make choices and you take responsibility for them. He tells them to have courage and challenge society(nurse Ratched). He makes the men feel unique and important.

Chief Bromden pretended to be deaf and dumb because society acted that way toward him.

Authentic living is the essence of life and if you are forced to conform entirely, than authentic living is impossible and life isn’t worth living.

So, to sum up existentialism: Be an individual and think for yourself. Society wants to guide you through life, the “must” follow path, but your life will only be meaningful if you strive to create your own meaning in life.

I will conclude this article by a comparison of the book to the movie.

It’s all down to character and mood development. Here the book and the movie differ.

The book gives you more feeling and moods than the film because of deeper character development in the novel.

When a movie is made from a book, the makers have to please the audience’s need for fast pace. What gets lost can sometimes be the real deep meaning behind the story.

So, as far as “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is concerned, the film is good but the book is excellent!


Unstable Personality–An Internal Dialogue

“I think I have an unstable, inconsistent personality.”

“What do you mean? How unstable and inconsistent?

“Well, many times I have doubts about whether or not I’ve made the right decision or done the right thing. Also, at times I’m sociable and other times I’m hard work or I like to keep to myself. I have a weak ego. I feel different from everybody and sort of inferior”

“Why do you feel that way?”

“Because I feel off balance and awkward in my relationships with other people.”

“What do you think causes this?”

“I don’t know. All I do know is that I feel like a NON-PERSON!”

“Wow! That’s quite a powerful statement.”

“Yes, it is. I feel like I’m invisible, non-existent.”

“Lets see just what makes a PERSON. What are the ingredients?

Brain, mind, emotions, perceptions, dreams, fears and personality.

Now, what is the purpose, the function of a PERSON?

It’s to perpetuate the “HOW” of life.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s the behavior and mental processes of being alive, staying alive and perpetuating life.”

“So, we’ve got the ingredients and function of a PERSON, now what?”

“Now, we need a PARTS list. Body, mind personality, social skills, the ability to learn lessons from the environment, the ability to grow and develop and finally the ability to cope with change and stress.”

“Holy Cow! This is like assembling a flat-pack from Ikea!”

“Well, now you can see you ARE a person, you have the ingredients and the parts.

You should now feel you are a unique being capable of meeting people on an equal footing”

“Now, how can we strengthen a weak ego? Usually ego is equated with one’s sense of self-importance.”

“I don’t feel very important.”

“The trouble with ego built on self-importance is if you lose that importance you collapse like a house of cards.”

“What then?”

“You need self-worth, which is built day by day. You have goals and when you achieve them, you feel good about yourself. But even if your goals fall through, you still have a good feeling about yourself.”

“Hold on, I get it! I must choose to like myself no matter what. Self-worth is the answer.”

“Right on! Now lets have a little fun. Ever heard of Rorschach Ink Blot tests?”


“I’m going to drop a large blob of ink on the middle of this piece of paper and then fold it in half. When you look at the resultant pattern tell me your immediate thoughts, feelings and desires. This will help you understand your personality.

I will now unfold the paper. What do you see?”

“It looks like two clowns facing each other. It’s scary! What does it mean?”

“Well, you said you had trouble socializing, so this tells you that you have trouble relating to people.”

“What! But you told me that problem was solved!”

“Internal Dialogue Terminated!!!”

No Country For Old People!

While re-watching the film, No Country for Old Men, in which the old sheriff thinks that all his rules of life have disappeared and he no longer has the energy or inclination to put up with the wild and horrific times, the idea came to me that something similar occurs for old people generally these days.

The old people of today are led down the path of decrepitude with poor care provisions, with less recognition by society, with the feeling of being invisible, and the general feeling of being abandoned and isolated in this age of high tech.

The old feel lost and confused in today’s fast pace of life, which is geared to the young. Society seems to devote less and less time to the care of the old. All this leads up to feeling rejected by society.

So, the Older Generation becomes The Lost Generation!

Many elderly feel extreme loneliness as a result of feeling alien to the outside world. It’s like your SELF has no value and is less appreciated. Many of the old feel unable to adapt to new circumstances especially when they are vulnerable to illness and disease. They feel lost by the way aging is treated, it has come to mean loss of value and importance.

The last act of life takes everything we can muster to keep moving forward. We hope our will is strong so the circumstances of old age cannot destroy us.

The old have to say, “YES” to life even though we are scared of the unknown.

We are STILL here and we can still do some things that are noteworthy.

So, how do we fight being invisible?

You can circumvent invisibility by an outgoing personality. I’m not talking about being pushy, but you can make yourself heard. I do this by my writing, which is my hobby in retirement. I keep abreast of the news and offer my opinions.

Carry on with moving one foot in front of the other, mentally and physically, and you won’t feel this is NO COUNTRY FOR OLD PEOPLE!