Religion in One Flew Over The Cuchoos Nest
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. McMurphys entrance onto the ward in Ken Keseys One Flew Over the Cuckoos 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 Cuckoos Nest in order to make the characters seem more victimized, innocent, and self-sacrificing.
The patients in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest are not treated well. Big Nurse Ratched and the nursing staff have free-reign over the patients 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 Ratcheds 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 Cuckoos 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 Bromdens 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 cant 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 Ratcheds 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