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Freedom at a Limitation: McMurphy as a Symbol

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Many people interpret freedom in different ways. Freedom in other words, is the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. The novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest , centers on Randle McMurphy, a new admission to the mental hospital who refuses to conform to the rules enforced by the head nurse, Miss Rached. He further encourages the patients to rebel but they are very terrified because she has complete control over the ward and has the power to send the patients to electroshock therapy and/or lobotomies. In addition the novel is referred to the period in the 50’s, 60’s, where McCarthyism was present. Furthermore, it has symbolic value, representing the issue of American struggling from freedom and conformity. It is evident that McMurphy embodies freedom the most.

Ken Kesey when writing this novel, had allegory in the back of his mind. There is a strong political allegory in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest because Kesey conveys the idea of a government that is an oppressive and dictatorship that causes to strip its people of individuality and make society conform to their rules. Randle fights the system by constantly breaking the rules, cracking jokes, and organizing out of the ordinary events. McCarthyism, started by American senator Joseph McCarthy, is when there was a moment of anti-communism. Freedom of speech was suppressed, just like speech and actions at the ward. Kesey uses the mental hospital to show how society breaks free from society’s conformity. McMurphy is simply the liberator.

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McMurphy acts out of love for the well being of the other patients. He risked his freedom when he received electro shocks just so Billy can spend time with Candy. He is acting like any other average being would if they were trapped in a room full of mentally deranged people. Although some may argue whether he was truly a physcopath , we should be seeing the effect he had on the individuals behavior overtime. For example, Nurse Rached response to McMurphys “rebellion” is that he is mentally ill or it shows evidence of his insanity but the rebellion against silly regulations is actually a sign of a healthy response to tyranny. McMurphy tells Billy, “You’re just a young kid what are doing here?” ( Kesey, 167) And is shocked when he learns that the patients are voluntarily living in the ward and chose to give up their freedom. McMurphy is the complete opposite because if there is one thing he wants in life is to be free and he truly embraces it in the novel by doing what he wants through his own terms, considering that that is the only purpose of life. The men choose to conform to the rules and let someone else (Nurse Rached) control their lives. They find safety and freedom in being locked up in the ward but McMurphy believes being locked up restricts him of freedom. His impact started to show when the patients started rebelling. This novel can be connected to Professions For Women because Virgina Woolf’s main motif in the speech is the “Angel in the House” which symbolizes the suppression of women and their perpetual oppression by men. This relates to how Miss Rached deprives men of their masculinity and freedom through repression. She is very successful at getting people to do what she wants, similar to how Virgina Woolf says that it’s difficult to break out of the conventions of society because it is a mental barrier.

After McMurphys lobotomy procedure, he is left in a vegetable state and the patients are all recalling the times when McMurphy made them laugh. “Hey remember the time he pinched Miss Rached on the ass and said he was just trying to stay in touch? An them things he’d write in the Log Book “Madam, d’you wear a B cup or a C cup or any ol cup at all?” (Wasserman, 83) broke the rules to maintain his individuality in order to bring it to others. He was a hero to the ward because he slowly gave the patients freedom by going against Miss Rached. He wanted them to be able to gain more privileges, and he also made them laugh which is a sign of freedom. He teaches them to stand up for themselves and what they want. The patients would be scared of being different and laughing out loud would draw attention to them. In addition, he achieves ultimate freedom when Chief Bromden decides he won't let McMurphy live in a vegetable state therefore he kills him as a liberation. In can also be concluded that Chief Bromden has freedom, because he pretends to be deaf and dumb which is actually clever because he gains freedom since no one expects ‘normal’ behavior from him.

To conclude, McMurphy not only was the symbol of freedom, but he was the meaning. He had an independent personality, was a free thinker, and laughed. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest shows readers how the society we live in today has shaped individuals perspectives on what is right or wrong. To what extent are rules “good” for people? Being able to have control of your own thoughts and actions, is to start having individual freedom. This novel is very important because it shows the many obstacles people can possibly go through in order to achieve healthiness whether it be mentally or physically. As well as behaviorism, sanity, and individualistic principles in a society that is watching your every move.

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Freedom at a Limitation: McMurphy as a Symbol. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 8, 2023, from
“Freedom at a Limitation: McMurphy as a Symbol.” Edubirdie, 16 Jun. 2022,
Freedom at a Limitation: McMurphy as a Symbol. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 8 Dec. 2023].
Freedom at a Limitation: McMurphy as a Symbol [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 16 [cited 2023 Dec 8]. Available from:
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