Explain the message of one flew over the cuckoos nest. 

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the late 1950's, American society was very conservative and predominantly of one culture. Thus, conformity was considered important in maintaining law and order. This conformity is challenged in Kesey's novel. In fact, his message is much like that of Emily Dickinson's little poem "Much Madness is Divinest Sense"

Much Madness is divinest Sense -
To a discerning Eye -
Much Sense - the starkest Madness -
’Tis the Majority
In this, as all, prevail -
Assent - and you are sane -
Demur - you’re straightway dangerous -
And handled with a Chain 
Authority, the "Combine," of technology and authoritarian types, Kesey seems to say, restricts individuality and dehumanizes people by controlling their behavior and emotional expression. McMurphy is the maverick who stokes the fires of creativity and ambition and expression, fighting against a stultifying system that insists upon controlling individuality. He is Thoreau's man that "marches to the beat of a different drummer" and rejects blind conformity; he is Emerson's individual whose mantra is "Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string" because society is in conspiracy against the individual. As McMurphy expresses it,
"If you don't watch it people will force you one way or the other, into doing what they think you should do, or into just being mule-stubborn and doing the opposite out of spite.”
Kesey suggests his message in the first part of his novel:
The stars up close to the moon were pale; they got brighter and braver the farther they got out of the circle of light ruled by the giant moon....
The idea of moving away from the "circle" of society and blind conformity and being an individual, marching to one's own music, is central to Kesey's novel. In the conclusion, the Chief looks out the window before hurling the control panel through it and sees the moon, that moon from which he will soon move farther out as he escapes to his own person, his own stars.
Read the study guide:
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

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