"The most compelling characters in fiction are often those who find themselves in conflict with the world of which they are a part." To what extent do you agree with this statement? You might...

"The most compelling characters in fiction are often those who find themselves in conflict with the world of which they are a part."

To what extent do you agree with this statement? You might consider here what the reader learns about either Chief Bromden or R.P. McMurphy and their worlds. Your response should include an examination of how Ken Kesey conveys one of these character's insights to the reader. 

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The basic premise of determining how to answer the question is to establish whether you agree with the quote and its application to One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest.  Opinions will vary, but figuring out if you agree with the quote in light of McMurphy's and Chief's actions will be essential here.  From here, the plan is detailing how each character meets the standards or does not meet the standards established in the quote.

In my mind, I think that the quote works quite well with Kesey's work.  It strikes at the essence of both Chief and McMurphy in terms of how they operate within the world in which they are placed.  Their external conflict with the world around them is what resonates with the reader.  This collision between the world and their place in it is what Kesey is able to use in establishing how people should live and what they should do.

Chief's characterization fits the standards established in the quote.  On one hand, Chief is in direct conflict with the institutional world around him.  Kesey conveys this through entering Chief's mind.  Chief does not communicate much with the world outside him.  Yet, he does perceive it to a point where he is in conflict with it.  His fears about how the external world seeks to weaken the individual into homogeneity are psychological and sociological. Having seen this happen with his father and perceiving it through the oppression of Nurse Ratched and the combine, Chief understands the nature of conflict between he and his world.  It is in this regard where he is so compelling.  Chief is able to communicate how he is in conflict with the world through his perceptions. Kesey articulates Chief's conflict in the manner through which he perceives the world's treatment of those who are "different:"   "His hands are nailed out to each side with the palms up and the fingers jerking open and shut, just the way I've watched men jerk at the Shock Shop strapped to the crossed table, smoke curling up out of the palms from the current."  Chief is in conflict with the world in how he sees the hospital seeking to "fix" those "parts" that are broken:

Except the sun, on these three strangers, is all of a sudden way the hell brighter than usual and I can see the . . . seams where they’re put together. And, almost, see the apparatus inside them take the words I just said and try to fit the words in here and there, this place and that, and when they find the words don’t have any place ready-made where they’ll fit, the machinery disposes of the words like they weren’t even spoken.

Through Chief's characterization, Kesey is able to explore the individual who is in conflict with the world of which they are part.  

The compelling aspect of Chief's conflict with the world around him is evident through his awakening that is trigged by McMurphy.  Randle McMurphy is the embodiment of living in conflict with the world of which he is a part.  He disagrees with everything about the world in which he is placed.  Even the mere distinction of who is "sane" or "insane" is something that he questions: "You, you're not exactly the everyday man on the street, but you're not nuts." McMurphy's entire being is one in which he is posed against the world in which he lives.  He seeks to bring others in this fight, contributing to a movement to leave the confines of the institution.  McMurphy's understanding of consciousness is one in which he feels compelled to challenge the norms of the world around him.  Kesey conveys this through McMurphy's language of confrontation and defiance:

Jesus, I mean you guys do nothing but complain about how you can’t stand it in this place here and then you haven’t got the guts just to walk out? What do you think you are for Christ sake, crazy or something? Well, you’re not! You’re not! You’re no crazier than the average asshole out walking around on the streets.

McMurphy indicts the group for lacking the courage to challenge the structure that envelops them.  For McMurphy, this embodies the conflict with the world around him.  It is a compelling challenge, one that defines both his characterization as well as the theme of resistance that resonates with the reader.  

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