Most people who read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest place primary importance on McMurphy and his influence on the ward. It is possible, however, to read this novel as the diary of the Chief’s...
Most people who read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest place primary importance on McMurphy and his influence on the ward. It is possible, however, to read this novel as the diary of the Chief’s journey from enslavement and obscurity to his ultimate freedom. Does Ken Kesey emphasize one reading over the other? Make your case.
Arguably, it is impossible to separate the two strands of this story. It is of course the arrival of McMurphy that sets Chief Bromden on his journey towards freedom and liberation, and it is clear the novel points towards the massive impact that McMurphy has on Chief Bromden as he gets to know him and helps Bromden to see that he is not in fact small and that he can show his strength and assert his individuality again. The irony is of course that Bromden's final liberation is only achieved at the expense of McMurphy's life, as Bromden chooses to kill McMurphy rather than let him remain trapped inside his lobotomised body at the end. After this act, Bromden flees and experiences the true freedom that represents the culmination of his journey:
I remember I was taking huge strides as I ran, seeming to step and float a long ways before my next foot struck the earth. I felt like I was flying. Free.
At the end of the novel, the emphasis is placed on Bromden, but never for one moment is the reader in any doubt that Bromden's final release and liberation is due to McMurphy and his influence upon the ward. McMurphy awakens Chief Bromden to what is really happening to him and gives him the strength to resist and to break out of the imprisonment--both self-imposed and literal--that prevents him attaining his freedom. Both strands are so intertwined that it is impossible to argue one is more important than the other.