Illustration of Nurse Ratched

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

by Ken Kesey

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How does culture in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest affect reality?

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Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest presents versions of reality though the experiences of neuro-divergent folks and folks who do not simply accept the coercive and authoritarian aspects of mainstream society. The novel depicts how reality is not only something that can be experienced differently for different people based on the spectrum of neuro-processing but also can be experienced differently based on someone's identity. For example, the Chief's reality is shaped by his experiences of racism and the cultural genocide of his people, as well as his internalization of white society's racism against him, which causes him to forget how strong and capable he is. The novel pushes back against the idea that a dominant society's understanding of reality is the only valid interpretation, and it also examines how coercion and hierarchy is used to enforce that dominant perception of reality.

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In Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, reality is a nebulous concept. This is due to the nature of the narrator that Kesey selected for his novel, a man known as Chief who suffers from paranoid delusions, auditory and visual hallucinations, and an obsession with McMurphy. 

That said, when considering reality as it is presented by Chief, using a reader's critical lens to analyse his statements and not necessarily accept them as true, it is inarguable that the culture of fear and mistrust in the ward deeply impacts Chief's reality there.

The symbol of machinery, which underlies the majority of Chief's delusions, is tied to the forces at work in the hospital. These forces, including Nurse Ratched, her aides, and the other nurses and doctors, seek to fix and transform the men of the ward to rejoin society. In the context of the novel, conformity had overwhelmed society as status quo, and as such, Chief aligns the ward with a kind of factory that resolves issues and produces efficient, alike robots to join society's unchanging environment. 

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