Individual vs. Society
The main action of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest consists of McMurphy's struggles against the strict rules of Big Nurse Ratched. Her ward at the hospital is a society in itself, for it has its own laws and punishments, both for the inmates and for the orderlies and nurses who watch over them. McMurphy challenges the rules from the time he arrives, from upsetting the supposedly "democratic" procedure of group therapy to brushing his teeth before the appointed time. By having McMurphy question and ridicule Nurse Ratched's ludicrous, controlling rules, Kesey portrays the individual's struggle against a conformist society as a noble, meaningful task. McMurphy's fight within the small world of the hospital can also be extended to the outside world. During the time Kesey was writing the novel, society emphasized conformity as a means of upholding law and order. Through the portrayal of one individual's meaningful fight against a small society, Kesey brought into question the standards of his own society at large.
Sanity and Insanity
One of society's standards provides the most pervasive theme in the book: What is sane—and what is insane? Is sanity conformance with society and its norms? Or is sanity a sense of self as separate from society? These are questions that psychiatrists have wrestled with for over a century. Is it their job to reprogram a person to fit better into what may be an unsatisfactory life or a...
(The entire section is 605 words.)