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Compare the opening pages of The Bell Jar and One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. How do Sylvia Plath and Ken Kesey use form, structure and language to explore aspects of mental illness and how is this expanded on through

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Introduction

Compare the opening pages of 'The Bell Jar' and 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'. How do Sylvia Plath and Ken Kesey use form, structure and language to explore aspects of mental illness and how is this expanded on throughout the novels? It is clearly discernible from both novels that there exist numerous contextual similarities and differences within them. Both authors convey profound messages through the presentation of mental illness and its many aspects. The authors have achieved this by using their real-life experiences as a foundation for the examples and situations they convey; the realism is thus striking. In 1959 at the Menlo Park veterans hospital, Ken Kesey volunteered to experiment the effects of psychoactive drugs, and this has been seen as an inspiration for Kesey to write One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Also, it has been assumed that The Bell Jar is a depiction of Sylvia Plath's cyclical depression. The semantics of the title given to each novel is of great significance in relation to the theme of mental illness. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is clearly an allegorical title in its intent. The 'cuckoo's nest' is the hospital, and the individual who 'flew over' it is Mcmurphy. The full nursery rhyme is in fact quoted by the Chief as he recollects over his childhood upon awakening from a shock treatment. It was part of a childhood game played with him by his Indian grandmother: 'Ting. Tingle, tingle, tremble toes, she's a good fisherman, catches hens, puts 'emm inna pens...wire blier, limber lock, three geese inna flock...one flew east, one flew west, one flew over the cucko's nest...O-U-T spells out...goose swoops down and plucks you out.' It is plausible to suggest and one may discern that the goose who flies over the cuckoo's nest is Mcmurphy, the 'chief bullgoose looney'; the one he 'plucks out' is the Chief, who escapes at the end of the novel. ...read more.

Middle

As a result, the reader is sometimes left in ambiguity as to whether some of the events he describes really happened or not. Chief believes he sees small mechanical items inside the capsules of medicine he receives and believes that a machine is responsible for creating the 'fog' that taints his perceptions. Chief's effectiveness as a narrator also contributes to the development of the story; however, since told through his eyes, the story unfolds in part through the Chief's altering emotional and intellectual state. After McMurphy leads the revolt over the World Series, for example, the Chief notes that 'there's no more fog any place,' implying that McMurphy is actually helping to bring sanity to the ward. This information can be seen being transmitted by Kesey, near the very beginning of the novel, thus enabling readers to observe a highly important structural feature. On the other hand, the opening pages of The Bell Jar describe Esther Greenwood's sad misplacement and removal from reality. She lacks the optimism and humour that society expects of her, and that she expects of herself. Furthermore, she acknowledges the fact that most girls that are of her age desire to do what she is doing, and she is unable to comprehend her own absence of enthusiasm; 'I guess I should have been excited the way most of the other girls were, but I couldn't get myself to react.' In the opening pages of the novel, Esther seems to be preoccupied with the phenomenon of death. This negative attitude is complemented by an antagonistic tone when she says that she is 'stupid' and feels 'sick'. Plath has carefully illustrated a picture of Esther's summer being repulsive, perplexed and death-oriented. Her attitudes and life experiences also appear to be this way. Ken Kesey has intensified the meaning of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, by using an evocative and thought-provoking opening line; the novel begins with the following words: 'They're out there.' ...read more.

Conclusion

However, through this experience the Chief learns that he is not the subject of attention, even when he tries to acquire it. 'And I'm just about to go on and tell them, how, if they'll come on in, I'll go get Papa off the scaffolds of the falls, when I see that they don't look like they heard me talk at all.' From this realisation, the Chief's deaf and dumb act is born, in order to withdraw attention from within him. A side effect of his conduct however, is that it allows him access to all conversations and events to which other patients on the ward are not privy. Hence, Kesey ensures that this aspect of mental illness is explored through the use of form, which consists of the first-person narrative of a character on the sidelines. Conversely however, in The Bell Jar Plath uses a first-person narrative of the protagonist; Esther. Esther's accuracy in perceiving reality is ambiguous; there is a contrast between what Esther's inner voice is thinking and what she is saying. For example when she talks to Doctor Gordon, her voice reflects on her experience, however her inner thoughts are completely different; 'What did I think was wrong? That made it sound as if nothing was really wrong, I only thought it was wrong.' This enables the reader to deduce that Esther has in fact a disarray of mental thoughts, which do develop into suicidal actions. Plath's implementation of this noted literary method to communicate the narrative, does invite the readers to offer various interpretations of the text, and acquire the events that take place through the lenses of the protagonist. In summation therefore, one can discern the noted similarities and differences, in the approaches of both authors to demarcate ideas of mental illness, through the employment and fusion of various literary techniques. The two novels are exquisite in the authors' portrayal of mental illness. The authors' use of form, structure and language help build an intrinsic recurrence of common themes, which give way for supporting each message. Word Count: 3000 Yusuf Ahmed 1 ...read more.

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