Essay on use of power in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Authors Avatar by fred5car (student)

Compare and contrast the ways in which Ken Kesey and Chuck Palahniuk explore the consequences of the use and abuse of power ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and ‘Fight Club’.

The use of power for good and the abuse of power, as well as their consequences, are elements that are explored in both ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ by Ken Kesey and ‘Fight Club’ by Chuck Palahniuk. ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Cuckoo’s Nest)’ contains characters such as R. P. McMurphy and Nurse Ratched, and ‘Fight Club’ contains the Narrator and Tyler Durden, all of whom may both use and abuse power. Both Ken Kesey and Chuck Palahniuk had rebellious streaks at some point in their life, and the fact that characters in their novels that have power and are shown to abuse it would suggest that they have a negative outlook on power, possibly believing it is a source of corruption. For example, Kesey formed the Merry Pranksters in 1964, a group that rebelled against those with power, such as the law enforcement, by taking large amounts of LSD and fleeing to Mexico. The novels therefore feature characters who have access to power and experience the consequences in similar and contrasting ways, which I will explore in further detail.

        Firstly, characters in both novels use power to liberate others and give them their power back. McMurphy in ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ influences the other patients on the ward through his laughter: “it’s free and loud and… it’s lapping against the walls all over the ward.” McMurphy laughs when he first enters the ward, and the power of his laughter is emphasised because of the way Kesey describes it as “lapping”, suggesting it fills the ward and envelops everyone. His laugh and rebellious nature eventually help to give the other patients the power of laughter back, who are at first too afraid to laugh because of Nurse Ratched and her power. One of the ultimate consequences of McMurphy and his power of laughter is to inspire the Chief to escape even after his death. This lasting effect on others is shown similarly in ‘Fight Club’. Tyler Durden at first gives men their power and masculinity back by creating ‘Fight Club’, as a man is described as a “loaf of white bread” but “six months later, and he looks carved out of wood. This guy trusts himself to handle anything”, using power similarly to McMurphy for the good of others to give men their confidence back, lost in the modern society due possibly to being raised by women and lacking father figures, ideas that Durden mentions later in the novel.

The writer Bret Easton Ellis believes that ‘Fight Club’ “rages against the hypocrisy of a society that continually promises us the impossible: fame, beauty, wealth”, shown through how Durden rebels against the constricts of society and tries to free men through the creation of ‘Fight Club’. However, ‘Fight Club’ later escalates into Project Mayhem, which was based on the rebellious Cacophony Society Chuck Palahniuk became a part of in his adulthood in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s, who committed acts such as a public Christmas party involving pranks and drunkenness. Tyler is shown to then abuse his power as he treats the men as ‘space monkeys’, suggesting they are disposable and are used as a part of a goal to then be left to die. The men are required to have a uniform of “Two black shirts. Two black pair of trousers”, which suggests that the men are no longer being freed by Durden, but controlled and a part of Durden’s master plan that only he knows about. Similarly to the Chief escaping in ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’, even after Tyler Durden’s death, the way he uses his power has a lasting influence on the men who tell the Narrator at the end they “look forward to getting you back”, showing how they are waiting for Durden’s personality to come back to lead them, and that even though he is gone they still believe in his cause. Both McMurphy and Tyler Durden therefore use their powers to try to liberate others and create a lasting effect on them as a consequence, even after they are gone, suggesting Kesey and Palahniuk believe that power can have a great, lasting effect on others.

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        Through the abuse of power, the emasculation of men and threat of castration is created in both ‘Fight Club’ and ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’. Tyler Durden’s ‘Fight Club’ is created to try to return men’s masculinity, which links with the time the novel was written in the 1990’s. At the time, ultimate fighting clubs had been thriving in various American cities, introduced by the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1993, and were an influence on Palahniuk’s writing. Because of the decline of interest in professional boxing due to the corruption within it in the 90’s, American audiences wanted a new form of entertainment. ...

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