Both One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and The Bell Jar take up as a fundamental theme a question that has become increasingly more complex and difficult to satisfactorily answer. That question centers upon which standards of society must be violated in order to be considered mentally disturbed…
For instance, to what extent is sanity defined by conforming to prevailing notions of reality What is reality and how can the departure from the constrictions of societal conformity be categorized into creative eccentricity and dangerously deviant behavior Both these novels spend considerable time drawing parallels between the inside of a mental institution and the outside word to which the inmates present a supposed threat. Outside of the mental institution, the characters at some point breached the unspoken contract by which all people are expected to conduct themselves so as to better ensure the seamless progression of society. The terms of breaking this implicit agreement by which everyone is expected to conform to imposed norms of behavior results in incarceration. The paradox, of course, is that the same societal restrictions and urging of conformity and obedience exists within the institution. The difference is that the coercion of the outside world is replaced by the much more palpable compulsive techniques that take place within the institution; things like forced medication and even electro-convulsive therapy. The similarities between what is enforced by society both within and without makes up the thematic bulk of both novels, leaving the reader to question not just This is why they are living in the institution- they violated these norms of behavior and interaction. Some of the patients were voluntary, but they felt that they were inconsistent with the interactions with others in their personal lives. Others, like McMurphy, were seen as dangerous or unhealthy to society, and their interactions or behaviors were inappropriate when compared with the non-material culture of their society.
These infringements of accepted norms and conventions result in the sanctioned quarantine of them from society at large, effectively creating a false bifurcation meant to imply that reality can be found in the mores, values and behavior condoned outside the walls of the hospital. In both the novels, the patients are prescribe and administered medical treatment that begins with pills and often ends with shock treatment or, even worse, lobotomy. The connotations of shock treatment have always been somewhat removed from the reality in the treatment has taken on the appearance to the outside world of a nearly-last resort that seems to confirm an a priori assessment that those who have reached the state where such a treatment is deemed necessary must by definition be detached from reality.
In One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest McMurphy in the catalyst that drives the narrative toward its confrontation of this thematic element, focusing on McMurphy's effort to force the issue to the floor of the acute ward. McMurphy serves to draw into relief the vital queries at issue regarding societal classifications of sanity, pointing explicitly to the idea that sanity seems to reside in the ability to do nothing more than merely conform to certain agreed-upon standards of behavior. Upon discovering that quite a few of the patients on the ward are there voluntarily, he is moved to question that sanity of that decision, drawing into the distinction the unique culpability of those who do voluntarily commit themselves. The words directed toward Billy Bibbit contain tow levels of accusations, both accusing society of being injudicious in its targeting of deviancy and accusing Billy himself of being liable for ...
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