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Metaphors of Society in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

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Metaphors of Society in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Kesey's use of description and symbolism not only enhance the depth of the narrative, but they provide the reader with amazing insight into the character’s minds, hearts and souls. In fact, the characters themselves can be viewed as metaphors of society; not just the institution. R.P. McMurphy, for example represents the rebellious faction of society that was so loudly expressing itself during the sixties and seventies. He, like the hippies, challenges authority and brings about change by inciting others to rebel as well. He is both dynamic and crude, both funny and pitiable, as he rallies the other patients around him by challenging the dictatorship of Big Nurse. He encourages gambling in the ward, smuggles in wine and women and openly defies authority whenever possible. In the end, Nurse Ratched teaches him the ultimate lesson on authority, which could be seen as a warning against rebellion. His lobotomy is “the establishment” way of quieting the unruly protests of those brave enough to speak their minds. The character of Billy is also meant to show us that disobedience can have disastrous consequences, when the evil Nurse Ratched drives him to suicide. The Chief, who acts as the narrator, is a tall and strong Native American who pretends to be mute and deaf in order to protect himself from pain. His character is representative of the way society was very silent in the fifties until people finally couldn’t take it anymore and let their feelings be known with a vengeance. McMurphy rescues the Chief from his silence, and he returns the favor by rescuing McMurphy from life as a vegetable.


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...the Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka case which struck down legal barriers to school integration. This was the first major success that black activists had enjoyed and it gave hope to the author that people really could make a difference when they were united, organized, and had justice on their side. It was in part, because of her enthusiasm about the outcome of the case that soon after the Supreme Court's Brown decision in 1954, Jo Ann Gibson Robinson wrote a letter to the mayor of Montgomery, W.A. Gayle, stating that "there has been talk from 25 or more local organizations of planning a city-wide boycott of buses." By 1955, the Women's Political Council, the same council who had previously be disinterested in Robinson’s plight, had plans for just such a boycott. I found this to be personally inspir ing in the sense that one person really can make a difference.

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