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.
Conversely, Richard C. Box, being an expository writer, avoids metaphors and symbolism in favor of a more direct approach. In Citizen’s Government however, could be seen as the reality that Kesey’s metaphors are attempting to symbolize. Box’s perceptions of community and government could almost be a “parallel universe” of Kesey’s institutionalized community and the authority figures that oppress them. Both communities are about individuals acknowledging that they have a collective identity, that they may have common interests which separate them from other communities and that they may have a common vision, an aspiration as to what they want for their own futures.
Maya Angelou’s experiences could also be seen as a metaphor for society vs. the government. Her mother’s boyfriend, Mr. Freeman, molested and raped her, but her fears kept her from telling anyone what had happened for a long time. When she finally did admit to Mr. Freeman’s atrocious behavior in court, she lied and said it only happened once. After this traumatic incident, Maya became mute, unable to face her truths or her lies. Riddled with guilt after Mr. Freeman was killed by her uncles, Maya decided that she had the Devil inside her (from lying at the trial) and must no longer speak for fear that her words might cause another death. Maya stopped speaking for five years but began scrutinize everything around her, including the racial politics and prejudicial attitudes that pervaded her life. This silence could be compared with both the self-chosen silence of “The Chief” in One Flew Over the Cuckoo
, as well as the silent masses in BoxR 17;s book, which are also chastised for their fear to exert their own powers and make their voices heard.
Jo Ann Robinson had no qualms about making her voice heard and doing everything she could to instigate societal change. She was initially motivated towards reform by 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.