Oppression in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

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Oppression in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

In the process of compiling the literary works I intended to include in this project, I began to notice a common thread that connected the works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry that I generally choose to read. That common tie that binds these books together is that they all seem to center, in one form or another, around the theme of oppression. Perhaps this is because I have some deep psychological need to diffuse the power struggles I experience within myself by gleaning insight from the pages of someone else’s experience. Or, perhaps it is merely because I have a predisposition to “root for the underdog”. Regardless of the reason, be it simple or complex, almost everything I read seems to engage a “David and Goliath” scenario.

Take for example, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey. There is no doubt in my mind that the mental institution that comprises the primary setting of the narrative is intended as a metaphor of societal oppression. This symbolic novel relays the story of an inmate standing up against the powerful forces that operate a psychiatric hospital, but it represents much more than just a classic case of “man versus the establishment”. The questions raised by Kesey are almost as chilling as his descriptive tales of inmate abuse. Kesey compelled me to ponder just how thin the line is that separates insanity from sanity, and treatment from control. Representing a heroic struggle of personality against an institution of mindless conformity, I found “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” to be one powerful piece of literature.

Similarly, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, which I first read the summer after I graduated high school, is a tale of oppression that translates into a deeply moving novel chronicling the ups and downs of a black family in the 1930’s and 1940’s. A myriad of historical and social issues are addressed, including race relations in the pre-civil rights south, segregated schools, sexual abuse, patriotism and religion. Autobiographical in nature, this tumultuous story centers around Marguerite Johnson, affectionately called "Maya", and her coast-to-coast life experiences. From the simple, backwards town of Stamps, Arkansas to the high-energy city life of San Francisco and St. Louis, Maya is assaulted by prejudice in almost every nook and cranny of society, until she finally learns to overcome her insecurities and be proud of who she is.

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