For years, it has been said that laughter is the best medicine. In Proverbs 17:22 it says, "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine." Imagine being in a place where medicine takes the place of laughter. This is the environment the patients at an Oregon psychiatric hospital in Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962) experienced before the arrival of a new patient.
Chief Bromden, who is presumably deaf and dumb, narrates the story in third person. Mr. McMurphy enters the ward all smiles and hearty laughter as his own personal medicine. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a story about patients in a psychiatric hospital, who are under the power of Nurse Ratched. Mrs. Ratched has control over all the patients except for Mr. McMurphy, who uses laughter to fight her power. According to Chief Bromden, McMurphy "...knows you have to laugh at the things that hurt you just to keep yourself in balance, just to keep the world from running you plumb crazy" (212). Laughter is McMurphy's medicine and tool to get him and the rest of the patients through their endless days at the hospital. The author's theme throughout the novel is that laughter is the best medicine, and he shows this through McMurphy's static character. The story is made up of series of conflicts between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched. McMurphy becomes a hero, changing the lives of many of the inmates. In the end, though, he pays for his actions by suffering a lobotomy, which turned him into a vegetable. The story ends when Bromden smothers McMurphy with a pillow and escapes to freedom.
McMurphy demonstrates how he uses laughter and jokes to get through his days by trying to get Mr...
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... fact that he has just been shocked when he tells Bromden that they are just charging his battery and "when I get out of here the first woman that takes on ol' Red McMurphy the ten-thousand-watt psychopath, she's gonna light up like a pinball machine and pay off in silver dollars [sic]!" (242-243). Here McMurphy uses a perverted mind to help him adjust to the reality that he has just received shock treatment.
When a society replaces medicine for laughter, people are going to have problems just as the patients did in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. McMurphy, along with today's society, believes that laughter truly is the best medicine, and one cannot live a normal, sane life without it.
Kesey, Ken. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1962). The Viking Press Inc. New York, New York.Gideons International. Tennessee: The National Publishing Company.
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