A Comparison of Freedom in Secrets and Lies, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and Beloved

A Comparison of Freedom in Secrets and Lies, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and Beloved

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Freedom in Secrets and Lies, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and Beloved


 
       The word freedom has a different meaning for everyone based

on their individual circumstances. Webster's Dictionary also provides

many definitions for freedom, the most  relevent to this paper being:

a) the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or

action; b) liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of

another. I believe that Webster's Dictionary explains freedom the best

when it states that "freedom has a broad range of application from

total absence of restraint to merely a sense of not being unduly

hampered or frustrated." Since it is really a philosophical question

whether a total absence of restraint is really possible, or even

desirable, I think mine and most people's general use of the word

tends to be more on the side of not being unduly hampered or

frustrated.

 

 The two movies Secrets and Lies and One Flew Over the

Cuckoo's Nest, and Toni Morrison's novel Beloved all deal with

different types and degrees of freedom and the lack there of. Secrets

and Lies is about a middle-aged woman who had to grow up at a very

young age and never had the freedom to enjoy, or even have, a

childhood. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is the story of a group of

patients in a mental hospital who's routine lives are forever changed

by a newly committed patient who's life is anything but routine.

Beloved follows the shattered lives of the family of an ex-slave living

in Ohio after the end of the Civil War and the abolishment of slavery.

Even though each deal with very different circumstances, by

comparing the lives of each set of characters in these three stories

many parallels can be drawn between them. The freedom restrictions

imposed in each story are all different, yet the characters' actions are

similar. The characters go to drastic lengths when there freedoms are

infringed upon, the most drastic occuring when a newly achieved

freedom is lost. Before understanding a new freedom the characters

have no problem living without it. However once new freedoms are

realized the characters are unrelenting in their fight to preserve them.

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 In Secrets and Lies the main character Cynthia has had many

things happen over the years that have severely hindered her

freedom. Her mother died at an early age. Her father was unstable.

She had to take care of her younger brother. And to top it all off she

got pregnant at fifteen. All of these things have a serious restriction

on her freedom. At a time when her life should have been most free,

Cynthia was having to be all grown up. She was ten when her mother

died. A ten year old shouldn't have a care in the world yet Cynthia

was having to try to be a mother for her younger brother, and a

caretaker for her father. And then at fifteen, just as she is entering

young adulthood, she ends up pregnant.

 

 Cynthia never divulges the identity of the man responsible for

this first pregnancy, but it is clear that whatever happened was very

traumatic; most likely a rape or drunken mistake. Whatever the

cause, Cynthia had completely blocked the experience. She herself is

mistaken about his identity, believing that the father was a white man

from a failed relationship six weeks after the actual conception, and

that the baby had merely been born six weeks immature. Living in

England, and having given up the child for adoption, she never saw

her daughter and consequently was unaware that she was half black.

 It is not until her daughter, Ortence, tracks her down that she is

forced to remember the circumstances behind the pregnancy. At first

she denies that she is Ortence's biological mother, insisting that there

must have been some sort of mix up at the adoption agency. "I don't

mean to offend you," she claims, "but I've never been with a black

man in my life." Then after a few moments of thought, "Ah bloody

hell!", she blurts out, in one of the more entertaining scenes of the

movie, as she recalls the truth.

 

 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest deals more with actual

physical freedom restrictions. The main character Murphy, excellently

portrayed by Jack Nicholson, has been sent by the state to a mental

hospital for a six week observation. He had been in prison for

statutory rape and assault. He is sent to the hospital from prison to

decide if he is mentally sound and able to complete his sentence in

normal incarceration, or if he needs mental treatment. At the

institution he finds himself with a group of fellow patients with

varying degrees of mental illness, who's lives are annoyingly routine,

boring, and ruled by a domineering Nurse Wratchet. Murphy is unable

to live under such confining routines and goes about livening up the

place, and convincing the patients that "they are no more crazy than

the average guy out there."

 

 The most severe infringements on freedom appear in Beloved.

Slavery has to be the most terrible violation of one's freedom. Being

robbed of one's sense of self and forced to live and work like an

animal is a total restriction of freedom.  The novel is about Sethe, an

ex-slave and what is left of her family. Before the war Sethe had been

a slave on a plantation called Sweet Home. Her owners were not

typical slaveowners though. Sethe and her fellow slaves were treated

much nicer than slaves on other plantations. They were allowed to

learn to read if they wished, they could use guns, they were allowed

to marry, and they were encouraged to speak their mind if they had

an idea on a better way to do something. Such luxuries were unheard

of among slaves of other plantations. Knowing no better lives she and

her fellow slaves lived in relative happiness. All this ended when their

master died and his wife's brother-in-law, Schoolteacher, came to run

Sweethome. Schoolteacher was more the traditional type of

slavemaster. He cut all the "luxuries", and there was a lot more work

to do and a lot more punishment given out. With the new

management it was suggested by Sixo, a fellow slave known for his

untamed behavior, that they escape through the Underground

Railroad.  They did this and some of them, including Sethe, made it.

After being free for only twenty eight days though, Schoolteacher

tracks her and her family down, and comes to retrieve them. When

Sethe sees him coming she makes a drastic decision to kill all her

kids. Schoolteacher leaves after seeing this, believing that she has

gone mad and that the children are dead. In reality only one of her

four children, Beloved, died in the attempted slaughter.

 

 A major parallel can be seen in Beloved and Secrets and Lies

between the actions of both Sethe and Cynthia in an attempt to hold

on to their newfound freedoms. In Beloved Sethe, upon seeing

Schoolteacher coming to return her to slavery after only twenty eight

days of freedom, grabs up her children and proceeds to execute them.

She rationalizes this to herself with the thought that she would rather

her children be dead than enslaved. Throughout the reading however,

though never stated, it seems that her actions were more selfish. She

knew that her children were the main reason Schoolteacher was

coming, so not wanting to be returned to slavery herself, she decided

to take away Schoolteacher's reason for being there; the kids.  It

works. Schoolteacher leaves and Sethe is left with her freedom.

 

 Cynthia responds similarly to an attempted imposement on her

newfound freedom. She was fifteen years old and just starting to

experience new freedoms of young adulthood. Then she finds out that

she's pregnant, and with that news comes the realization that her new

freedom is about to be taken away again. This is much like Sethe's

realization when she sees Schoolteacher coming to take away her new

freedom. So, like Sethe, Cynthia gets rid of her child who is causing

her loss of freedom. The only difference is that she does it through

adoption, a more socially acceptable way. In both cases the women

were willing to give up their children to preserve their own freedom.

 

 Another striking similarity is that between Murphy and Sixo. In

many ways their actions are almost identical. They are both

"wildmen", and unable to handle captivity. These men understand

freedom, and they passionately fight captivity. When others around

them are willing to just go with the flow, they are doing the opposite.

When Murphy first arrives at the hospital everyone seems to be happy

with their controlled lifestyle. With Murphy's influence they all begin

to demand more freedoms. Similarly, as Sethe states, "It was Sixo's

idea to escape. None of the rest of us ever thought of it." (Morrison)

They both use the same type of simple logic to explain their actions.

When asked about his conviction for statutory rape, Murphy admits no

wrong doing claiming that "she was eighteen going on twenty three",

and then questions the interrogating doctor if he would not have done

the same. When asked about his multiple fights, he refers to a famous

boxer, saying that he "has forty [fights] and he's a millionaire". These

logical statements are similar to the one made by Sixo to explain his

theft of food to Schoolteacher. Sixo explains to him that the food he

stole would help him be strong so he could work harder and that in

turn would help Schoolteacher. His explanation made perfect sense

even though Schoolteacher didn't think so.

 

 Sixo and Murphy also share the same fate. Unable to escape

captivity they lash out at their captors and go down fighting and

laughing. Sixo upon being caught while trying to escape goes down

fighting. Even while being burned alive he laughs at his captors.

Similarly, when Murphy discovers that the hospital can hold him for as

long as they see fit, he attacks Nurse Wratchet and chokes her almost

to death. He, like Sixo, gets burned alive for his action though not

with an actual flame, but through shock therapy. For both of these

men it was better to get one last shot at their captors, laugh at them,

and then die, then to live in captivity.

 

 By analyzing these three stories it is clear that  freedom is a

great necessity in people's lives. What degree of freedom, however,

varies on the individual's personal experience and knowledge. If one

has never experienced, and knows nothing about a greater freedom

than they are apt to be content with the freedoms they do know. As in

the case of Beloved where all the slaves were relatively content as

slaves at Sweethome since living there was more free than anything

they'd ever known. Sixo is an exception here. He somehow

understood freedom as the rest of them couldn't. It is possible that he

wasn't born into captivity like the other slaves and therefore had

firsthand knowledge of free life. Likewise with the patients at the

mental Hospital. Until Murphy enlightened them with knowledge of

superior freedom they were no longer content with their previous

state. This is also the case with Sethe and Cynthia. After they achieve

new freedoms they are not willing to return to a less free lifestyle,

and they go through drastic measures to insure they don't have to.





Works Cited

Morrison, Toni. Beloved. Markham, Ontario: Penguin Books Canada

 Limited, 1987

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Dir. Milos Forman. With Jack Nicholson and Louise

 Fletcher. Thorn EMI, 1975.

Secrets & Lies. Dir. Mike Leigh. With Brenda Blethyn and Marianne Jean-Baptiste.

 October Films, 1996.
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