Importance of Humor and Laughter in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Importance of Humor and Laughter in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

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Importance of Humor and Laughter in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest    

"There are three things which are real: God, human folly, and laughter. Since the first two pass our comprehension, we must do what we can with the third."

In One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, humor is present in a very powerful form. Normally, insane people don’t have the capacity to laugh or find the humor in something as we "normal" people do. They live tragic existences, wandering day by day in the bland, depressing world of an asylum. They have forgotten how to live because they are under the authoritative rule of the head nurse, and under the behavioral influence of drug doses and bossy orderlies. The patients have no real existence of their own, and they are essentially lifeless. As the Lord works in mysterious ways, Randall MacMurphy is "sent" to heal the patients of the asylum. He shows them that to laugh is good, and laughing at yourself can sometimes be the best medicine. He is the comic healer who gives life to the otherwise hopeless patients of the asylum.  MacMurphy seems to have an affinity for laughter. In essence, it is an escape for him- it makes him feel good, and most importantly, it radiates to his friends, and helps heal them.


 This book is about so many things, it is hard to stay on one topic for any length of time. In order to focus on the laugh and laughing as a healing agent, I would like to look towards other influential writers and thinkers to tie together laughing and healing. First, let’s see what laughter is according to Meriam Webster: laughter- n. a cause of merriment.  Using this simple definition, we can assume that laughter can come from any form of merriment or emotion like triumph, contempt, relief, and almost any other emotion there is. It is easy to picture in your head different underlying emotions in laughter; the sinister laughs of witches and ghosts, the insincere, fake laughs you hear after pointless, humorless attempts at jokes on the six o’clock news, to the silent laughs of mimes and clowns that fill the people around them with a happy feeling. These are all examples of what laughter is and how it is used. But why do we do it? What in nature created the laugh and made it so successful?

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"Importance of Humor and Laughter in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." 25 Feb 2020

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There are a few theories out there about the biological benefits of laughter. Blood is thought to be oxygenated better, your internal organs are massaged, and your body reaches a balance (the technical term is homeostasis) when you laugh. In simple terms, it feels good to laugh, and even if you are not in the mood- you had a bad day, etc. - laughing always seems to shake off your troubles.


This is clearly evident in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest when MacMurphy leads the unauthorized fishing excursion. They laugh, laugh at each other, and by simply reading about their adventures, their feelings, and the laughs they shared, the reader gets a warm feeling inside knowing that everyone is being healed with such a simple, yet powerful device. Sigmund Freud, probably the world’s most famous psychologist, had his own view of what laugher was. Freud believed that humans built up psychic energies to carry out different tasks. When an excess of energy build up, it is pleasurably discharged as laughter. In general, he thought of humor as an economical use of thought and feeling.


Using terms more familiar with Freud which I learned in Introductory Psychology, humor signifies the success of the ego and the fulfillment of the pleasure principle. Laughing, to Freud, then, is a sort of playful judgment, because he makes it clear that the nature of humor includes thoughts and feelings. MacMurphy’s humor is full of thoughts and feelings, and it rubs off on others. When he was discovered in a dark bathroom late one night, his friend came to the rescue when MacMurphy was asked what he was doing there by saying that the mirrors in the bathroom made a man uncomfortable while doing his business. This is an example of Mac’s humor being learned by his friends. Reading this indicates that they now possess something that gives them the freedom to be people again, and the power to control their own emotions and actions. So the act of laughter has now been broken down and examined by a variety of methods and people. What once seemed to be so simple is now a complex composition of emotion, science, and human nature. We thrive in, relate to each other in, and most of all, we heal each other with that now complex activity. It is clear to me that life would not be the same if we didn’t have humor. The elements of a joke, the feeling it radiates, and the therapy it gives to all of us is the power with which Randall MacMurphy heals his friends in that otherwise lonely asylum. We don’t understand much else about the why’s and how’s of laughter, but we all seem to know, simply, that it works. Ken Kesey receives my praise for integrating such a simple thing into a complex shoreline filled with so many other things that we could spend weeks picking apart. Freud says that "Discovery often occurs only when one is willing to ignore the obvious and focus upon the curious detail that has the appearance of fortuitousness and the aura of triviality." This means that in order for us to further understand the existence of things like humor in Kesey’s book, we have to ignore our feelings and sacrifice the pleasure and ask questions that help us discover what it is about humor that is so powerful. But that’s not a job I want to do. I think I’ll stick with analyzing the power this book has on my life and what it teaches me about the opportunities we all have, no matter how crazy we are perceived to be, to make a difference in others’ lives.

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