Comparison of Freedom and Self-Acceptance in Beloved, Secrets and Lies, and Cuckoo's Nest

Comparison of Freedom and Self-Acceptance in Beloved, Secrets and Lies, and Cuckoo's Nest

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Freedom and Self-Acceptance in Beloved, Secrets and Lies, and Cuckoo's Nest  


What is freedom? If you ask different people, you get different answers. Some say its being able to do whatever you want. Other people say it's when you don't have to do anything. Many things in life have no absolute answer. When people talk about freedom, they talk about it physically, for example not having to be in chains, or confined in a cell. But I think it is more common to find someone mentally enslaved, than physically enslaved. I found an interesting quote from Charles Kingsley that said there are two freedoms -the false, where a man is free to do what he likes; the true, where a man is free to do what he ought (www.freedomnest.com). This is the best way I can describe it. There are two major obstacles that can stop us from achieving true freedom: the past, and what other people think. These obstacles can effect even something as simple as wondering what to wear tomorrow. If you're asking what will people think if I wear this, even this is a hindrance. The appropriate thing would be to say; I like this outfit, so I will wear it. Even though this is a relatively minor example,

This is where it begins. Peer pressure is a result of what people will think. "What will people think if I don't drink with them?" "What will people think if I don't ditch class with them?" These are examples that can block the road to freedom.

The past is another obstacle on the road to freedom. Many people have suffered abuse, neglect, or a breakup between their parents. It is obvious that your childhood experiences can effect the rest of your life.  An example would be if your mother physically abused you as a child. There are two ways to react to this. As an adult you may be a quiet withdrawn person and let people walk on you. Or you can be a bitter person with a temper, being exactly what you swore not to be. These are two extremes. In my own experiences I have found my dad is not very emotional, and is slow to compliment. Thus, when someone gives me a compliment, I'll laugh, or make a joke. Why? The situation feels awkward because I'm not use to it, so I have to cover it up with a joke.

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This isn't mental freedom. It is stopping from having a healthy relationship with anybody. This is another example of the past being a hindrance.

In the three things we have talked about this semester (Beloved, One flew over the cuckoo's nest, Secrets and Lies), The significant motif is freedom. There are examples of Freedom to love, and freedom from the past. There is a common thread that holds the main characters (Sethe and Cynthia, respectively) of Beloved and Secrets and Lies together: Cynthia and Sethe do not know who they are, so they are not free.

In Toni Morrison's Beloved, Sethe has an astonishing past that repeatedly haunts her. According to the book "her past had been like her present--intolerable" (Morrison 4). Even the fact that she is now physically free from slavery, does not make her truly free.   When she moved to the home on Bluestone Road it was merely a different type of shackle. She was able to be free but chose not to. Morrison herself said that "Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another" (Morrison 95) Sethe is so bound by traumatic events, that she can't even leave her house. And the day she does, she wears her best attire, because she is so concerned with what other people will think of her. She is not herself because she is being controlled by all the things of the past that has happened to her. This in turn destroys her relationships with anyone. Her daughter Denver symbolically becomes a slave to Sethe. Of course Sethe is not meaning for this to happen, but slavery was all she'd ever known, so she simply passed it on. This is why it can take generations for a problem such as child abuse to be solved. Denver then becomes a quiet withdrawn, who is seemingly simpleminded. Rather than liberating her daughter she keeps her under her power.

 The own act of killing her own child was a true paradox of freedom. Was it an act of love or selfishness? She refused to accept any responsibility for killing her child; she considers it mercy from the "dirtiness" of slavery (Morrison 251). Since the schoolteacher tarnished her, she doesn't want her daughter to be the same way. She seems almost proud of this act, and many times she tries to justify it:

  "What you did was wrong, Sethe."

               I should have gone on back there? Taken my

               Babies back there?'

               'There could have been a way. Some other

               way.'

               'What way?'

               'You got two feet, Sethe, not four...' (Morrison 165).

As I stated earlier, she doesn’t know who she is, and she is in fact trying to connect her self worth to her children.

Sethe also destroys her relationship with Paul D, Stamp Paid, and her boss. Her past is in the form Beloved, and she eventually reduces into a vegetable. She no longer goes to work, Paul D her long time friend is kicked out, Stamp Paid is no longer an invited guest. Beloved has such a firm grasp on her that she cannot do anything.

In Secrets and Lies, Cynthia has a warped sense of love. Her childhood was warped because her parents had kicked her out for being pregnant. Now she is doing the extreme opposite with her daughter, she is smothering her daughter and not allowing her to breathe. This may seem like the right since of love. Her parents did not allow her freedom, so in turn she has not allowed her daughter any either. This character is similar to beloved in that their only source of identity is through theirs daughters. Cynthia has all this love to give to Roxanne, and everybody else but herself. Hortense in some ways is like beloved, because she is making Cynthia confront her past. Cynthia has been so damaged that she does not even remember at first. Hortense however was taking the proper steps to freedom. She goes through great lengths just to find out where her mother lives, and musters up the courage to call her. Rather than hiding from her past and being ashamed of it, she is confronting it, and accepts the facts of it. The people in this movie are remaining introverted and not sharing their feelings thus becoming enslaved. Cynthia and her brother Maurice haven't spoke for years. When they meet she treat him the same way she would treat Roxanne, by smothering him with hugs and kisses. Furthermore, Maurice doesn't have a good relationship with his wife. In the end everything comes out, and people aren't so fearful about hiding their feelings. They are free to do what they ought to.

With Jack McMurphy, the main character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, there is a dynamic contrast between the characters of the other movies. Instead of destroying everybody around him, he lifts them up and refuses to go with the flow. There can be comparisons made between McMurphy and Sixo. Both had eccentric habits, and both  had problems with the law. Yet they were free. Mrs. Jack went by his own rules, and didn't allow the rigid schedule of the hospital to interfere with him. For example when the nurse, Mrs. Rachet did not allow the World Series to be watched, he pretended to be watching it anyway. He lifted up the spirits of the people around him, by playing the voice of a sports announcer. Furthermore, he had his own party in the institution, and invited guests, in essence "breaking" the rules. This is very similar to Sixo, who also went out at night to meet other people such as the "Thirty-Mile Woman" he had been dating. Another thing that we can compare is Mrs. Rachet and the Schoolteacher. Both represented institutions and both were coldhearted. She may have thought she was free, but you can't be free if you're causing someone else not to be. McMurphy stood up to this, and in a symbolic gesture, he took the medicine but did not swallow it. He did not allow her to control him. She was severely manipulative to her patients. She used issues of the past as a means to control the man with the stuttering problem. Billy Bibbit had finally experienced something that was separate from his mom, a break from the routine, and he wasn't stuttering anymore. Mrs. Rachet symbolically throws something in his way, she mentions "what will your mother think" When Billy realizes these unresolved issues of the past he begins to stutter again. It is also interesting to see that many of the people choose to be in that facility. The outside world scares them so much that they choose to be confined. Its all about choice, you're as free as you want to be.

To conclude, the way to find freedom is to find you, and to find love. All these things are closely related. You must accept the fact that you can't change your past, but you can change the present. Many are busy wishing they had different parents, wishing they were born somewhere else, and wishing they were someone else. This ties into love. To love is to accept someone for who they are. Freedom is being able to choose between accepting love, and you, and not accepting it. It's all about choice; people are as free as they want to be.

Works Cited:

Kesey, Ken. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1962). The Viking Press Inc. New York, New York.

Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York, Penguin Books USA Inc, 1988.

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