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One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest


by Ken Kesey

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Theme of Freedom and Confinement

The novel’s protagonist chafes at being locked up in a mental institution, but most of the patients are there voluntarily because they find freedom and safety in being confined. The world is divided into the world inside the asylum (confined) and the world Outside (freedom). But even the world inside the mental ward is divided into freedom and confinement. Though many of the men want to be in the mental institution, they still want to enjoy certain freedoms and they struggle with the way they’re treated—how they can be sent to the Disturbed Ward or for electroshock therapy or to Seclusion simply for asking that they be allowed to keep their own cigarettes.

Questions About Freedom and Confinement

  1. Is confinement literal or a state of mind in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest?
  2. Do any of the patients achieve freedom? Who achieves freedom and how do they accomplish it?
  3. What does freedom mean for the patients? What does it mean for Nurse Ratched?
  4. What are the consequences of confinement? What are the benefits?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Although we typically think of murder as a crime worthy of punishment, Chief was actually freeing McMurphy from the prison of his body when he killed him.

Although McMurphy sees confinement as a curtailing of his freedom, most of the patients find safety and freedom in being locked up in the asylum ward.

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