The social and cultural standards of sanity have significantly transformed in the twentieth century. To a great extent, this change can be explained by significant shifts in public opinion. It should be kept in mind that dominant stereotypes about normality and abnormality often contributed to the marginalization of many people who could easily be labeled as sociopaths or mentally deranged.
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This is one of the themes that attracted the attention of many writers. This paper is aimed at discussing such books as the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey and Susanna Kaysen’s memoir Girl, Interrupted. They are useful because they illustrate the experiences of people who have to stay in a mental hospital. The main characters do not believe that they need the assistance of psychiatrists.
In their opinion, they are not mentally impaired. The protagonists do not understand why they have to controlled or confined in any way. However, these people are forced to believe that they are abnormal. This is one of the details that can be identified.
On the whole, these literary works show that a person who does not fully conform to existing norms of behavior can eventually be labeled as insane by medical professionals. This is the main thesis that should be elaborated in this essay. Moreover, it is important to speak about such character traits as honesty, self-doubt, and disregard for authority because by displaying these qualities, an individual eventually becomes alienated from society.
Furthermore, he/she may be regarded as mentally unstable or deranged. Therefore, the main subtopics should be related to these three qualities that are not tolerated by the majority. These are the main issues that should be discussed more closely.
At first, one should mention that the honest expression of one’s feelings, thoughts, or emotions can be confused with abnormality by medical professionals. To a great extent, this theme is explored by Susanna Kaysen. It is possible to identify three important aspects that are related to honesty. First, this author shows that openness can be viewed as a symptom of some mental disorder.
Secondly, this writer demonstrates that medical workers are suspicious of people who admit their irrational or self-destructive behavior. Finally, this literary work shows how to open disagreement with established rules leads to the marginalization of a person. These points can be illustrated with the help of various textual examples.
For instance, in the beginning, the protagonist admits that she needs rest, and the psychiatrist immediately concludes that she should be hospitalized (Kaysen 8).
Moreover, Susan points out that the doctor “looked triumphant” when he managed to make her stay in the hospital (Kaysen 8). Apart from that, the protagonist does not deny the fact that she tried to commit suicide, but this honesty is regarded as a sign of mental impairment (Kaysen 17).
Additionally, sociologists often argue that mental hospitals can be viewed as coercive organizations that do accept openness (Andersen 7). This is one of the details that should be singled out. By examining this situation, the author wants to show how a person can be marginalized provided that he/she does not try to conceal his/her feelings. In his book, Ken Kesey focuses on this theme in his novel.
For example, McMurphy openly expresses his sexuality, but this behavior is interpreted as a symptom of deviation. The author also shows that by admitting one’s weaknesses, an individual can eventually turn into an outcast within a small group.
Moreover, such institutions do not tolerate the display of leadership skills. These are the main details that the writer explores. One can examine several situations to prove these arguments. McMurphy says that the first had set at a very early age and that since that time, he has always been “a dedicated lover” (Kesey 7).
Moreover, the protagonist admits that he enjoys gambling (Kesey 66). In his opinion, there is no reason why he has to conceal this behavior from other people. This is one of the things that distinguish him from other people who stay in this hospital. Other inmates are reluctant to speak about their sexuality. This argument is particularly relevant if one speaks about Billy.
Similarly, McMurphy is regarded as a leader by other inmates only because he is not willing to confine the expression of his thoughts and feelings. In turn, Nurse Ratched cannot accept this openness because it prevents her subduing patients. She adopts this strategy because honesty makes this person more resilient to her manipulation.
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Overall, Ken Kesey focuses on this issue to show that an individual can be easily labeled as insane if he/she does not try to conceal his/her inner world.
Furthermore, Ken Kesey wants to demonstrate that in mental hospitals, people were forced into submission. Therefore, one can say that openness is an important theme for each of these authors. These writers can show how the abnormality of an individual can be artificially constructed.
This process can be attributed mostly to the dominant stereotypes and cultural norms. In this case, honesty and openness cannot be condemned from ethical or rational viewpoints. This detail should be considered by the readers of these books.
Additionally, it is critical to demonstrate that self-doubt, which is essential for critical thinking, can be perceived as a sign of mental illness. In some cases, this perception can lead to false diagnosis. This theme is examined by Susanna Kaysen. This writer wants to show that a person may sometimes cast doubt on the validity of his/her judgment or worldviews; however, this uncertainty is often confused with mental instability.
Secondly, the protagonist cannot fully explain the motives for her actions, but psychiatrists immediately perceive this uncertainty as a symptom of mental instability. Thirdly, this author shows that a person can be placed in an environment when he/she can be compelled to doubt his/her mental health. One can refer to various examples to illustrate these three points.
It should be kept in mind that Susanna’s mental health is questioned only because of her “uncertainty about long-term goals” (Kaysen 152). It does not even occur to medical professionals that this uncertainty can be quite normal for an adolescent. Susanna cannot fully explain why she intended to commit suicide.
Apart from that, this girl is no longer sure if she can fully retain her sanity; in particular, she says, “Once I’d accepted that it followed that I might be mad, or that someone might think me mad. How could I say for certain that I wasn’t” (Kaysen 42)? This quote is critical for describing the experiences of this main character who does not fully understand the reasons her problems can be addressed only with the help of hospitalization.
Overall, Susanna Kaysen focuses on these issues to demonstrate that self-doubt can eventually result in the marginalization of a person. This is one of the main issues that can be distinguished. The importance of self-doubt is also explored by Ken Kesey. This author shows that many inmates could have doubts regarding their mental health, but this behavior enables Nurse Ratched to make them stay at the hospital.
Secondly, Ken Kesey points out that people often tend to re-evaluate their stereotypes and worldviews; yet, this change is not always tolerated in mental institutions. So, it is possible to say that self-doubt can be the reason why the sanity of a person can be questioned. To illustrate these points, one should first examine the daily meetings organized by Nurse Ratched.
During these sessions, the patients were prompted to cast doubt on the sanity of one another (Kesey 12). However, this self-doubt is used as a pretext for the hospitalization of a person. Additionally, self-doubt is a quality that McMurphy displays; for example, this person re-evaluates his views on the mental health of people. This is why he says, “Hell, I been surprised how you guys all are” (Kesey 58).
Therefore, the protagonist can cast doubt on his worldviews. However, this critical thinking and self-doubt are not always tolerated by mental professionals (Watson 200).
Overall, Ken Kesey strives to demonstrate in the sixties; many psychiatrists were more willing to work with patients who are not able or willing to question their beliefs. This is one of the issues that should be identified. They are important for explaining the main ideas that the writer strives to express.
Finally, it is critical to speak about such a topic as the disregard for authority. It is one of the behavioral traits that can be viewed as the piece of evidence which allegedly indicates at a person’s insanity. This is one of the arguments that should be illustrated in greater detail. In her memoir, Susanna Kaysen depicts a person who is not willing to accept the authority of others without any question.
This writer focuses on the experiences of individuals who can be regarded as dangerous rebels only because they do not want to follow the daily routine. Thirdly, these rules cannot always be justified from a rational standpoint. These arguments can be exemplified with the help of academic sources and the situations illustrated by the author. In particular, it is necessary to pay attention to Lisa, who proudly tells others that she is a “sociopath” (Kaysen 59).
To some extent, this diagnosis can be explained by the fact that Lisa is always willing to disrupt the usual routine, which is established in the ward (Kaysen 59). However, she is not able to understand why these rules should be imposed on the patients. So, her disregard for authority irritates many psychiatrists. Therefore, Lisa is not afraid of being called a sociopath. Her non-conformity is confused with some mental impairment.
This issue is also discussed by scholars who believe that mental hospitals often bear a close resemblance to prisons (Andersen 7). Therefore, one can say that Susanna Kaysen highlights important drawbacks in the work of these organizations. These questions are explored by Ken Kesey. First of all, he describes patients who are unwilling to follow the established procedures without any question.
Secondly, the writer notes that psychiatrists do not want to deviate from the established routine. Thirdly, the novel shows that the disregard for the rule can be punished. These are the main arguments that should be elaborated. At first, one can say that McMurphy is also unable to tolerate the rules established by Nurse Ratched and her colleagues.
In particular, the protagonist does not understand why the inmates are not allowed to watch the World Series (Kesey 50). From his standpoint, this restriction does not have any rationale. More likely, this restriction is a mere whim of Nurse Ratched. It should be mentioned that she does not give any answer to the questions that McMurphy poses. Instead, he is only described as a “manipulator” by this woman (Kesey 24).
In her opinion, this person is most concerned about his interests. This is why McMurphy is willing to dismiss the rules that are not suitable for him (Kesey 50). Finally, Nurse Ratched makes everything possible to destroy the lives of people who are not afraid of disobeying her. In particular, she makes sure that Billy is not able to regain the confidence of his mental health. Her actions eventually lead to his suicide.
In turn, McMurphy is forced to undergo a lobotomy. This comparison shows that individuals are usually reluctant to take the authority of other people for granted. By examining these examples, the writer shows that many mental institutions are very repressive. In such an environment, very few people are willing to show their discontent with the regulations that are imposed on them due to some unknown reasons.
The main problem is that people, who possess the authority, turn such rebels into outcasts or the patients of mental hospitals. This is one of the points that should be made since it is important for depicting the experiences of characters who do not understand why they are forced to be insane.
These are the main issues that can be distinguished. Certainly, one should not suppose that disregard for rules is always acceptable. However, the characters discussed in the paper are not willing to accept the norms if they cannot understand their validity. This is one of the distinctions that should be taken into account.
Overall, the example discussed in this paper shows that a person’s non-conformity can be regarded as proof of his/her mental illness. The main problem is that this result can be explained by the prejudices of people. In both cases, the characters described by Susanna Kaysen and Ken Kesey are declared to be insane because they are not afraid to display honesty or self-doubt.
Moreover, they are not able to accept the authority of others without any question. These are the main character traits that can distinguish them among others. The main issue is that their non-conformity gives rise to doubts about their mental health.
These literary works are important for showing that the conventional standards of normality can be questioned. More importantly, they demonstrate that the standards of normality are often subjective. So, these literary works examined in this essay shows how a person can respond to a restrictive environment.
Andersen, Margaret. Sociology: The Essentials, 7th ed.: The Essentials, New York: Cengage Learning, 2011. Print.
Kaysen, Susanna. Girl, Interrupted, New York: Vintage, 1994. Print.
Kesey, Ken. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, New York: Signet, 1963. Print.
Watson, Joy. From Stress to Sanity: A Simple Guide to Calm and Empower Your Thinking, New York: Xlibris Corporation, 2002. Print.