A Christ Figure: A Literary Analysis

By
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

Quote: They put the graphite salve on his temples. “What is it?” he says. “Conductant,” the technician says. “Anointest my head with conductant. Do I get a crown of thorns?” (Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)


Bromden and McMurphy are led to the electroshock room after they stood up for George, a fellow ward inhabitant, and assaulted the employees. As they anticipate the electroshock therapy, Bromden is nervous and afraid. However, McMurphy strangely expresses optimism despite the grave situation. The passage in which McMurphy gets prepared for the treatment clearly alludes to a martyr, specifically Jesus Christ. McMurphy even refers to himself as a Christ figure when he asks, “Do I get a crown of thorns?” McMurphy sacrifices himself for his friends in the wards. He gives up his own mind and life for Bromden, George, Billy, and the others so that they could have hope, a daring light breaking the austere darkness. Also, like Christ, McMurphy accepts his sacrifice with some sort of willingness, obligation, and tried optimism. Though McMurphy may not have been as polite as Christ would have (“Hooee, those Chinese Commies could have learned a few things from you, lady,” from McMurphy to Nurse Ratched), he admits his treatment somewhat graciously and definitely intrepidly.
He sings and “makes their (employees’) hands shake,” certainly intimidating the workers, which is true of Jesus when his responses and reactions intimidate his executor, Pilate. Kesey presents McMurphy as a strong figure but still vulnerable to pain as the reader can observe after he receives multiple shock therapies. He endures them as optimistically as he can, but Bromden can see that they weary him, just like how the lashing wearied Christ. Most people know the history of Jesus Christ, so the reader can foretell the ending of the story using the apparent allusions in the passage. In conclusion, the story forebodes McMurphy’s inevitable and important death, similar to that of Christ’s. His sacrifice essentially breaks limits within the ward, and in the bigger picture, within society as well.





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