Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest


One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey is an extraordinary novel that addresses both tyranny and revolt in 1950s American mental hospitals. The book was written in the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movements when there were many shifts in the attitudes of psychiatry and psychology in America. The divisive protests aimed at deinstitutionalization in 1960 had a variety of impacts on the novel's action. In his novel, Ken Kesey reflects on man's struggle to become independent in the face of intensified controls in today's society. He is seen to struggle with freedom and joy in a society that is much into shame and guilt. In the story, a gambling and brawling man, McMurphy, is always glorious and full of spirit for life. This paper will focus on McMurphy life, as a Christ figure as well as his actions that have close relation to Christianity in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey.

Christianity Symbolism

The author, Ken Kesey, made good use of literary fiction in consideration to Christianity in the novel. In the American literature, the presence of a savior who portrays Christianity symbolizes how Jesus Christ is sent to save humanity. Christ is represented by Randle McMurphy, the protagonist in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in the novel. In the hospital’s mental room McMurphy is seen as a Christ figure through the portrayal of the novel. Christianity has been the most influential force, especially in the western world for an extended period for that reason the author question moral and society values about Christianity since it is the basis of good social values. In the novel, the Christ figure recurs as a symbol in American literature. In an attempt to declare whether or not McMurphy is a Christian figure several questions need to be addressed regarding his role and behavior throughout the novel.

Leadership and Influence

The protagonist, McMurphy, in the novel act as a leader and a model for the other characters in the same way Jesus was leading while others followed. In literature, it is appropriate that such leaders become associated with worshiped and influential figures in the society.

Similarities to Christ

There are many instances of interactions and events suggesting a Christian life in McMurphy in the novel. A Christ figure is a reflection of the proper actions such as those found in the New Testament involving good actions and beliefs. In the novel, the number of men accompanying McMurphy is twelve in the same way the Christ disciples were twelve in number. Basically, in literature talking about Christ figures is not inevitably referring to the biblical religious connections or the historical Jesus. Instead, it refers to a prototype rather a familiar character exhibited by similar already established characteristics. In the same way, McMurphy acts he is not an exact template of a Christian figure rather an archetypal character which displays some connection with the ideal Christian life that is with slight variations.

Foreshadowing and Imagery

In Keney’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, McMurphy is professed as a daring Christ figure through images and foreshadowing clues incorporated. The use of foreshadowing and images actions, fishing trip as well as the feelings of other characters in developing McMurphy character signifies Christianity. As the novel begins, we see McMurphy is baptized before he enters the ward. Another character, Ellis in the novel appears in a cross position in most parts of the book. “Now he’s nailed against the wall in the same condition they lifted him off the table for the last time, in the same shape, arms out, palms cupped…” (Page 20). This literary technique is associated with the bible since it foreshadows the Christ-like sacrifice made by McMurphy towards the end of the novel. The actions of Ellis are similar to those of the crucified criminals who share Christ pain on the cross as they were beside him. This is clear communication of the importance and impact created by McMurphy when he brings salvation to patients.

Symbolism and Sacrifice

The most noticeable symbol considered by Kesey’s in support of his theme is illustrated in when McMurphy was taken through electroshock therapy. During the electroshock therapy, the other developing character of McMurphy is vividly presented. He lies willingly on a cross-shaped table and ends up in the same position that was foreshadowed by Ellis. Afterward, McMurphy requests for his crown of thorns, just before the therapy commence another patient comes saying “I wash my hands of the whole deal,” in the same way in the bible Pontius Pilate said to Jesus before his death sentence. The author also reveals McMurphy had female friends who were prostitutes in the same way Jesus had a friendship with a prostitute named Mary.

The Fishing Trip

From the novel, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest the Christ figure nature of McMurphy developed to a high level when he was in charge of patients during the fishing trip. McMurphy takes the “twelve of us [patients] towards the ocean,” (page 203) in the same way Jesus Christ did in the bible when testing and strengthening the faith of his disciples as well as empowering them. In the novel, the author considered the fishing trip as an important trip which is similar to the significance of a fish in the Christian religion. At the conclusion of the trip, the chief explained the sense of change that took place in most patients seeing that others claimed: “weren't the same bunch of weak-knees from a nuthouse anymore.” (Page 215). This becomes an important delineation of how McMurphy guided the patients in the same way Jesus did in the New Testament. All these actions and feelings culminated to developing the Christ figure in McMurphy. The novel One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, involved detailed references and visuals in strengthening Christ imagery as seen in the above-mentioned instances.

The Martyr

In the novel, the crown of thorns correlates with the torture of Christ during his way to death which foreshadowed McMurphy's future. At last, an illustration of the death of the Saviour is illustrated by the author with similarities in the Bible. In the novel, Bromden, a disciple of McMurphy explains “…One morning, after McMurphy’d been gone three weeks, she made her last play. The ward door opened, and the black boys wheeled in this Gurney with a chart at the bottom that said in heavy black letters, MCMURPHY, RANDLE P. POST OPERATIVE. And below, this was written in ink, LOBOTOMY” (page 321).


This marks the end of the revolution of the Saviour, McMurphy, which brought trouble to many people. McMurphy died a martyr since he fought a revolution to change the life of other people through his followers. Kesey’s books display the religious comparison with persecution, unfairness, and treatment of patients in the mental institution. As mentioned earlier there are many pieces of evidence in the novel to support the fact that McMurphy lived a Christ figure life in the book, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Works Cited

Ken Kesey. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: A Play in Two Acts. Samuel French, Inc., 1974.

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