Rebellion is usually portrayed as an act of betrayal, menace and selfishness, yet ‘1984’ and ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoos’ Nest’ present it as the gateway to freedom, so rather than shaming the characters for rebelling, they in fact worship their fight to be free and live the life they want. With that said, they cause the damage that falls upon them, and their ‘failure’ is only caused by their own hamartia and Orwell’s ‘ruling passion was the fear and hatred for totalitarianism’ (Norman Pdhoretz). Society during the times Orwell and Kesey wrote these have a huge impact, with happenings such as World War two, Hitler’s reign and the Merry Pranksters. It could be argued that these books resemble their own struggles in life, or others may argue they are a warning to the world in the future, which would be understandable due to the political power of Donald Trump or Kim Jong Un in modern day, and their power being used for the worse rather than reasonably.
It’s evident that rebellion is an obvious theme with both Orwell’s ‘1984’ and Kesey’s ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, but it’s important to realise that both main protagonists are at fault and responsible for their corruption, due to their hamartia- rebellion. During the time Orwell wrote this, he was surrounded by many acts of rebellion and going against those in power, such as World War Two where Hitler and the Nazi Party had power and control over society, and those who rebelled, were punished. A clear example of this, was the White Rose Group, who handed out fliers exposing the truth about the Nazi Party, going against their rules and regulations, causing them to soon be hanged for their rebellious acts against the Party. It’s understandable why Orwell would write a book with very similar means, with society under complete control by the Party, stating ‘Big Brother is watching you’. Whilst this may seem unfair, it’s accurate to state that they chose to rebel the Party, as did Winston, therefore, they are responsible for their corruption. Winston Smith has an obsession with rebellion, to the point where he started a relationship with Julia due to his fascination of how much she rebels, by sleeping with loads of men which was ‘looked on as a slightly disgusting minor operation’ and more of a ‘political act’. Despite this, he still chose to have sex with her, intentionally going against the rules. He chose to have this relationship and rebel against the party’s rules, and eventually, they got captured, tortured and forced to betray each other. By the end of the novel, he worships and adores Big Brother, lime everyone else, like he’s under a spell, or been ‘corrupted’ by them. Likewise, Kesey portrays Murphy as a cheeky, care free ‘cool’ character, who loathes nothing more than being told what to do. Even though the novel is set in a mental asylum, Murphy isn’t psychotic, just a dangerous criminal. He chooses to go into the asylum to avoid going to prison. As he isn’t psychotic, it’s easier for him to rebel as he’s not taking the medication. He knows he isn’t following the rules, he chose to go to the institute instead of prison and he provoked others and nurse Ratchet. This lead to him having to be put on serious medication and psychological treatment that eventually corrupted him and turned him psychotic like the other inmates. These factors, although seemingly unfair, it is similar to Winston’s case, as they chose to commit these actions, for Winston it was the sex, and with Murphy, when asked if he will ‘go against the policy?’, he simply states ‘That’s right’, so he does it for the pure fact that he can. Considering how similar these novels are in terms of their rebellious theme, I believe It’s almost meant to frighten who reads it, as those in power now, such as Trump, is very similar to the past with Hitler, excluding groups and attempting to ‘help’ society when it’s really being slowly destroyed. It’s almost as if Orwell and Kesey wanted to portray that this is the beginning of the end, and how those who rebel, fail, making Jean-Claude Michael’s critical interpretation, ‘1984 is apparently a story of failure’ is highly accurate, much like One flew over the cuckoo’s nest, as the protagonists thirst for rebellion and plan to escape their situation, they do fail and end up brainwashed by the system they are involved in. I believe Kesey tried to mirror his own character and need for rebellion, as Murphy seems to link very much to Kesey’s involvement in the Merry Pranksters. The group seemed to define themselves in the act of rebellion, to the point that in 1964, they travelled across the United States in a psychedelic painted school bus called the ‘Further’, organizing parties and giving out LSD 1. Some see it as the launching point of the psychedelic era, to which one person stated that ‘In 1964, this man, Ken Kesey lit the fuse for the explosion that started the sixties’ 2.
Most would initially think of atrocious crimes when being told one has rebelled, but these novels show how the simple need for freedom, and how the smallest acts that are completely innocent, are enough to torture or kill them. An obvious part of ‘1984’, is when Winston and Julia have sex for the first time. ‘Sexual intercourse was to be looked on as a slightly disgusting minor operation, like having an enema’, and that ‘no emotion was pure, because everything was mixed up with fear and hatred.’ Not only does this show why in the novel sex was forbidden, but also if you attempted to do it, the Party had turned it into something that is no longer pleasurable, as ’embrace had been a battle, the climax a victory’, and was only permittable for reproducing – even that was frowned upon. It’s interesting to any reader of this novel how Orwell chose to describe this part of the novel, especially ‘when they moved their faces apart again, both of them sighed deeply’, showing frustration and hesitance, as if they weren’t really enjoying what they were doing, evoked by the fact they ‘sighed’ after kissing, which is meant to be loving and tender. Orwell tries to dehumanize the act of sex by writing it in the description of a thrush, ending it with how ‘the bird took fright and fled with a clatter of wings’. Perhaps this was Winston’s realisation about what they were doing, and got scared so wanted to get out while he still could. Moreover, the verb of the ‘bird’ ‘flying’ represents how the ‘bird’ is mocking their freedom, as he’s showing how the bird can fly away, when they can’t; the bird mocks their lack of freedom. With sex being ‘blown struck against the Party’, Winston automatically see’s sex as a ‘political act’, as he thrives of the rebellious nature Julia has, and loves how she slept with many men. To him, that’s what attracts him to her, whereas she’s doing it for fun, implying that she perhaps represents the thrush as she does what she loves freely, like a bird sings freely with no motive. Whilst this is set in Britain, sex around the world in the 1940’s was widely different to how Orwell presents it from the Party’s perspective in 1984. Prostitution is the longest industry, and was legal and known for years, but soon had been banned in m ay countries. Some illegal brothels continued, and among their number was a San Francisco brothel run during the 1940s by a madam (brothel manager) named Sally Stanford. Her clientele included many leading politicians and businessmen of San Francisco and nearby areas, so while in the time the novel was written, politicians were approaching prostitutes for sex, but in the novel itself, it was ‘disgusting’. It’s true that Winston chooses to commit rebellion, but the idea of ‘Winston’s willingness to rebel had been planted in him by the party the whole time’ critiqued by Kristoffer Rissanen, is also plausible as it’s almost like the main sign ‘freedom is slavery’ works as a test, and humans naturally do not like being controlled to this extent, so the Party knows some will rebel, almost antagonising them with this constant reminder to prove them wrong that freedom is not ‘slavery’, which inevitably backfires.
Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is based largely on his experiences with mental patients. Through the conflict between Nurse Ratched and Randle Patrick McMurphy, the novel explores the themes of individuality and rebellion against conformity and control, which were ideas that were widely discussed at a time when the United States was committed to opposing communism and totalitarian regimes around the world 3. However, Kesey’s approach, directing criticism at American institutions themselves, was revolutionary in a way that would find greater expression during the sixties. It is somewhat different to Orwell’s 1984 in the sense of the extremes the characters go to, yet still remains the same in which it’s against the unreasonable rules that restrict their freedom. The asylum is filled with patients who are repressed by the intimidating and emasculating Nurse Ratched, who would be a representation of modern society, and ‘desires order, and wants complete power’. Even Bromden notices how ‘she manipulates her patients and the staff to fulfil her desires’. When Murphy arrives, he also notices this, and tries to convince and lead them to rebel against her rules and authority by asserting their individuality, as he wants to ‘to change the asylum forever’. Obviously, Nurse Ratchet attempts to discredit Murphy and shame patients back into their robot-like nature and docility. Murphy’s rebellion are such insignificant acts that most people take for granted that they are able to do them, acts that should guarantee no form of punishment. Simple moments such as when he finishes his last banana gets up, heading for the door, and a patient blocks the door, telling him the rule that patients ‘sit in the mess hall till they all leave at seven-thirty’. McMurphy stares at him in disbelief, much like the reader would feel reading this, then turns and looks at Harding, to which nods his head. Murphy’s character is smart, so his reply of ‘I sure don’t want to go against that goddamned policy’, seems like he’s playing by the rules, but his sarcasm evokes a sense of premonition. Frank Northern Magill states that Murphy is a ‘Christ figure’, which I do agree with, but is interesting as ‘Christ’ doesn’t rebel, yet Murphy does but is still seen as a ‘Christ figure’, as the other inmates seem to worship him. Nurse Ratched even tell Murphy how he’s ‘playing with human lives’, like God does, and goes as far to exclaim ‘as if you thought yourself to be God!’. One may argue that it represents the expectation versus when someone is put in a certain situation, those expectations cease to exist. Despite the fact Murphy isn’t actually insane, the hospital still seems to have control of him and all patients, but Murphy’s fate as the nonconforming, rebellious new guy is foreshadowed by the fate of a former pained, Maxwell Taber, who was, according to Nurse Ratched, a ‘manipulator’ and much like Murphy. Taber would commit the smallest of rebellious acts to maintain some freedom of his left, and was subjected to the electroshock treatments, which leaves him docile, like the other patients, and worse. When Ratched associates Murphy with Taber, we get an insight to Murphy’s prospects and the treatment he will endure, due to his hamartia – freedom gained by rebellion. Likewise, Bromden often thinks of his father, who was what Bromden calls a ‘big man’. In Murphy, he sees someone like his father, unafraid to stand up for himself. ‘He talks a little like papa used to,’ the chief says, ‘voice loud and full of hell.’ Bromden reveals that the Combine eventually destroyed his father, and he comes to fear that the same fate awaits McMurphy. Linking to 1984, Winston’s story is just one of many people in society, so those who are manipulated and brainwashed into believing the brilliance of the Party, could be those who rebelled, and then indoctrinated to do otherwise, which already conceals Winston’s fate.
The protagonists of both these novels are not necessarily the main figure when exploring the theme of rebellion. Most characters in 1984 seem to clearly develop, but Obrien seems to be different as by the end of the novel, the reader seems to know less about him when a twist in the novel takes place and we find out he wasn’t who he seemed. When Winston was jailed for hi rebellion, he asks O’Brien if he had been captured too, to which he replies, ‘they got me long ago’. Evidently, this signifies that he was once rebellious, and tortured into a passive acceptance of the Party. It’s unclear to state if the brother between these characters actually exist, or if it was all a trick from the Party to trap a disloyal member of society, with O’Brien being Winston’s ‘faithful’ friend. An important part in the novel is the meeting at O’Brien’s, to which Winston is driven by a mixture of optimism and fatalism. Winston’s powerful fascination with O’Brien leads him to trust him and feel safe in his presence, believing he is much like him. Winston’s hopeful belief in the Brotherhood, actually contributes to his sense of impending doom, as whilst he believes this brotherhood is loyal, O’Brien actually is the one that puts Winston through the torture, such as threatening to place rats (Winston’s biggest fear) on his head, as well as confirm his disloyalty to Julia. The fact Ben Pimlott concluded that ‘the encouragement they (Julia and Winston) receive from O’Brien (to be together and rebel) turns out to be a ploy’, which is true by the torture he puts them through when they are captured and having been in the situation himself. Furthermore, Parson is another member of society that rebels against the Party, which we discover at the beginning of chapter one in book three. Parsons joins Winston in the cell, and he initially seems like the ‘perfect’ party member. Even though we only see Winston and Julia’s rebellion, we also see small moments from other members, such as Parsons, so rebellion must be a frequent issue the party deals with, so it seems smart on their behalf to arrest an ideal member of the Party, to send a message to society in Oceania that they do not tolerate anything against them from anyone. It’s interesting to mention how despite the Party throwing Parsons in prison for no reason but their own benefit, he still gloats about them, claiming that ‘of course I’m guilty! You don’t think the party would arrest an innocent man, do you?’. Firstly, it’s obvious that he has been indoctrinated into believing how good the party is, even if they clearly do something wrong, but secondly, it shows how terrified someone must be to rebel, even if they actually haven’t, as the punishments they endure stop them from wanting to have the freedom that human rights state they should have, hence why the rhetorical question, as he’s actually asking himself if the Party can be that cruel. Some people go as far as pretending they love Big Brother to avoid such extreme punishments, and when muttering ‘down with Big Brother’, its clear Parsons are one of them – he knows the party is wrong, as he hasn’t rebelled, yet he’s gloating simply to prove his ‘loyalty’. Whilst Orwell must have been greatly encouraged by World War Two, the Battle of Athens could have been another motivation in terms of power and rebellion against the government. The rebellion was led by citizens in Athens and Etowah, Tennessee, United States, against the local government in August 1946; 1984 also portrays a number of rebellious acts against the government. It was followed by movements of veterans in other Tennessee counties promoting a state-wide coalition against corrupt political machines. The GI government of Athens, Tennessee collapsed. Tennessee’s GI political movement quickly faded and politics in the state returned to normal. The Non-Partisan GI Political League had replied to inquiries by veterans elsewhere in the United States with the advice that shooting it out was not the most desirable solution to political problems 4. Evidently, this proves that acts of rebellion never turn out in their favour, supporting Jean- Claude Michaels critical interpretation of 1984 being a ‘novel about failure’.
Similarly, the narrator of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, Chief Bromden, is not only a patient in the psychiatric hospital, but also Murphy’s companion. The whole novel shows their relationship develop, but also involves how rebellion can destroy rebellion, just like Winston’s rebellion destroyed the relationship between him and Julia, as well as the brotherhood with O’Brien. Murphy’s final act of rebellion by attacking Nurse Ratched caused him to have a lobotomy, and from then on, the relationship between Bromden and Murphy spikes different levels. At first, Bromden does not realise that Murphy has had a lobotomy, and tell him ‘You’re coming with me. Let’s go’, empathising their bond as he wants him to escape and be free with him, which is how it’s different to O’Brien’s relationship with Winston, as he was actually trying to take away his freedom along with the Party. Chief finally gathered to courage to leave the hospital and then realised it’s too late, the second he does realize part of Murphy’s brain had been cut out. That said, he’s still adamant that he’s not ‘going without you, Mac. I won’t leave you here this way.’ Their loyalty still remains, including the urgency to get him out of such a toxic environment, and the nickname all evokes how rebellion can be a team thing and that it can lead to one’s freedom. However, it is seemingly a heroic moment, yet what we discover, is that he won’t ‘leave’ him there as a zombie, which revolves to him killing him. This betrayal is concrete evidence of the result of, not only Murphy’s rebellion, but Bromden’s rebellion to smash the window and escape the hospital, as the need to rebel in any act would take over someone to the point it corrupts their relationship with those around them. Nurse Ratched certainly represents modern society, but also a representative of the Party in 1984. Winston ends up feeling ‘comforted’ by the sign of ‘Big Brother’, conforming like the rest of society, just like Murphy gets lobotomised and becomes a ‘vegetable’ like the rest of them, and as Bromden believes she ‘used it as an example of what can happen if you buck the system’. In modern day, the system would just be in the hospital, but the whole of society itself, linking to the novels tone as critical and allegorical; the hospital is presented as a metaphor for oppressive society of the late 1950’s. Murphy has had first-hand experience of rebellion, by the cultural rebellion around the world in the late 1950’s, where all forms of authority was questioned. Youthful rebels—dubbed hippies—defied parental authority and college officials. In ‘dropping out’ of conventional society, they grew long hair, wore eccentric clothes, gathered in urban or rural communes, used mind-altering drugs, relished “hard” rock music, and engaged in casual sex 5.
Both novels wanted to express the restriction of their own entitled free well that had taken place, and intended for the readers to question if those in power or any authority have too much power, and that as much as we rebel, it will eventually lead to our own corruption and eventually ‘fail’ their intentions. Rebellion cannot always be looked upon as something that criminals do, as whilst those in power in the novels or in modern society may view it as a criminal act, it’s actually just those wanting to gain their freedom with simple things like have sex, love someone, or just leave their table after they have eaten when they want. They demonstrate both their own struggles with dealing with rebellion, such as Key’s involvement in the Merry Pranksters, and rebellion within society at the time of publication, such as World War Two and the Nazi’s opposition.