Thursday, December 11, 2014

Shame in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Begin listening to this TED Talk at 11:45.

  More by Brene Brown: The Power of Vulnerability

Shame serves as a major theme in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Shame rears its head in many ways; note the various usages in Kesey's novel:

            “But not, you know, crazy like the movies paint crazy people. You’re just hung up and—kind
            “Kind of rabbit-like, isn’t that it?”
            “Rabbits, hell! Not a thing like rabbits, goddammit.”
            “Mr. Bibbit, hop around for Mr. McMurphy here. Mr. Cheswick, show him how furry, you are.”
             Billy Bibbit and Cheswick change into hunched-over white rabbits, right before my eyes, but they are too ashamed to do any of the things Harding told them to do.
             “Ah, they’re bashful, McMurphy. Isn’t that sweet? Or, perhaps, the fellows are ill at ease because they didn’t stick up for their friend. Perhaps they are feeling guilty for the way they once again let her victimize them into being her interrogators. Cheer up, friends, you’ve no reason to feel ashamed. It is all as it should be. It’s not the rabbit’s place to stick up for his fellow. That would have been foolish. No, you were wise, cowardly but wise.”

            Harding turns a page of his magazine. “And that will make nearly a week our friend McMurphy has been with us without succeeding in throwing over the government, is that what you’re saying, Cheswickle? Lord, to think of the chasm of apathy in which we have fallen—a shame, a pitiful shame.”
           “The hell with that,” McMurphy says. “What Cheswick means is that the first Series game is
gonna be played on TV tomorrow, and what are we gonna be doin’? Mopping up this damned
nursery again.”

            As he stares down at the floor, Fredrickson’s blond eyebrows are raised like he’s seeing for the first time just how he looks at least once a month. The nurse smiles and pats his arm and heads for
the door, glares at the Acutes to shame them for gathering around watching such a thing; when she’s gone, Fredrickson shivers and tries to smile. “I don’t know what I got mad at the old girl about—I mean, she didn’t do anything to give me a reason to blow up like that, did she?”
            It isn’t like he wants an answer; it’s more sort of realizing that he can’t put his finger on a reason. He shivers again and starts to slip back away from the group. McMurphy comes up and asks him in a low voice what is it they take?
            “Dilantin, McMurphy, an anti-convulsant, if you must know.”
            “Don’t it work or something?”
            “Yeah, I guess it works all right—if you take it.”
            “Then what’s the sweat about taking it or not?”

What he said makes me madder the more I think about it. He and John go ahead talking about our house and village and property and what they are worth, and I get the notion they’re talking about these things around me because they don’t know I speak English. They are probably from the East someplace, where people don’t know anything about Indians but what they see in the movies. I think how ashamed they’re going to be when they find out I know what they are saying. I let them say another thing or two about the heat and the house; then I stand up and tell the fat man, in my very best schoolbook language, that our sod house is likely to be cooler than any one of the houses in town, lots cooler! “I know for a fact that it’s cooler’n that school I go to and even cooler’n that movie house in The Dalles that advertises on that sign drawn with icicle letters that it’s ‘cool inside’!”

McMurphy explained how the other girl was supposed to get all those papers up in Portland. One of the guys leaning against the bait shop called, “What other girl? Couldn’t Blondie there handle the lot of you?” McMurphy didn’t pay the guy any mind and went on arguing with the captain, but you could see how it bothered the girl. Those men against the shop kept leering at her and leaning close together to whisper things. All our crew, even the doctor, saw this and got to feeling ashamed that we didn’t do something. We weren’t the cocky bunch that was back at the service station. McMurphy stopped arguing when he saw he wasn’t getting any place with the captain, and turned around a couple of times, running his hand through his hair.
               “Which boat have we got rented?”
               “That’s it there. The Lark. Not a man sets foot on her till I have a signed waiver clearing me. Not a man.”
                “I don’t intend to rent a boat so we can sit all day and watch it bob up and down at the dock,” McMurphy said. “Don’t you have a phone up there in your bait shack? Let’s go get this cleared up.”

           “Hey, Blondie, did you get ‘am to sign a waiver clearing you with proper authorities? Relatives could sue, they tell me, if one of the boys fell in and drown while he was on board. Did you ever think of that? Maybe you’d better stay here with us, Blondie.”
           “Yeah, Blondie; my relatives wouldn’t sue. I promise. Stay here with us fellows, Blondie.”
I imagined I could feel my feet getting wet as the dock sank with shame into the bay. We weren’t fit to be out here with people. I wished McMurphy would come back out and cuss these guys good and then drive us back where we belonged. The man with the kidney lips folded his knife and stood up and brushed the whittle shavings outof his lap. He started walking toward the steps.
           “C’mon now, Blondie, what you want to mess with these bozos for?”

             “I can’t speak for them,” Harding said. “They’ve still got their problems, just like all of us. They’re still sick men in lots of ways. But at least there’s that: they are sick men now. No more rabbits, Mack. Maybe they can be well men someday. I can’t say.”
             McMurphy thought this over, looking at the backs of his hands. He looked back up to Harding.
             “Harding, what is it? What happens?”
            “You mean all this?”
             McMurphy nodded.
             Harding shook his head. “I don’t think I can give you an answer. Oh, I could give you Freudian reasons with fancy talk, and that would be right as far as it went. But what you want are the reasons for the reasons, and I’m not able to give you those. Not for the others, anyway. For myself? Guilt. Shame. Fear. Self-belittlement. I discovered at an early age that I was—shall we be kind and say different? It’s a better, more general word than the other one. I indulged in certain practices that our society regards as shameful. And I got sick. It wasn’t the practices, I don’t think, it was the feeling that the great, deadly, pointing forefinger of society was pointing at me—and the great voice of millions chanting, ‘Shame. Shame. Shame.’ It’s society’s way of dealing with someone different.”
             “I’m different,” McMurphy said. “Why didn’t something like that happen to me? I’ve had people bugging me about one thing or another as far back as I can remember but that’s not what—but it didn’t drive me crazy.”
             “No, you’re right. That’s not what drove you crazy. I wasn’t giving my reason as the sole reason.
Though I used to think at [258] one time, a few years ago, my turtleneck years, that society’s
chastising was the sole force that drove one along the road to crazy, but you’ve caused me to reappraise my theory. There’s something else that drives people, strong people like you, my friend,
down that road.”

          “Oh, yeah, just like that. Just ask ‘em to unlock the door and let me out.”
          “No. He showed you how one time, if you think back. That very first week. You remember?”
           I didn’t answer him, and be didn’t say anything else, and it was quiet in the dorm again. I lay there a few minutes longer and then got up and started putting on my clothes. When I finished dressing I reached into McMurphy’s nightstand and got his cap and tried it on. It was too small, and I was suddenly ashamed of trying to wear it. I dropped it on Scanlon’s bed as I walked out of the dorm.
            He said, “Take it easy, buddy,” as I walked out.
            The moon straining through the screen of the tub-room windows showed the hunched, heavy shape of the control panel, glinted off the chrome fixtures and glass gauges so cold I could almost hear the click of it striking. I took a deep breath and bent over and took the levers. I heaved my legs under me and felt the grind of weight at my feet. I heaved again and heard the wires and connections tearing out of the floor. I lurched it up to my knees and was able, to get an arm around it and my other hand under it. The chrome was cold against my neck and the side of my head. I put my back toward the screen, then spun and let the momentum carry the panel through the Screen and window with a ripping crash. The glass splashed out in the moon, like a bright cold water baptizing the sleeping [272] earth. Panting, I thought for a second about going back and getting Scanlon and some of the others, but then I heard the running squeak of the black boys’ shoes in the hall and I put my hand on the sill and vaulted after the panel, into the moonlight.

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