Orwell’s 1984 and the comparable Kesey’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, are dominated with controlling institutions that hold complete power over their societies. Whether it is a government party called Big Brother that enforces totalitarianism or a psychiatric hospital that places emphasis on destroying the patient’s basic human needs such as laughing.

Both of these novels involve characters who try and fight the concrete, systematic institutions but prove to be unsuccessful towards the end. The manipulating institution’s main goal is to “fix” the citizens who do not follow the norms of society although it is proved that the only way to truly “fix” them is through human connections, inevitably, however, the institutions will always dominate humans and therefore cause society to conform to their principles.

Although the institutions in these novels hold the power and ability to change a person, it is obvious that they are not changing for the better because in the end the person is left with no independent thought and are manipulated into conforming to the institution. In 1984 Orwell creates many tactics for the party to ensure that “thoughtcrime”, which are thoughts generated by an Oceania citizen that are condemned by the party, literally impossible.

This is done through the creation of Newspeak, Oceania’s official language, which will eventually destroy independent thought. Syme, Winston’s colleague, proves this when he says, “Don’t you see the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible because there will be no words in which to express it” (Orwell, 55). By the government controlling every aspect of language, the only thoughts that one will have are those that are approved by Big Brother.

This is seen as positive to the party because it will change and “fix” the people of society who do not agree with Big Brother and his rules. Truthfully, however, there is nothing wrong with having opposing views; there will never be a time when everyone thinks the same so how is it “fixing” someone if they are being forced into believing what they originally knew was wrong.

In 1984­ and ­One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest it is demanded by the institution that one must conform to what they see as the ideal citizen or patient.  In ­1984 there are many groups and activities that the citizens of Oceania are demanded to take part in to declare their love for Big Brother and all the things he represents.

In Turning To Orwell to Understand Orwell’s Problem: A Sociolinguistic View, Luchini and Garcia say, “To a great extent belief and cultural behavior are determined by habits and notions promoted by popular institutions. Oceania’s government acknowledged this fact and set up different organizations fostering hatred, disloyalty, and repression of potentially disruptive practices” (Luchini and Garcia, 102).

The government of Big Brother designs these organizations to ensure that all of Oceania has the same views on everything by manipulating the citizens to act and think a certain way. An example of an activity designed to complete this is The Two Minute Hate. Winston describes how The Two Minute Hate is intentionally designed to manipulate everyone into joining in even if they despise Big Brother. This is mind-blowing and shocking that the party holds so much control over the Oceania citizens.

In One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, the patients in the ward must be “fixed” as if they are a machine and conformed to the norms of society before they are released from the psychiatric ward. Most of the patients in this ward do not have any mental incapacity they voluntarily committed themselves to the ward merely because they are different. Ultimately it does not matter if one fits the norms of society or is unable to conform to the institution’s ways, it only matters if they are happy and the way that the institutions were “fixing” the citizens and patients did not bring about the outcome of happiness.

In these novels, it is apparent that the citizens of Oceania and the patients of the psychiatric ward are only happy when they feel a sense of human connection. In ­­One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, it is evident that life at the ward became considerably better once the funny and easy-going McMurphy came along. Before McMurphy the patients on the ward are manipulated into believing that laughter is bad, Tanner the author of Salvation Through Laughter: Ken Kesey & the Cuckoo’s Nest says, “There is no place for laughter in the Big Nurse’s smooth-running machinery of manipulation, and the patients have been conditioned to the point where they are afraid of laughter” (Tanner, 3).

Nurse Ratched caused this fear because if the patients realize the joy that comes from laughing they may begin to suspect that she is discouraging all things that bring one joy. When McMurphy enters the ward he makes the other patients aware of the ways that Nurse Ratched is manipulating them and he takes on the task of putting a stop to the control that Nurse Ratched holds. Chief Bromden acknowledges the fact that McMurphy knows what’s important in life and in his observation of McMurphy he states, “McMurphy knows you have to laugh at the things that hurt you, just to keep yourself in balance, just to keep the world from running you plumb crazy” (Kesey, 250).  

McMurphy introduces his fellow patients to the idea of laughter and fun, by doing this McMurphy causes them to feel happy and in return more self-assured. This newfound self-confidence is a trait that all the patients were lacking and were hoping to find through the psychiatric ward. However, no medicine or therapy from the psychiatric ward developed this self-confidence, McMurphy’s encouragement of human connection, however, did.

Similarly in these novels, the human connection of love between two people holds strong importance in the characters’ lives. In ­1984­ Winston struggles with the policies of Big Brother and it is only until Julia that Winston feels some sense of happiness. Through human connection Winston begins to feel that his life is worthy, this is evident when he says, “At the sight of the words I love you the desire to stay alive had welled up in him, and the taking of minor risks suddenly seemed stupid” (Orwell, 115).

In Oceania Big Brother has destroyed the significance of human connection; however, it is clear how a little affection holds a strong impact on Winston’s life. Although Winston’s relationship with Julia negatively affects the party, it positively affects him as a person. If all the citizens of Oceania allowed affection in their lives eventually the party would lose control because the citizens would not be frustrated and therefore the party would have nothing to feed off of.

In One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Billy Bibbit, a voluntarily patient with a terrible stutter only becomes confident and loses his stutter when he develops a human connection with a prostitute named Candy. This further supports the fact that human connections result in a happier and stronger person.

A human connection is evidently the only thing that can give the characters strength and keep them sane, however unfortunately the institution ultimately prevails because of the dominating power it holds over the characters. In 1984 Winston’s betrayal of the party is eventually discovered and as a result, he must go to the Ministry of Truth.

Although Winston says that no matter what awaits him at the Ministry of Truth he will never betray Julia or himself he is unable to keep his promise due to the fact that The Ministry of Truth holds an indestructible power. Winston entered the Ministry of Truth hating and rebelling against everything that Big Brother represented however he left acknowledging that “He had won the victory over himself. He (now) loved Big Brother” (Orwell, 311). The Ministry of Truth’s power is undeniable and under every circumstance, the Ministry of Truth will always dominate Winston.

In ­One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, there are many points in the novel where it seems as if the patients are gaining power, however, Nurse Ratched never fully loses control. This is evident through the suicide of Billy Bibbit and the lobotomy performed on McMurphy. Nurse Ratched is aware of every one of her patient’s weak spots so it was inevitable that the suicide of Billy would occur.

After Billy slept with the prostitute he begins to feel confident however his confidence is shattered when Nurse Ratched finds him with the prostitute and threatens to tell his mother what he has done. Billy is evidently unable to deal with this threat and he, unfortunately, cuts his throat and is the cause of his death. Nurse Ratched knows that Billy is unable to have confrontations with his mother and because of this she regains all the control that she had lost.

This is very similar to 1984 when Winston is in The Ministry of Truth and they use his phobia of rats as the power to manipulate him. Furthermore, Nurse Ratched uses her power towards McMurphy by declaring that a lobotomy is performed on him. McMurphy did not need or deserve a lobotomy but because Nurse Ratched is a figure of authority and has power she, therefore, is unfairly able to have anything done to her patients. The power of these authoritative figures causes the citizens of Oceania and the patients of the psychiatric ward to conform to the institution’s principles.

Orwell’s 1984 and Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest are filled with similarities, however, it is most comparable when analyzing the damaging results of institutions on human connection. Although all of the characters are fortunate enough to experience some type of human connection it always ends badly due to the manipulative institutions. In conclusion, as long as there are institutions that will contain figures of authority that have more power there will never be a time where humans can dominate an institution.

author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0


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