Essay Activity

Read the essay and then read the assessment schedule below it. Where would you place it and why?

Discuss the conflict of ideas in a novel you have studied

In the novel One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey, there is a conflict of ideas. This conflict is shown through the characters of Nurse Ratched and Randle Patrick McMurphy and their opposing ideas of what it is to be human. Nurse Ratched and her hospital represent an oppressive society, whilst McMurphy represents the individual and both of them try to influence the men on the ward to see their version of truth and sanity. Through McMurphy’s struggle in the hospital, this presents to the reader the conflict of ideas about what our society’s definition of sanity is and what it is to be really mentally ill. Even though Kesey wrote this novel in 1962, the conflicts of ideas that it portrays are still just as relevant today as they were 45 years ago.

Randle Patrick McMurphy is the protagonist in the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and when we are introduced to him as he enters the hospital for the first time we know that there is something different about him. Right from the word go he challenges the status quo by filling the silence of the hospital with his loud laughter, something that the other patients are unfamiliar with and don’t know how to react to as it is the first genuine laughter heard in years on the ward. Chief Bromden, a patient on the ward, states that McMurphy “…knows you have to laugh… just to keep yourself in balance, just to keep the world from running you plumb crazy.” McMurphy uses laughter as a defence against Nurse Ratched and her ward. As an individual battling against an oppressive society he must use any means at his disposal to make other people see things the way that he does and laughter is a key way for him to do this. The fact that no laughter has been heard on the ward is down to Nurse Ratched’s strict rules that she has imposed to make all of the patients docile and quiet and to make sure that they never question her authority or the choices she makes for them.

McMurphy struggles against Nurse Ratched and her rules for the ward. By having McMurphy question Nurse Ratched’s strict and controlling rules, and deliberately break and disobey them, Kesey portrays the individual’s struggle against a conformist society as a noble and worthwhile task. Big Nurse Ratched and McMurphy both see the world in different ways, hence the conflict of ideas between the two of them. Nurse Ratched sees the hospital as a place to make men ‘better” and help them fit in with the society that has deemed them outcasts. She is a sexless and rigid being who tries to remove all signs of feminity by dressing in an ultra-starched, pristine white uniform. The only feminine feature that she has is her large breast which she does her best to hide under her uniform. Since her breasts show the slightest hint of being human and of sexuality, she wants to hide them from the world, as to her sexuality is a terrible thing that humans shouldn’t have or show. McMurphy is almost the opposite of Nurse Ratched. He represents unbridled individuality and free expression, both intellectually and sexually and brings all of this with him to the ward unashamedly. Nurse Ratched sees McMurphy as a challenge and wants to bring him down to the level of the other patients while McMurphy wants to make the other patients more like him in the ways that they interact with the world. This battle of opposites fuel the main conflict of ideas throughout the novel. Through these two characters, Kesey shows us the two opposite sides of the fence in the debate about sanity and insanity. Ultimately though, because McMurphy is the protagonist, we support his views and want him to succeed in ‘freeing’ the patients from Ratched’s prison and making them see that even though they are trapped in a mental institution, they are sane.

McMurphy arrived in the care of Nurse Ratched through partially his own doing; after being sentenced to serve six months on a prison work farm for the statutory rape of a fifteen year old girl, whom he claims was a willing participant, McMurphy is diagnosed as being mentally ill, for in his ownwords “too much fighting and fucking” and is offered the choice of remaining at the work farm or going to a mental institution and serving the remainder of his sentence there. McMurphy immediately chose to go to the ward as he thought that he would just be able to relax there and serve the rest of his time in peace. What he actually finds in the ward are a bunch of men, much like him as they aren’t actually insane, they just don’t fit in with what society deems as normal. “I mean… hell, I been surprised how sane you guys all are. As near as I can tell you’re not any crazier than the average asshole on the street…” is how McMurphy describes the patients on the ward after meeting them.  Through McMurphy, Kesey questions society’s definition of sanity as it seems to ask people to all conform to the same standards of behaviour. This question is asked more specifically when McMurphy finds out that most of the patients in the ward are there voluntarily as they believe that they don’t have the “guts” to get along in outside society. The irony here is that Nurse Ratched methods undermine the patient’s confidence rather than encouraging it. Kesey is showing us the madness of having a government authority making patients all conform to the standards that they set and term ‘normal’. However, McMurphy sees through this facade and helps by showing the other patients how to create their own standards of sanity, and eventually gives the patients back their own humanity and individualism. Through the conflict of ideas in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, we see what Ken Kesey thought about the ideas that were presented to him in 1962. We see the conflict of the individual against society and the idea of sanity versus insanity. Both of these conflicts were presented to us through Nurse Ratched and McMurphy in the ways that they tried to gain control of and influence the patients on the ward. Ultimately, we see through McMurphy that the individual can triumph over an oppressive society and bring about changes but it can come at a huge personal cost.


Achievement with Merit

Achievement with Excellence

Develop a critical response to relevant text(s), demonstrated by: Develop a critical response to relevant text(s), demonstrated by: Develop a critical response to relevant text(s), demonstrated by:
  • recognisable essay structure
  • attention to, but may be narrow interpretation of the question, possibly unbalanced and / or undeveloped (it will address the question)
  • satisfactory organisation but with stylistic inconsistencies
  • conventional response.
  • a carefully structured essay
  • maturity of expression and thinking
  • answering the question; being clear in argument through developing a reasoned reader-response to the text in relation to the question
  • keeping to the question
  • generally accurate use of writing conventions and style features, but may include some occasional irrelevancies and / or clumsiness.
  • a lucid essay with introduction giving scope and focus, a range of accurate and relevant points (with accurate referencing), a reasoned conclusion and generally accurate use of writing conventions
  • coherent and balanced argument and judgement.
using supporting evidence, demonstrated by: integrating supporting evidence, demonstrated by: integrating supporting evidence, demonstrated by:
  • familiarity with text(s)
  • attempts to support points with appropriate evidence
  • engagement with text(s)
  • some specific references to text(s) linked to discussion of the question.
  • use of quotation and reference / detail to reinforce points made in response to the question
  • use of appropriate terminology with ease and accuracy
  • knowledge of and familiarity with the text
  • quote weaving” efforts that may be inelegant (or not present).
  • quote weaving
  • accurate referencing
  • accurate use of terminology
  • generous and apt detail in support of relevant points
  • accurate and comprehensive knowledge of text(s).
and demonstrating perceptive critical response, shown by:
  • maturity and insight in evaluating text(s) in terms of the question
  • demonstration of judicious personal response to the text(s) and may be moving beyond the text(s) in evaluation
  • presentation of own position as reader.

Note: Points cited as evidence are indicative and not exclusive.

‘No Achievement’ may be characterised by some of the following:

  • weaknesses in organisation and / or stylistic control
  • randomness and uncritical response – may be short and / or simplistic
  • insufficient knowledge of the text(s)
  • insufficient link with the question
  • reliance upon plot
  • lack of references to, or detail from, the text(s)
  • some relevant points, but without much support for them
  • little personal response or appreciation
  • likely to be shorter than 400 words.

6 thoughts on “Essay Activity

  1. Achieved. Although I doubt this students ability there are some relevant points and much knowledge of the text. The essay is over 400 words but fairly insufficient link to the question. Personal response was weak.
    Yours most sincere/serious/ly C.B

  2. I think this is a M, it is clearly structured and answers the question. It uses quotes but not many and they are not always woven in.

  3. Merit.. they seem to talk about a few irrelevent things and introduce new ideas in the conclusion (McMurphy’s “huge personal cost” is not talked about anywhere else), despite this though the student does show understanding and a “reasoned” response to the question.

    oh and Nat i wrote essays (or tried) over the w/e and you aren’t here! (bites nails)

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