“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”: an allegory of Communism Have you ever heard anything about the lives of people who live in a Communist country? I am personally one of those whose family struggled 18 years without individual rights and freedom under the Communist rule. I am familiar with the lives of those people. These experiences are not found in any Communist books. Before 1975, Vietnam was a republic. On April 30th, 1975, Communists took over the country. They claimed that our country was independent and that we would have liberty from then on.
The truth is our individual rights and freedoms have been lost since that day. We lived under the Communist dictatorship and were forced to obey the orders of their leaders. We could not travel outside the country. They forced each family to have an adult representative at the group meeting one night a week to discuss other people’s problems. We had to sing songs, which praised the government. Each family had to hang a picture of Ho Chi Minh, the Communist leader, in their living room, and a Communist flag at the front door.
If anyone did not obey orders, the Communists would put that person in jail. In Vietnam, one is General Secretary, the most powerful position in the country, until he dies. Then the party votes another one among its members to be the next General Secretary. We were not allowed to vote for that position. We did not have freedom of the press, either. Writers still have to write in favor of the government. Some writers have tried to mock the government or to describe the struggling of citizens in a humorous story, a fairy tale or an allegorical form.
Sometimes these writers have been clever enough to get away with it; most of the time they have not. An allegory is a form of extended metaphor in which objects, persons and actions in a narrative are equated with meanings that lie outside the narrative itself. Thus the allegory represents one thing in the guise of another. The film One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest is adapted from Ken Keseys 1962 novel and is an allegory of life in a Communist country. The movie, with its setting of life in the society of a mental hospital, represents also how real life is manipulated under Communism.
People have no freedom of movement. They are trapped in a circle of dictatorship and have to obey the orders, no questions asked. There are no individual rights in either that hospital or in a Communist country. Those who try to fight for their rights and freedom end up being killed or mentally destroyed, whatever it takes to keep them quiet and enslaved. The movie One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest depicts the lives of many patients in the hospital. The hospital is surrounded by a high fence with barbed wire and locked gates. Those who live inside are isolated from the outer world.
The only connection for them to the outer world is through looking out the fence, as the character Chief Bromden does before McMurphy, the protagonist, tries to teach him how to play basketball. The lives of these patients represent the lives of many people who live in a country controlled by Communists. In the country I was born in, whatever happens there is kept inside the country. My family, my people are inaccessible to the world. They cannot travel to other countries. People from other countries cannot easily come to visit either, except if they are Communists from other Communist countries.
The tourists only see what the government wants them to see. They cannot take pictures out of the country that show the unpleasantness of reality or of the government. For those who have not had the experience of living with the Communists as an ordinary citizen and so cannot recognize the lies, all they see are distorted pictures of the truth of what happens in our country. That is because the Communist party controls all newspapers published, and no one has a chance to go out of the country to tell the truth.
The invisible wall has encircled our lives and isolated us from the world outside just like the fence that surrounds the hospital in the story. And in the same way that Chief Bromden sees the outside world only through the fence, the Vietnamese see the world only through ten minutes of World News on television. Of course, these newsbriefs are just that and are well selected by the Communist party. The Communists rule the country with their dictatorship. They can put anyone in prison if they believe that person is against the government. They do not need evidence for their beliefs.
For example, one night the police came in my house and arrested my father because somebody heard that my father spoke unpleasantly about the Communist government. They put him in prison for two days to question him. Under their rule, we did not have individual rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of press, etc. People must either speak in favor of the government or else go to prison. We could not question the authorities, only do as we were told. Even now, Vietnamese writers either praise the Communist system or go to prison for writing against the government. Some riters, such as Nguyen Chi Thien and Vu Hoang Chuong, have been sentenced to 27 years in prison for that reason. The Communist government put these writers in prison to stop them from instigating a rebellion. About eight months ago, one of the newspaper publishers in Vietnam did a survey to find out who would be chosen the peoples favorite person from a list that included famous names from around the world. Out of ten well-known persons, President Clinton was number one. Ho Chi Minh, the Vietnamese Communist leader and superhero, was listed as number seven, even after Mrs. Clinton.
The Communist government immediately forced closure of this publishing company because of the humiliating result of the survey. It is an almost impossible challenge to write honestly under their dictatorship, where individual rights do not exist. In the movie, Nurse Ratched’s dictatorship and the lack of individual rights are depicted through the scene when McMurphy asks the assistant Nurse Pilbow about the ingredients of his “horse-pill’ medications during one of the compulsory lineups for pills delivery: ” But I don’t like the idea of taking something if I don’t know what it is?
I don’t want anyone to try and slip me salt-peter. You know what I mean? ” For his resistance and questioning of the rules, those in power accuse him of being upset, their euphemism for rebellious. Nurse Ratched does not bother about Murphy’s rights; instead she says that if McMurphy does not want to take medicine orally, she will have to give it to him in another way. In the movie, pills are dispensed to patients every morning. The drugs are used to tranquilize the patients so they will obey the hospital rules, be passive, and live quietly and peacefully under Nurse Ratched’s dictatorship.
Patients have to take pills without the right to know what is inside the pills. They have to take them because the Nurse says so. This is an allegory of what really happens to people in my native country, a place where people have to obey the orders, no questions asked. If, for some reason, the mental patients in the movie cause a problem and challenge authority, they will receive electric shock treatments. For example, the doctors perform electric shock on McMurphy, Cheswick (one of the other patients), and Chief Bromden because that group causes violence during the group therapy.
The electric shocks will keep them peaceful under the dictatorship of Nurse Ratched. This is just like the Communist government, which makes those anti-Communist writers live quietly in the prison. Another example in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest of how Communist dictatorships and lack of the right to vote work in real life is depicted in the scene when McMurphy begs Nurse Ratched to rearrange the work out schedule so that the inmates can watch the opener of the 1963 World Series baseball game on television.
Recognizing the threat his liberating challenge poses to the leadership of the ward and wanting no disruption to the wards precise schedule, she refuses: Some men on the ward take a long, long time to get used to the schedule. Change it now and they might find it very disturbing. She proposes a vote to decide the matter and let the majority rule. But when nine out of nine votes are counted in the therapy group, Nurse Ratched refuses the results and changes the rules to defeat the proposal. She counts additional nine patients who do not even know what is going on in the ward.
Then she adjourns the meeting and closes the voting session. She knows ahead that she is not going to change the schedule, but yet lets the patients vote. It is an allegory of the lack of right to vote in Vietnam; people are not allowed to vote for the General Secretary position (same as the position of President), but only to vote for positions in their districts. However, the votes are worthless because the Communist leaders have already decided who will be in each position. Wherever there is too much repression, there is eventually going to be a fight.
Nurse Ratched represents the most authoritarian person. McMurphy is anti-repression. During his stay on Ratched’s ward, McMurphy constantly fights against her. He rallies the other patients behind him as he introduces gambling, laughter, and human vitality to the ward. He leads the patients on a therapeutic fishing trip. He smuggles whores and liquor onto the ward for a hilarious party. The struggle between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched continues to escalate. In the climactic final scenes, McMurphy learns of Billy’s death and feels personally responsible for the fate of his newfound friend.
When the Nurse authoritatively instructs everyone to calm down and go on with our daily routine, he attempts to strangle her for having cruelly contributed to Billy’s suicide, locking his hands around her throat. This outburst of violence provides the excuse she has sought to treat McMurphy with electric shock therapy and ultimately with lobotomy. McMurphy is returned to the ward mentally destroyed, glassy-eyed, catatonic, totally passive, and obediently captive. These conflicts between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched are also the battles between the anti-Communists and their government. There are constant fights between the two factions.
Recently, Son Nguyen Thanh Dien, a Vietnamese American, and 37 Vietnamese planned to destroy the Ho Chi Minh Statue in Saigon. The Communist Supreme Court sentenced them up to 20 years for their anti socialist activity on Saturday June 2nd, 2001. Many anti-Communists and those who used to work for the government of the Republic have been put in jail or re-education camps over the years. The Communist government has wanted to brainwash them and make them become good Communist citizens. Basically, they have been forced to learn Communist theory and sing songs that praise the Communists every night.
If they do not obey the orders properly or challenge the authority, the Communists beat them up or arrange some accident to kill them, just like the electric shocks and lobotomy in the movie. My uncle and my father in-law were both put in the re-education camp for more than ten years because they worked for the Republic government. My uncle had an unstable mind after he got home because they used to beat him on his head with the barrel of the gun. My father in-law says that he is lucky that he is still normal. Many of his friends have become mentally deranged or even died because they challenged the authorities.
Now, we live in America, a democratic country. We have the right to vote, to speak our minds. We have freedom of the press and of speech, not like in that Communist country where the people have to follow unwritten laws. The rulers can change these laws anytime, anyway they like, just as Nurse Ratched changed the rules of voting for the new schedule. Dictators cannot be questioned; they do not accept that because questions are too much like challenges to their authority. The film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a good example of an allegorical story about the reality of life in Communist countries.
It conveys the message about the Communist dictatorship to the world. From the movie, audiences can learn more about the truths of people who live in a Communist country. These people live without freedom of movement and without individual rights while the authoritarians control their lives. They force people to obey their orders, right or wrong. In real life and in real countries, too much suppression causes the rise of rebellion, just like McMurphy’s rebellion toward Nurse Ratched. Rebellions do not always succeed in overthrowing authority, and sometimes when they do, even worse authorities take over.
But rebellions will always arise anyway, eventually, where the people are held down too long too hard. These characteristics are always present in a Communist country. It does not matter what the Communist claims are about their peoples freedom; they are all distortions of the truth. Nurse Ratched and her staff make claims about doing things for the good of their patients, too. Just as the many people who have seen One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest have judged those claims of the Nurse and found them far from the truth, so the Communists should be judged by their actions — but not by their statements.