Comparison of the authors’ presentation of alienation and isolation in ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ Jack Goldstein

The themes of alienation and isolation in ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ and ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ are highly popular, as the authors seek to portray the journey of an individual (or certainly group) that exists beyond mainstream society. In both books we see the story informed through the personality of an alienated very first individual storyteller, a viewpoint that exceptionally impacts our comprehension and analysis of the stories informed, whether it be Bromden’s imaginary description of “the fog” and its impacts or Holden’s quasi-reliable description of the events that result in his remaining in a mental asylum. It is very important to show the subtle difference in between alienation and seclusion: Although the 2 terms are carefully connected and typically seen to be associated, I comprehend ‘alienation’ to be a more passive term; a pushed away character has been alienated by the society around them. I understand seclusion, however, to be a mindful– or at least deliberate on some level– move by a character to exist beyond society. Society alienates a character, whereas a character isolates himself– naturally, there is some overlap in between the 2. Both of these phenomena exist in, and are crucial to comprehending ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and ‘The Catcher in the Rye’.

There is no doubt that the narrators of both books assert their individuality, and in doing so isolate themselves, through their distinctive use of language and lack of adherence to narrative conventions. From the moment that we satisfy Holden, we see him utilizing the slang (“lousy”, “all that type of crap”) and standoffish direct address (“don’t even discuss them to me”) that characterise his narration throughout the book. Likewise, the opening line of the story of Bromden in ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ is “they’re out there” – a completely subjective and paranoid statement that quickly produces range in between him and the reader due to its seeming implausibility. Kesey likewise punctuates Bromden’s narrative with long and bizarre hallucinations, of manipulative equipment and robotics for example, which too initially create distance in between himself and the reader. Nevertheless, as the novels progress, we grow to accept the unusual and rather tough story, and it ends up being personable and likeable. The language and narrative designs of the novel serve to force the reader to go through a journey concerning their proximity to the storyteller: initially, we are pushed away by their unconventionality, however as the books develop we discover ourselves quite on the side of the narrator. In my viewpoint, this journey of the alienation of the reader is of simply as much value as the alienation of the characters themselves.

For Holden, seclusion is a method of self-protection. In his interactions with other individuals– especially girls, such as Sally and Faith– he seems ill-at-ease and confused regarding what he should say, attempting forcibly to sound “suave as hell” and adult in place of in fact making any connection with anyone he talks with. He separates himself, for that reason, both deliberately (his journey around New york city City) and accidentally (through his odd behaviour in an attempt to be adult) as a way of preventing having to deal with the clear confusion and inner conflict that he has. This illustrates the irony of Holden’s character and actions; he separates himself as a result of an unsatisfied desire to harmonize the society around him. His famous red hunting hat, for instance, is a clear and intentional physical sign of difference. His assertion– nevertheless jocular– that it is a “people-shooting hat” is suggestive of his explicit desire to stick out by wearing it, but his numerous points out of Allie and Phoebe’s red hair suggest that he uses it just as a subconscious attempt to suit to his family. At the very same time, Holden seems both proud and self-conscious of the hat (typically not wearing it when meeting buddies, or taking it off when it is commented on), a clear symbol of this conflict between isolation and fitting in.

In lots of aspects, Bromden (and indeed a lot of the minor characters such as Harding in ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’) uses seclusion as a means of self-protection, much in the way that Holden does. Bromden’s pretence that he is deaf and dumb could, in some aspects, be compared to Holden’s pretence of their adult years and maturity– both are used since the criminal thinks that it is the only way to get by and harmonize a society that they do not fully comprehend. Nevertheless, whilst Holden seems uninformed of his use of isolation as a method of security, Bromden does so purposefully. He thinks that he is “cagey adequate to deceive” everybody else in the ward– and in doing so, makes himself less of a target than the other patients. Indeed, he just lets this guard down much in the future for McMurphy, when he is particular of his trustworthiness. In this regard, Bromden’s self-imposed isolation is an effective tool– he avoids the vicious and destructive sessions of group therapy, through which “the Big Nurse” is able to maintain a stranglehold over the ward through mental manipulation. However, this seclusion alone is inadequate for Bromden to regain his confidence and peace of mind– it requires a character like McMurphy to catalyse this process. The fog is the ideal sign of Bromden’s seclusion– it appears at psychological points in the story, and develops a veil– symbolic for the reader, but physical for Bromden– behind which he “feels safe”. Although he understands that the fog– his isolation– is wrong, “as bad as it is”, slipping back into it enables him to distance himself from the scenario. Kesey for that reason appears to recommend that although seclusion is a reliable guard, simply withdrawing from society is inadequate in itself to bring about change. The active battle, although typically sisyphean, is portrayed as more heroic and reliable than easy passive withdrawal; Bromden’s resist “the integrate” is just actually gotten away by his breaking out of the institution, and McMurphy’s battle, although not bringing him liberty, suffices to psychologically free the other ‘inmates’ of the ward, from both psychological imprisonment, and in Bromden’s case physical jail time too.

Loss of identity is prominent in both novels, both as domino effect of seclusion and alienation, and both Bromden and Holden have an understanding of identity that shifts greatly throughout the course of their respective stories. Kesey manifests Bromden’s changing identity, like much of his mental state, through physical significance in “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. As a result of social alienation in the type of the federal government’s destruction of his heritage and his subsequent institutionalisation, Bromden feels that he physically shrinks– in spite of being “6 foot 8”, he sees McMurphy to be “two times the size” of him. As he is pushed out from the society he knows, he loses all sense of power and self-confidence, and sees his depression manifest itself physically. Similar to his ‘deafness’, it is only when he gains back approval into society– albeit the counter-culture society embodied by McMurphy– that he goes back to his normal size. We also see a reflection of this in the narrative itself, particularly in that although Bromden is the storyteller, he does not inform his own story, rather centring on McMurphy’s story, and including his own as almost subsidiary. The reality that Bromden is nearly a passive eyewitness to his own life, focusing rather on McMurphy’s, shows the powerlessness and loss of identity that he feels as a result of alienation.

Holden too suffers from loss of identity, or at least unpredictability. Nevertheless, contrary to Bromden, for whom loss of identity is result of alienation, for Holden we see changing identity to be a source of his isolation. Much like Bromden, there is a duality in Holden’s identity. Nevertheless, unlike Bromden, who plainly develops from one identity into the other (helpless to effective), both sides of Holden’s identity appear to be ever-present, and in direct juxtaposition with one another. For Holden, this duality is in between adult and child identity.

It is this conflict in identity that is the foundation of the unique, and among the reasons that it is thought about the archetypal Bildungsroman in English literature. It is even alluded to in the title of the book– Holden misinterprets the lyrics of a folk song about a sexual affair to be “can a body, capture a body, comin’ through the rye”– an idea which then returns as what Holden wishes to be when he is older, a ‘catcher in the rye’– someone who captures kids before they fall off a cliff. The cliff can be seen to represent the adult years, which Holden wishes to make sure that kids (himself consisted of, maybe) can remain young and innocent, without falling off the “cliff” of their adult years and duty. The reality that Holden obtained this naive and innocent image from a tune about sex is a sign of the duality in his identity– all at once, Holden wants to be immersed in the adult world, as represented by his consistent emphasis on smoking and drinking, and desire to act ‘adult’. However, at the exact same time, he is plainly uncertain and scared of the adult world, as seen by his paying a prostitute to just talk, as he did not feel comfortable with the concept of sex. It is, incidentally, interesting that both novels include woman of the streets as fairly essential characters– Sweet in ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and Sunny in ‘Catcher in the Rye’. As perhaps the most alienated and isolated group of people in society, the truth that the woman of the streets in the novels are represented as the norm in comparison to the isolated characters highlights the level to which they (the members of the ward and Holden respectively) are socially separated.

This dispute in between adult and child, and its resultant confusion, is present in nearly all of Holden’s actions throughout the book. His great interest in the museum, for instance, might be seen to represent his desire to comprehend and compartmentalise the intricacy of the world, as in a museum. It is eventually this duality that leads both to Holden’s alienation and his seclusion– he is pushed away by both the adult world that he is too immature to take part in, and the childish innocent world that he is seen as too old for. As an outcome, we see him separate himself not only from his family but also from himself, by becoming a parody of an adult, going through the motions of the adult years so as to avoid having to face the complex duality that exists within his character. In many ways, this is the outright antithesis to Bromden; the mental issues that cause Bromden to separate himself appear physically– in his changing size and understanding of “the fog” and “the combine”. Alternatively, Holden internalises his issues to the degree that he seems almost oblivious to them, just beginning to express them by childishly accusing whatever and everybody however himself as “counterfeit”– when ironically, it is Holden’s persona that appears to us the most fake.

The extremely different backgrounds of the 2 isolated characters– Holden and Bromden respectively– need to be taken into consideration when comparing them. I believe that the backgrounds of both characters, although hugely different, matter in examining their alienation and seclusion: Holden’s wealthy upper-middle class white background makes him seem like the best all-American aspirational figure, making his seclusion and views on society even more ironic. Holden has no obvious motive to feel distaste for American society or those within it– he is very much a part of the society that he sees as “bogus”. His isolation is even more striking considering his everyman status– he is not the ‘normal’ outsider by any ways. In contradistinction, Bromden is a Native American, a reality which, although not viewed as extremely crucial, I believe to be crucial to the representation of alienation and isolation in the book. As a subjugated people, successfully eliminated from their land and culture– a fact seen in the unique– Native Americans are an exceptional sign of the alienating results of society. In addition, the connection of Native Americans to nature (a reality that is again seen in Bromden’s recollections of his youth) makes the alienation of the ward a lot more poignant as Bromden is alienated from his natural roots by the cold and synthetic world of “the integrate”, with its troubling mechanical parts. The metaphor of a “integrate”– an integrate harvester maker– is a fantastic picture of this; a combine being a mechanised gadget that cuts down and harvests the land’s products– representative both of the loss of the Native American individuals and the alienation of Bromden by an emotionless society.

In conclusion, I think that separated and pushed away characters are efficiently utilized as a declaration against traditional society in ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and ‘Catcher in the Rye’, as we see the alienating effects of society and the attempts of the lead characters to (unsuccessfully, in my viewpoint) counter them through isolation. Certainly, the link between the two principles is frequently blurred, and we frequently see one causing the other– as Bromden says, “it wasn’t me that began acting deaf; it was individuals that initially started acting like I was too dumb to hear”. However, it is Bromden’s journey of liberty from the alienating world of the ward that is more optimistic than Holden’s downward spiral of isolation and resultant alienation. This is not to say that the two books communicate a greatly various message relating to the separated person; in both novels we see seclusion as an inadequate tool against the inequalities and “phoniness” of society– it is through fighting the system of alienation that liberty is achieved by Bromden. The 2 books are, in my viewpoint, merely mirrors of each other– Bromden starts as a helpless mental client, and is liberated through rebellion, whereas Holden begins by rebelling and, we discover at the end, is ultimately institutionalised. Although Kesey and Salinger for that reason would appear to disagree in their presentation of alienation and seclusion on lots of fronts, they are, in my opinion, 2 sides of the very same coin.

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