Table of Contents

Though Orwell focuses on technological surveillance, Kesey differs in that his asylum entrenches observatory modes of thought through the practice of the ‘therapeutic community’, involving patients confessing their secrets to one another. Kesey explores this ‘community’ as a mere trick of coercion serving the tyranny of the majority; a way of forcing the internal soul to fit someone else’s idea of the ideal external environment. Our first experience of ‘Therapeutic Community’ at the first feigned democratic group ‘meeting’ initiated by Nurse Ratched. Patients are instructed to ‘talk… discuss, confess’ their ‘old sins’ with the other patients. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this ‘meeting’ is that it centres on the patients writing ‘any gripes, any grievances, anything’ into a ‘log-book’ which becomes a symbol of vulnerability, surveillance and ultimately, control. Such feelings of surveillance and control were relevant to the dark moods of the Cold War, still at its chilliest when Kesey was writing as the House Committee on Un-American American Activity was interrogating college professors and others about their party loyalties. ‘And if you hear a friend say something during… your everyday conversation, then list it in the log book for the staff to see. It’s not… squealing, it’s helping your fellow’. Doctor Spivey’s patronizingly transparent words serve to undermine any sense of trust between the men, ironically destroying any true sense of ‘community’ and leaving the men vulnerable. The selectively mute Chief Bromden says, simply, ‘They spy on each other.’ The structural simplicity of the line speaks for itself- ‘spy(ing)’ has become an accepted reality. There is also something inherently predatory about the process of the ‘group meetings’. Chief Bromden narrates that the supposedly democratic group meeting was ‘tearing into poor Harding’, with ‘tearing’ suggestive of a predatory beast ‘devouring the weak’ prey (one of Harding’s own lines). Interestingly, Orwell description of the helicopter skimming over the rooftops, ‘snooping into people’s windows’ is contrived as animalistic as it ‘hovered for an instant like a bluebottle’. Yet McMurphy trumps Harding’s schoolboy bookishness with a metaphor of his own. He envisions the ‘tearing’ up of Harding as a ‘peckin’ party’, in which the men are a ‘flock’ of ravenous chickens that ‘gets sight of a spot of blood on some chicken’ and ‘rip the chicken to shreds, blood and bones and feathers’. Kesey’s triplet, and the grim imagery of chickens cannibalising serves as a metaphor for the men’s ruthless surveillance of each other, and by extension, the predacious nature of human existence. ‘The ritual of our existence’ says Harding shrewdly, ‘is based on the strong getting stronger by devouring the weak’. The heavy surveillance of the men allows for such devouring, as they are made vulnerable and weak by the lack of trust they have in others. Kesey’s depiction of human nature as predacious serves to highlight the inhumanity behind totalitarian rule, as Ratched uses her own psychological and societal superiority to dominate then men, thus forcing the men into a cycle of predaciousness.