One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Brief Intro

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, directed by Milos Forman in 1975, is a cinematic gem that delves deep into the human psyche. Based on Ken Kesey’s novel, the film stars Jack Nicholson as Randle McMurphy, a convict who feigns insanity to escape labor duties, only to encounter Nurse Ratched, a stern mental institution overseer. The movie brilliantly encapsulates themes of freedom, rebellion, and the fine line between sanity and insanity.

Literary Devices Used in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

1. Symbolism

Movie SceneDevice Example
McMurphy’s baseball gameRepresents rebellion and freedom
The control panelSymbolizes power and liberation

2. Metaphor

Movie SceneDevice Example
Nurse Ratched’s control over patientsMetaphor for oppressive authority
The fishing tripRepresents escape and autonomy

3. Irony

Movie SceneDevice Example
McMurphy’s transfer to the mental institutionIntended to be an escape, but becomes imprisonment
The party sceneCelebration leads to chaos and consequences

4. Foreshadowing

Movie SceneDevice Example
Chief Bromden’s silent observationsHints at his deeper awareness and eventual actions
McMurphy’s rebellious actsPredicts his tragic end

5. Imagery

Movie SceneDevice Example
The stark, sterile environment of the wardCreates a sense of confinement and oppression
The lush, open lake during the fishing tripConveys freedom and relief

6. Allegory

Movie SceneDevice Example
The mental institutionAllegory for societal control and conformity
McMurphy vs. Nurse RatchedRepresents the fight between individuality and authoritarianism

7. Motif

Movie SceneDevice Example
The motif of handsSymbolizes power, control, and connection (e.g., McMurphy’s handshakes)
The recurring theme of laughterIndicates moments of humanity and resistance

8. Juxtaposition

Movie SceneDevice Example
McMurphy’s lively personality vs. the institution’s rigidityHighlights the conflict between freedom and control
The party scene vs. the aftermathContrasts joy and despair

9. Personification

Movie SceneDevice Example
The institution itselfTreated as a character with its own oppressive personality
Nurse Ratched’s demeanorEmbodies the cold, mechanical nature of the system

10. Flashback

Movie SceneDevice Example
Chief Bromden’s memories of his fatherProvides backstory and context to his character
McMurphy’s recounting of his past exploitsAdds depth to his rebellious nature

By examining these literary devices, we can appreciate the nuanced storytelling and thematic depth in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Each device enriches the narrative, offering layers of meaning and enhancing our understanding of the characters’ struggles and triumphs.

Character Analysis Through Literary Devices

Character Studies

In “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” the depth of characters is significantly enhanced through the strategic use of literary devices, revealing intricate traits and development.

Randle P. McMurphy

Literary DeviceExplanation
Metaphor (Rebel)McMurphy is often likened to a revolutionary, challenging the oppressive regime of Nurse Ratched, symbolizing a fight against systemic control.
IronyHis pretend insanity to avoid prison labor ironically leads him into a more profound confinement, culminating in his ultimate sacrifice.

Nurse Ratched

Literary DeviceExplanation
Symbolism (Machine)Often symbolized as a machine-like figure, her emotionless and strict demeanor reflects the dehumanizing force of institutional power.
ForeshadowingHer calm yet firm responses foreshadow her relentless control and the extreme measures she will enforce to maintain order.

Chief Bromden

Literary DeviceExplanation
Imagery (Fog)The fog that Chief describes around the ward represents his confused, suppressed state, which begins to clear as McMurphy brings hope.
Allusion (Ghost)Chief refers to himself as invisible, like a ghost, highlighting his perceived insignificance and his silent observation of the ward’s reality.

Character Dynamics

The dynamics between characters in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” drive the narrative forward and intensify thematic elements. The relationships are not just interactions but battles, alliances, and transformations that serve as the backbone of the film’s dramatic tension.

  • McMurphy and Nurse Ratched: This is the central dynamic, representing individuality versus authority. Their interactions are a constant battle of wills, where literary devices like irony and juxtaposition highlight their stark differences and conflicting goals.
  • McMurphy and Chief Bromden: Their growing friendship is key to the narrative, with McMurphy serving as the catalyst for Chief’s reawakening. Symbolism is used effectively here; McMurphy’s actions ‘lift the fog’ for Chief, both literally and metaphorically, aiding his journey towards self-liberation.
  • The Group Dynamic: The patients collectively represent different facets of societal and psychological repression. Literary devices like symbolism (the group as a microcosm of society) and metaphor (patients as caged birds) are utilized to explore themes of conformity, rebellion, and the human spirit’s resilience.

Thematic Analysis

In “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” themes are intricately woven into the narrative through the adept use of literary devices, allowing deeper insights into the core messages of the film.

Freedom vs. Control

Literary DeviceExplanation
Symbolism (Window)Windows in the film often represent freedom, which the patients view but cannot access, highlighting their confinement.
JuxtapositionThe open sea during the fishing trip vs. the enclosed ward spaces contrasts the concepts of liberty and restriction.

Individuality vs. Conformity

Literary DeviceExplanation
Metaphor (Uniforms)Nurse Ratched’s and other staff’s uniforms signify conformity and the suppression of individuality within the institution.
IronyPatients are in a mental hospital to get ‘better,’ yet the enforced conformity only diminishes their individual identities and sanity.

Sanity vs. Insanity

Literary DeviceExplanation
IronyMcMurphy pretends insanity to escape prison work but ends up in a more profoundly insane environment.
ForeshadowingEarly warnings about the risks of challenging Nurse Ratched hint at the tragic blurring of sanity lines for McMurphy.

Power and Rebellion

Literary DeviceExplanation
Symbolism (Electroshock Therapy)This treatment represents the extreme measures the institution uses to maintain control and suppress rebellion.
Allusion (Historical Rebels)McMurphy is often subtly compared to historical figures who challenged oppressive systems, emphasizing his role as a rebel.

Cinematic Techniques That Enhance Literary Devices

The film’s visual and sound design not only enrich the storytelling but also reinforce the literary devices used to deepen the thematic explorations.

Literary DeviceTechniqueExplanation
Symbolism (Fog)Muted colors, soft focusVisuals create a fog-like effect that mirrors Chief’s confused, trapped mental state.
Metaphor (Birds)Bird sounds in backgroundThe sounds of birds during outdoor scenes emphasize themes of freedom and confinement.
IronyStark contrast in lightingBright lights in therapy scenes ironically highlight the darkness of the institution’s practices.
Personification (Ward)Cold, sterile set designThe ward is depicted as a living entity that’s watching and controlling the patients, enhancing the feeling of surveillance and confinement.

Key Scene Analysis

Scene Selection Several key scenes in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” utilize both literary and cinematic techniques to profound effect.

  • The Basketball Scene: YouTube Link
    • Breakdown: This scene uses the game as a metaphor for McMurphy’s influence, rallying the patients against Nurse Ratched’s control. Cinematically, dynamic camera movements capture the chaotic, liberated energy among the patients.
  • Final Confrontation Scene: YouTube Link
    • Breakdown: The intense interaction between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched, highlighted by close-ups and sharp dialogue delivery, dramatizes the ultimate battle for power and control. The use of shadows and tight framing emphasizes the oppressive atmosphere.


To wrap up our exploration of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” here’s a little quiz to test your understanding of the literary devices used in this iconic film. Have fun and see how much you’ve learned!

1. What does the fog symbolize in the film? A) Clarity B) Confusion C) Danger D) Excitement

2. Which device describes McMurphy’s influence on the ward? A) Irony B) Metaphor C) Simile D) Hyperbole

3. Which scene uses bird sounds to emphasize themes of freedom? A) Basketball scene B) Fishing trip C) Therapy session D) Final confrontation