Comparisons in the Christ-like characteristics between McMurphy and Jesus Throughout One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, there are signs that McMurphy is a comic Christ-like figure; despite his apparent faults and shortcomings, his actions match that of a tragic hero who saves his people.
McMurphy may be considered boorish and in many ways immoral, however, he has other characteristics that resemble Christ- McMurphy has a modest background as a logger, he helps his people rise up against the ward, and he also has a humiliating and sacrificial fall when he is lobotomized.
In Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, there are analogies between McMurphy and Jesus’s actions and teachings, behavior and influence to their followers, and deaths in order to show the Christ-like characteristics between the two iconic figures.
The teachings and actions of McMurphy are similar to those of Jesus’s in a multitude of ways such as their power and inspiration. One of the similarities in the actions of the two heroes would be their speeches that allowed their followers to rise up.
After McMurphy loses his bet about lifting the panel, he discourteously tells the other patients, “But I tried, though… Goddammit, I sure as hell did that much, now, didn’t I?” (Kesey 111). The significance of this passage is the message within the otherwise disgusted voice. McMurphy teaches the other patients the value of attempting to reach their goals and to not give in to what seems to be a hopeless situation.
This allows the patients to fight the ward, which in turn allows the patients to fight the fog, the Combine, and society. This lesson in attempting to fight for their beliefs is apparent as the patients later support McMurphy when he votes to watch the World Series. This matches many of Jesus’s parables which taught against common beliefs and incorporated sinners and those who were deemed outcasts. Similarly, another way McMurphy’s actions are similar to Jesus’s is when he “heals” the people at the ward.
The main instance of this is when his humour and kindness brings Bromden to speak after two decades of silence. While McMurphy is singing, Bromden “couldn’t help but start to chuckle” (184) and after Bromden receives gum, “… before [he] realized what [he] was doing, [Bromden] told [McMurphy] Thank you” (185). Not only does this healing represent the healing of the deaf and dumb, it represents giving sight to the blind; this key moment when Bromden speaks is when he willingly starts to come out of the fog.
Because of McMurphy’s compassion and nostalgia, Bromden speaks openly for the first time in ages which matches Jesus’s healings- he healed the deaf, blind, and even the chronically ill. The analogies between the actions of McMurphy and Jesus are not only parallel, but ironic as well. McMurphy’s actions can be seen as bold and impertinent rather than tender and benevolent. His actions and teachings are what make him a Christ-like figure.
Likewise, another comparison between McMurphy and Jesus are their treatment to others, namely their followers. Both figures disregard their companions’ many faults. When McMurphy first enters the ward, he “… goes right for it, grinning and shaking hands with everybody he comes to” (22). His behavior shows apathy towards the problems to those at the ward; he introduces himself to every Acute without regard to their ailments.
This is similar to Jesus’s treatments towards those around him. His twelve disciples consisted of tax collectors and fishermen, those that were generally looked down upon and disliked by the majority of society. Similarly, Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’s close supporters, was a prostitute. Jesus overlooked their faults and associated himself with these sinners rather than Pharisees and Rabbis.
McMurphy treats the other patients at the ward as if they were normal people; McMurphy disregards their faults and flaws but rather gives a certain degree of respect. Similarly, the role of the followers are comparable, specifically their role after the fall of their leader. When McMurphy sacrifices himself to silence Nurse Ratched, he subsequently takes away her authority. After the loss of the Nurse’s power, “… Harding signed out and was picked up by his wife, and George transferred to a different ward” (269).
Similar to Jesus’s disciples who continued to teach the Word of the Lord after their leader’s death, the patients at the ward do not become suppressed following the fall of their exemplar. Rather, they continue to live by the teachings of McMurphy and to resist the temptations of society. The followers of McMurphy not only parallel Jesus’s Apostles in number; they behave the same way, furthering the analogies between Jesus and McMurphy.
One last characteristic between McMurphy and Christ are their deaths and the circumstances surrounding it. The torture and icons throughout the events leading to McMurphy’s death are significant to these characteristics. Before his shock treatment, he receives conductant from the technicians stating, “Anointest my head with conductant. Do I get a crown of thorns?” (237).
The crown of thorns is a direct parallel from Jesus’s crucifixion. Also, the crown of thorns presented to Jesus was given during his torture and death which is alike to McMurphy during his shock treatment. This shows the suffering and torment he goes through before his death. Furthermore, another similarity between the deaths of McMurphy and Jesus is their crucifixion. After McMurphy’s lobotomy, he is “… wheeled in this Gurney with a chart at the bottom that said in heavy black letters, MCMURPHY, RANDLE P. POST-OPERATIVE. And below this was written in ink, LOBOTOMY.
They pushed it… along next to the Vegetables” (269). Similar to the crucifixion of Jesus, McMurphy is placed upright in an immobile position. His gurney is a reference to Jesus’s cross. Also, being placed to Vegetables may represent Jesus being crucified alongside other criminals. The Vegetables, other patients who are results of failed treatments, are similar in that they did not conform to society while mobile. They were looked down upon by society and therefore represent the other criminals Jesus was crucified with.
Not only does this show the humility McMurphy faced during death, it shows the significance of the other Vegetables in the ward. In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Kesey places correlations in McMurphy and Jesus’s actions and teachings, behavior and influence to their followers, and deaths in order to show the Christ-like characteristics between the two iconic figures.
Because of this parallel, McMurphy is able to help the patients gain their freedom from the ward and fight the societal standards and expectations. However, by doing so, he inevitably sacrifices his own life for his cause. Despite his sacrifice, others rise up and take his place; Bromden, Harding, and other patients who sign out of the ward are able to escape the Combine and become bolder in their actions. This truly makes McMurphy a Christ-like figure that teaches and inevitably dies for his cause.