‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and ‘The Catcher in the Rye’: Comparing Depiction of Alienation and Isolation in Novels

The styles of alienation and isolation in ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ and ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ are extremely popular, as the authors look for to portray the journey of a specific (or certainly group) that exists beyond mainstream society. In both books we see the story informed through the persona of a pushed away first individual narrator, a perspective that exceptionally affects our comprehension and interpretation of the stories informed, whether it be Bromden’s hallucinatory description of “the fog” and its impacts or Holden’s quasi-reliable description of the occasions that result in his remaining in a psychological asylum. It is essential to highlight the subtle difference in between alienation and seclusion: Although the 2 terms are closely connected and frequently seen to be synonymous, I understand ‘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 two. Both of these phenomena exist in, and are crucial to understanding ‘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 uniqueness, and in doing so isolate themselves, through their idiosyncratic usage of language and absence of adherence to narrative conventions. From the moment that we meet Holden, we see him utilizing the slang (“lousy”, “all that sort of crap”) and standoffish direct address (“do not even discuss them to me”) that characterise his narrative throughout the book. Similarly, the opening line of the narrative of Bromden in ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ is “they’re out there”– a totally subjective and paranoid declaration that instantly develops distance in between him and the reader due to its seeming implausibility. Kesey likewise stresses Bromden’s narrative with long and unusual hallucinations, of manipulative equipment and robotics for instance, which too initially develop distance between himself and the reader. However, as the novels progress, we grow to accept the strange and rather hard narrative, and it ends up being personalized and likeable. The language and narrative designs of the unique serve to require the reader to go through a journey regarding their proximity to the narrator: initially, we are pushed away by their unconventionality, however as the books establish we discover ourselves quite on the side of the storyteller. In my opinion, this journey of the alienation of the reader is of just as much significance as the alienation of the characters themselves.

For Holden, isolation is a method of self-protection. In his interactions with other individuals– specifically girls, such as Sally and Faith– he seems ill-at-ease and baffled regarding what he needs to say, trying forcibly to sound “suave as hell” and adult in location of really making any connection with anybody he talks to. He isolates himself, therefore, 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 needing to deal with the clear confusion and inner conflict that he has. This illustrates the paradox of Holden’s character and actions; he isolates himself as an outcome of an unfinished desire to fit in with the society around him. His popular red searching hat, for instance, is a clear and intentional physical sign of difference. His assertion– however jocular– that it is a “people-shooting hat” is suggestive of his specific desire to stand apart by wearing it, however his many discusses of Allie and Phoebe’s red hair recommend that he wears it simply as a subconscious effort to fit in to his family. At the exact same time, Holden appears both proud and awkward of the hat (frequently not using it when fulfilling friends, or taking it off when it is talked about), a clear sign of this conflict in between seclusion and fitting in.

In numerous aspects, Bromden (and certainly a lot of the minor characters such as Harding in ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’) utilizes seclusion as a means of self-protection, much in the manner in which Holden does. Bromden’s pretence that he is deaf and dumb could, in some respects, be compared to Holden’s pretence of their adult years and maturity– both are used due to the fact that the criminal thinks that it is the only method to manage and harmonize a society that they do not fully comprehend. However, whilst Holden appears unaware of his usage of isolation as a means of security, Bromden does so intentionally. He thinks that he is “cagey enough to trick” everyone else in the ward– and in doing so, makes himself less of a target than the other clients. Undoubtedly, he just lets this guard down much later on for McMurphy, once he is particular of his reliability. In this respect, Bromden’s self-imposed seclusion is an efficient tool– he avoids the vicious and destructive sessions of group therapy, through which “the Big Nurse” has the ability to keep a stranglehold over the ward through psychological adjustment. Nevertheless, this isolation alone is insufficient for Bromden to restore his self-confidence and peace of mind– it requires a character like McMurphy to catalyse this procedure. The fog is the ideal symbol of Bromden’s isolation– it appears at psychological points in the story, and creates a veil– symbolic for the reader, but physical for Bromden– behind which he “feels safe”. Although he knows that the fog– his seclusion– is wrong, “as bad as it is”, slipping back into it enables him to distance himself from the circumstance. Kesey for that reason seems to suggest that although seclusion is an effective guard, merely withdrawing from society is inadequate in itself to cause change. The active struggle, although typically sisyphean, is depicted as more brave and reliable than easy passive withdrawal; Bromden’s resist “the combine” is just really escaped by his breaking out of the organization, and McMurphy’s struggle, although not bringing him freedom, is enough to mentally liberate the other ‘prisoners’ of the ward, from both mental jail time, and in Bromden’s case physical imprisonment too.

Loss of identity is prominent in both novels, both as domino effect of isolation and alienation, and both Bromden and Holden have an understanding of identity that shifts considerably throughout the course of their particular stories. Kesey manifests Bromden’s altering identity, like much of his frame of mind, through physical symbolism in “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. As an outcome of societal alienation in the kind of the federal government’s destruction of his heritage and his subsequent institutionalisation, Bromden feels that he physically shrinks– despite being “6 foot eight”, 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. Just like his ‘deafness’, it is only when he restores acceptance into society– albeit the counter-culture society embodied by McMurphy– that he returns to his regular size. We likewise see a reflection of this in the narrative itself, specifically in that although Bromden is the storyteller, he does not tell his own story, rather centring on McMurphy’s story, and including his own as nearly subsidiary. The reality that Bromden is nearly a passive eyewitness to his own life, focusing instead on McMurphy’s, shows the powerlessness and loss of identity that he feels as an outcome of alienation.

Holden too suffers from loss of identity, or at least unpredictability. Nevertheless, contrary to Bromden, for whom loss of identity is outcome of alienation, for Holden we see altering identity to be a source of his seclusion. Just like Bromden, there is a duality in Holden’s identity. Nevertheless, unlike Bromden, who plainly establishes 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 between adult and kid identity.

It is this conflict in identity that is the structure of the novel, and among the factors that it is considered the stereotypical Bildungsroman in English literature. It is even mentioned in the title of the book– Holden misinterprets the lyrics of a folk tune about a sexual affair to be “can a body, catch a body, comin’ through the rye”– an idea which then reoccurs as what Holden wishes to be when he is older, a ‘catcher in the rye’– someone who captures children prior to they fall off a cliff. The cliff can be seen to represent adulthood, which Holden wants to make sure that children (himself consisted of, maybe) can remain young and innocent, without falling off the “cliff” of the adult years and duty. The truth that Holden obtained this naive and innocent image from a tune about sex is indicative of the duality in his identity– at the same time, Holden wishes to be immersed in the adult world, as represented by his consistent focus on cigarette smoking and drinking, and desire to act ‘adult’. Nevertheless, at the same time, he is plainly not sure and afraid of the adult world, as seen by his paying a woman of the street to simply talk, as he did not feel comfy with the concept of sex. It is, by the way, interesting that both novels feature woman of the streets as fairly crucial characters– Candy in ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and Sunny in ‘Catcher in the Rye’. As maybe the most pushed away and separated group of individuals in society, the fact that the woman of the streets in the novels are portrayed as the standard in comparison to the separated characters shows the degree to which they (the members of the ward and Holden respectively) are socially estranged.

This conflict in between adult and child, and its resultant confusion, is present in almost all of Holden’s actions throughout the novel. His great interest in the museum, for instance, could be seen to represent his desire to understand and compartmentalise the complexity of the world, as in a museum. It is eventually this duality that leads both to Holden’s alienation and his seclusion– he is alienated 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 however also from himself, by becoming a parody of an adult, going through the movements of adulthood so as to prevent having to face the complex duality that exists within his character. In numerous methods, this is the outright antithesis to Bromden; the mental issues that trigger Bromden to isolate himself appear physically– in his changing size and perception of “the fog” and “the combine”. Conversely, Holden internalises his problems to the level that he appears almost unconcerned to them, just starting to reveal them by childishly accusing whatever and everybody but himself as “counterfeit”– when paradoxically, it is Holden’s personality that seems to us the most fake.

The hugely different backgrounds of the two separated characters– Holden and Bromden respectively– should be considered when comparing them. I believe that the backgrounds of both characters, although hugely different, matter in examining their alienation and isolation: Holden’s wealthy upper-middle class white background makes him seem like the best all-American aspirational figure, making his isolation and views on society all the more paradoxical. Holden has no apparent motive to feel distaste for American society or those within it– he is quite a part of the society that he sees as “phony”. His isolation is even more striking considering his everyman status– he is not the ‘normal’ outsider by any means. In contradistinction, Bromden is a Native American, a reality which, although not seen as extremely crucial, I think to be vital to the representation of alienation and seclusion in the book. As a subjugated people, effectively eliminated from their land and culture– a truth seen in the unique– Native Americans are an excellent sign of the alienating results of society. Additionally, the connection of Native Americans to nature (a fact 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 combine”, with its disturbing mechanical parts. The metaphor of a “integrate”– an integrate harvester machine– is a fantastic picture of this; an integrate being a mechanised device that reduces and gathers the land’s items– representative both of the loss of the Native American individuals and the alienation of Bromden by an emotionless society.

In conclusion, I believe that separated and pushed away characters are efficiently used as a statement versus mainstream society in ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and ‘Catcher in the Rye’, as we see the alienating effects of society and the efforts of the protagonists to (unsuccessfully, in my opinion) counter them through isolation. Certainly, the link between the two ideas is frequently blurred, and we often see one triggering the other– as Bromden states, “it wasn’t me that began acting deaf; it was individuals that initially began acting like I was too dumb to hear”. Nevertheless, it is Bromden’s journey of flexibility from the pushing away world of the ward that is more positive than Holden’s downward spiral of isolation and resultant alienation. This is not to say that the two books convey a significantly different message regarding the separated individual; in both novels we see seclusion as an inefficient tool against the inequalities and “phoniness” of society– it is through fighting the system of alienation that liberty is attained by Bromden. The two books are, in my viewpoint, merely mirrors of each other– Bromden begins as a helpless psychological client, and is freed through disobedience, whereas Holden starts by rebelling and, we find at the end, is eventually institutionalised. Although Kesey and Salinger therefore would appear to disagree in their discussion of alienation and isolation on numerous fronts, they are, in my opinion, two sides of the exact same coin.