Friday, July 13, 2012

Cages of Glass, flowers of time/One flew over the cuckoo's nest

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Robert Maynard once said, “Human rights rest on human dignity. The dignity of man is an ideal worth fighting for and worth dying for.” The meaning of this quotation is exhibited in both the novels Cages of Glass, Flowers of Time by Charlotte Culin as well as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey. These two novels are both amazing books, communicating to us the tales of two heroes and their struggles. Although these two stories are very different from each other, they also share a great number of similarities. Cages of Glass, Flowers of Time and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest both involve characters who escape their deplorable surroundings, eventually gaining freedom in the real world. As well, both novels involve characters who deal with their problems passively, but eventually make friends and overcome their fears. However, aside from these similarities, both books exhibit many differences. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest portrays a hero able to deal strongly with his surroundings, perceiving the situation for its best. Cages of Glass, Flowers of Time, on the other hand, portrays the main character as a weak individual, subject to frequent break downs due to her frail personality. Also, Charlotte Culin’s narrative ends happily, with the protagonist finally achieving her well-deserved freedom, while One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest ends with the death of the main character. Apart from these topics of comparison, both novels communicate to us a number of strong messages, which reflect upon our lives in the real world.

Both Cages of Glass, Flowers of Time and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest exhibit the theme that although we may fight a battle and lose, we must never give up for victory is only awarded to the strong. Both novels involve characters who face a great many obstacles ahead of them. But rather than give up, the characters of both stories defeat the obstacles, gaining strength along the way. In Cages of Glass, Flowers of Time, Claire constantly faces abuse, from both her mother as well as her grandmother. However, Claire continues living her life, and meeting new friends, who help her to conquer her fear of people and defeat the barrier that prevented her from pursuing her much loved pastime of drawing. Throughout the book, Claire never gives up, and although her mother never does abandon drinking, Claire doesn’t let that discourage her, but keeps fighting, resulting in new surroundings, a new home, and a loving guardian. In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, McMurphy arrives at the mental hospital, expecting better conditions than those in jail. However, McMurphy finds himself facing the overwhelming control of Nurse Ratched. Unlike the other patients, he doesn’t conform to her ways, but instead, challenges her authority, devoting himself to getting the patients the privileges they deserve. Although he is overwhelmed by the events which take place, and the injustices that occur, he perceives the situation for its best. Instead of getting discouraged by the new conditions which he faces, he applies himself to improving life for the patients. When McMurphy discovers that his behaviour will determine how long he must spend in the mental hospital, he doesn’t give up. Instead, he uses the time he has to make a difference. He defeats Nurse Ratched’s overpowering authority, establishing a reputation as a hero, or messiah. Although he is eventually sentenced to lobotomy, Nurse Ratched finds herself able to destroy him, but unable to defeat him. McMurphy’s existence provides hope for the patients, and although he died a martyr, the victory was still his.

Both Chief Bromden, the narrator of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Claire belong to dysfunctional societies, and are victims of abuse. They feel oppressed by society, and are prisoners in a world in which they don’t belong. Chief Bromden, as well as his fellow patients at the mental hospital, belongs to a society in which justice and equity are nonexistent. Claire faces similar conditions within her own home. She is the victim of constant abuse, a part of her life that she has never been without. Both Chief Bromden and Claire were taken away from their homes at young ages, their surroundings replaced with deplorable conditions. They are prisoners in their own homes. To aid them in their struggles, both Claire and Chief Bromden develop a means of escape. Claire avoids contact with other people, never making friends. Chief Bromden takes a similar approach, never uttering a word, establishing the impression that he is both deaf and mute. As well, both Chief Bromden and Claire develop protective shields; Claire’s art and Chief Bromden’s fog provide each of them with a temporary haven. However, both Claire and Chief Bromden still have to face the inescapable realities that surround them. Over time, Chief Bromden and Claire make new friends, helping them to break through this barrier. Claire develops close friendships with both Clyde Bowman and Mr. Beasley, who help her to overcome her struggles with her mother and grandmother, enabling her to conquer her fear of people. Chief Bromden befriends McMurphy, and finally overpowers his fears, which were preventing him from pursuing a normal life in the real world. By acquiring new friends, Claire and Chief Bromden receive the support they need to finally escape their cages, and start new lives elsewhere.

While Claire and McMurphy face similar situations, they represent completely different individuals. McMurphy is a strong character, who ends up, by choice, in an insane asylum, under the authority of Nurse Ratched. It was his decision to assume the cover of a mentally insane man, and leave jail for a mental hospital. However, he makes light of the situation, turning it into a game. He improves the conditions, earning the patients more privileges, and destroying Nurse Ratched’s overwhelming control. No longer does she have complete authority over the patients. McMurphy, rather than blaming himself for the present situation, and giving up as the other patients have, decides to perceive the situation for the best. McMurphy sees the glass half full, accepting his current state. He does everything he can to improve the circumstances, both to the advantage of himself and of the other patients. At no time in the novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, does McMurphy break down. Instead he stands tall, conquering those in the way of his attempts to better the world for his fellow inmates. Although Nurse Ratched is able to destroy McMurphy, by sentencing him to lobotomy, she does not receive the final victory. Though his live ended unfulfilled, his courage as well as dignity lived on, seen through the changes he had made in Ratched’s ward. Claire, on the other hand, is seen as a weaker, much more sensitive character. Like McMurphy, Claire carries a heavy burden having to take care of an unloving mother while at the same time dealing with her harsh beatings. However, Claire is unable to deal with the callous realities that surround her. Often, she can no longer contain her feelings, bursting out in tears. Claire repeatedly runs from those she loves and desperately needs, unable to deal with her mixed emotions. Unlike McMurphy, Claire is not mature enough to understand and cope with her situation. It is only with the help of Clyde and Mr. Beasley that Claire is able to communicate her feelings, and set free her emotions, which had been building up inside of her. With their help, Claire is finally able to trust, a key element that allows her to make sense of her life.

It is interesting to note that Claire and McMurphy dealt with their obstacles in different ways. In the novel Cages of Glass, Flowers of Time, Claire’s emotions accumulate within her, over time, since she is unable to see the situation for what it really is. She does not realize that it is her mother and grandmother who are at fault, rather than herself. Instead of letting society take its course, she defends her family, protecting her unworthy mother from the justices that she deserves. McMurphy, on the other hand, challenges the figures in his way. He challenges Nurse Ratched and the black boys, standing up for his cause, exhibiting both the bravery and courage essential in a true hero.

While both novels are excellent pieces of literature, I find that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is of greater literary value. Although Cages of Glass, Flowers of Time seems like a wonderful book, in my opinion, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest conveys to us a greater message. While Charlotte Culin’s novel does sound very interesting, it seems to lack the originality and emotional involvement found in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. This book was full of hidden messages, forcing you to make your own judgments about the characters. Ken Kesey’s novel communicates to us the challenges faced in a society of overpowering authority (Nurse Ratched) which stifles humanity and individuality, forcing conformity and estrangements from ones emotions. The novel tells us of the struggles faced by the patients of Nurse Ratched’s mental ward to overcome this authority. While Cages of Glass, Flowers of Time communicates to us a similar message, it is not as strong nor as meaningful. I do, however, think that this book would be worth reading, and although it seems like the commonly told Cinderella-type story, I think it would be very interesting to read.

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