Character and Themes from Three Novels: One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Heart of Darkness, and Fight Club Essay Example

Character and Themes from Three Novels: One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Heart of Darkness, and Fight Club Essay

Character and Themes from Three Novels:

One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Heart of Darkness, and Fight Club

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            Literature enables people to read about the lives of other people and move away from ourselves – Character and Themes from Three Novels: One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Heart of Darkness, and Fight Club Essay introduction. In the process, mundane lives suddenly becomes more interesting and even ordinary events become loaded with lessons and interesting matters. When people read literature, they step out of their own world and enter another one. In the process, they step out of their comfort zones and enter a world full of the adventure of fictional people whose adventures could happen in the real world.

             Three novels that deal with how the mundane lives of characters spark enthusiasm and change are Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and Chuck Palahniuk’s The Fight Club. Although these novels dealt with different themes, they have a focus on how authorities seek to control the lives of people and how the characters react to this.

When the characters realize that their lives are being controlled by people, systems, social norms and other forces in the society, they react by changing themselves and their environment. Some of these changes are directed inside the mind as what Chief Bromden does in Kesey’s novel. The Englishman Marlow in The Heart of Darknes also explores the human mind and its capacity for darkness as he navigates through the river to Africa. Through this, the character explores the scenario when humans succumb to the instinct for violence. The means for therapy and change may also be a social act of deviance similar to what the narrator of Fight Club did. In all of these novels, there is an overarching interest in violence, in repression, and in how characters deal with these repressions. This article presents the lives and experiences of the major characters of these novels and how their seemingly mundane lives

Kesey’s Chief Bromden and the Mental Hospital

            Although Kesey’s novel is full of sexual references, it portrays beautifully the difference between the lives of those with recognized mental illness and those that seem normal but who really have problems with the way they think and treat other people.

            The story revolves around the character of Chief Bromden, a Native American schizophrenic patient. After seeing his father humiliated and abused by the government and by his white wife, he forgets about his identity as a football star and a war hero. He becomes afflicted with schizophrenia. He pretends to be deaf and dumb, which gives him immense access to the dirty secrets of people in the ward. Although his life may look pretty ordinary and boring, the Chief sees the true identity of people. He lost respect for himself. That is why in his own eyes, he is just a small man although he stands over six feet tall and he has good body build. On the other, he sees strong-willed people such as the Nurse Ratched and his fellow patient Randle McMurphy as huge people.

            While Chief Bromden shows the hidden lives of people in the ward, Randle McMurphy is a convict sent to the mental hospital from the prison. His thinking behind this move is that he can serve his sentence while at the same time have comfort in the ward. He goes through the ward hustling the patients in the ward. But later on, he realizes that he is allowing the patients to live the lives that they are scared to live out. While heckling his fellow patients, he discovers that he can sacrifice himself for his friends. This became evident when he fights Nurse Ratched and eventually lost his health, his freedom, and his life.

            McMurphy has two female friends, Candy and Sandy, whom he brought with him on the fishing expedition for the patients of the ward. Candy sleeps with the boyish patient Billy Bibbit while Sandy sleeps with Sefelt who suffers from epileptic seizure during the intercourse. Needless to say, Sandy will not forget such an experience. These two women provided a welcome distraction to the lives of the patients. Another woman whose influence could not be mistaken is Nurse Ratched. She loves to dominate and intimidate people. She portrays a woman who defies social conventions and asserts power over the patients in the hospital. She loses power, however, when McMurphy nearly choked her to death.

            The ward portrayed in Kesey’s story may be seen as a microcosm of society and the McMurphys and Chief Bromdens of the world are but watching and waiting for their lives to have significance and meaning. McMurphy’s life takes on a new light when he starts caring for others. While Chief Bromden’s thinking changes when he regains respect for himself. The human mind, indeed, is a complex and difficult thing to understand.

Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

            The Heart of Darkness features the character of Marlow, an Englishman who was employed by a Belgian company to go into what feels like the Congo River. Marlow transports ivory in the river but his more important assignment is transporting Mr. Kurtz. The novel was called heart of darkness because Marlow is described by the unnamed narrator as entering the “heart of darkness”, represented by the deep African jungle. In this environment, he witnesses the descent of humans from civility to violence and atavism. Humans giving way to their violent instincts are featured throughout the whole novel.

            Ironically, Marlow also associated black with good and white with evil. In this regard, his observations emphasized the darkness that is present in the hearts of people. Although the life of Marlow as a ferryboat captain is a little boring and mundane, his observations in his surroundings lend excitement into his life. Such observations led him thinking about the darkness in every human’s heart. As he interacted with people in Europe, he began to see the naiveté of people, particularly of women concerning darkness in Congo. He also thought about the ignorance of people with the abuse of the natives by the colonists. His observations led him to think about how people could live two lives depending on their environment. His observation is that people are divided within them in regards to practicing good or evil. Such conflict in the hearts of humans leads to duplicity and of course a more interesting life for Marlow.

The Fight Club

            The unnamed character in the Fight Club grows increasingly restless and anti-consumerism. Moreover, he becomes uncomfortable with the changing definition of masculinity in the American society. He then establishes an underground fight club. He considers this as a radical form of psychotherapy. Through this club, other young men use their physical strength and get some emotional support to unleash their frustrations.

            The name of the main character is not mentioned in the book. He is an insomniac and works for a car company. As the fight club takes in more members, the character of Tyler Durden enters the picture. He is an anarchist and has a strong loathing for the culture of consumerism. He works during the night and makes soap to increase his income. But later, he used the chemicals in producing a bomb for the fight club. He launched Project Mayhem, which was a series of attack against consumerism. Tyler’s character is very negative and he might be considered as an anti-hero.

            The narrator gets the shock of his life when he realizes that Tyler and he are just one! Tyler is an aspect of his personality that has gone haywire. The love interest of Tyler is Marla Singer, who seems to fake her problems in the support group. She becomes the lover of Tyler. She is a nymphomaniac and is also extremely against consumerist culture. One of the turning points of the narrator’s antagonism against Tyler is when their friend Bob died for the Project Mayhem and it was just considered trivial by everyone.

Just as the narrator thought that he would stop Tyler, he realizes that he is Tyler and that Tyler disappears and he then makes the decision to put the gun to his mouth and shoot himself. Amazingly, when he wakes up, he is already in a mental institution and the people working at the hospital tells him that they are members of Project Mayhem and that they are waiting for Tyler to come back. Apparently, the narrator’s hallucinations are not yet over.

Thoughts and Observations Inside and Out

            The lives of the main characters of these three novels turn their mundane lives into something spectacular. The main difference over these characters is the how they see the spectacular. In Kesey’s novel, the main characters are in a mental hospital and they are able to see the world from a slightly different angle. Chief Bromden, having access to the deepest secrets of the personnel of the hospital sees the people for who they truly are. McMurphy, on the other hand, acted as the challenge for people to get real with themselves and with their world. He was able to change the lives of his friends and challenge the authority of Nurse Ratched in the process.

            In Conrad’s work, the narrator also happened to be a keen observer and that made a lot of difference in turning his otherwise mundane life into one full of intrigue and observations about the human condition. Although he journeyed into the heart of darkness in Africa, he also observed the darkness in the hearts of men. What is more, he not only discovered darkness in other men, he also saw the same darkness inside his heart just like Mr. Kurtz that he was transporting. In the end, his observation in the society led him to conclude that humans are always divided in themselves in turning to either good or evil. He himself has not resolved the question in his heart.

            The character in the Fight Club is something of a cross between the main characters of the first two novels. He explores his inner mental state and also his surroundings. By giving way to his subconscious urges, he gives birth to the character of Tyler, a violent and anarchistic man. Ironically, he does not discover this until the last minute.

            All three novels deal with the duplicity of human beings, their identity, deepest desires and urges. They also portray how society is conditioning people to rein in these desires and work towards establishing a civilized and decent community. In a lot of cases, however, such control becomes greater than what is needed. The result is repression, which gives way to deviant behavior and challenge to authority.

            Another theme recurrent in all three novels is the concept of authority and challenges to it. Kesey’s novel challenges the emanation of intense and abusive authority in Nurse Ratched’s character. Marlow in Conrad’s novel has to deal with the abuses in the African jungles and the civility and authority of Europe while the character in the Fight Club is fighting the “system” of consumerist and popular culture. Up to a certain degree, all the major characters had to engage in deviant behavior in order to challenge the prevailing authority.

            All three novels also explore the nature of choice and how a person can decide even in the  face of difficulties. McMurphy chose to protect his friends and attack the Nurse. Marlow, however, suspended his choice and just went on with his ways. The unnamed character in the Fight Club stopped his alter-ego Tyler. In all of these cases, the possibility of choice was still highlighted.


Conrad, J. (2004) The Heart of Darkness. New York: Prestwick House, Inc.

Kesey, K. (1963). One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. New York: Signet.

Palahniuk, C. (1996).  Fight Club. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

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