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Dehumanization Kills Free Will

Updated on October 22, 2012
Cool Hand Luke
Cool Hand Luke
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
A Clockwork Orange
A Clockwork Orange

Society has always told us what is right and what is wrong, what to wear and what not to wear, how to look and how not to look. The bottom line always lies with conformity; everyone has to look and act the same, because that is what is socially acceptable. Nowadays, we are pressured through media and our peers to conform, however, people were forced to conform way back when. Despite some differences, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, A Clockwork Orange, and the movie Cool Hand Luke all contribute to the overarching theme that authority utilizes methods of dehumanization in order to conform society, thus revoking their free wills.

According to Ken Kesey in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, all authority and society belongs to the Combine, and the Combine would go to any means possible in order to remain in control of everything. “…Society is what decides who’s sane and who isn’t, so you got to measure up” (Kesey 49). Anyone who does not fit into the mold of society, anyone who is different, is considered insane, and they are sent to Nurse Ratched and her “Therapeutic Community” (Kesey 49). In this so-called “Therapeutic Community” the group decides where a man is “out of place” and what he needs to work on in order to conform. However, this is just a way for Nurse Ratched to assert her power and belittle the patients. She would do anything to have control. For example, there are the Acutes and there are the Chronics. The Acutes have a chance to get out, but the Chronics are the “Combine’s product” (Kesey 15); they no longer have their free will, because they were turned into vegetables just for being different or defending themselves. That is what keeps the Acutes in line. The threat of becoming a vegetable leaves them cowering at the sight of the Big Nurse. And then, there is McMurphy, the savior and rebel who nearly dethrones her. She tries everything to dehumanize him and take away the power he possesses over her, but he just cannot be broken; he cannot be conformed to her standards. Ultimately, she steals his free will by lobotomizing him (Kesey 321), and even then, she cannot erase the impact he had on the other patients.

In addition, Anthony Burgess, in A Clockwork Orange, also argues that authority tampers with the free will of individuals for the sake of conformity. Like Kesey, he demonstrates that removing free will from the person does not actually accomplish anything, because he is not sincerely changing, but being forced to do so; “The attempt to impose upon a man, a creature of growth and capable of sweetness… laws and conditions appropriate to a mechanical creation, against this I raise my sword-pen” (Burgess 25). Conformity by force is the quick fix, and like all quick fixes, does not actually fix anything in the long run and usually creates new problems. Humans alone are capable of change and growth without the aide of the government. If the government strips them of what makes them human, how can they actually change? “They of the government and the judges and the schools cannot allow the bad because they cannot allow the self” (Burgess 44-45). The government supposedly wants to fix the bad qualities Alex possesses by brainwashing him into believing that violence is unacceptable. As a result, he is left harmless and defenseless against the harsh world he used to victimize. He no longer has a chance against his enemies, and he is not allowed to even think of trying to defend himself without becoming ill. It is as if he is frozen in time, unable to grow as a human being and learn from his mistakes, because “he has no real choice… He ceases to be a wrongdoer” but he “ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice” (Burgess 140-141). That is why when the effects are finally reversed, Alex reverts to his old, violent ways; he does not learn anything from his experience, because he is not himself. He is someone else the government wanted him to be. However, after some time, he does grow, and he realizes he does not want to live that way anymore. He never could have changed had he remained under the government’s control forever. He would always be a pawn.

Furthermore, Donn Pearce and Frank R. Pierson, in Cool Hand Luke, demonstrate another method of dehumanization; rather than lobotomizing the men or brainwashing the free will out of them, the prisoners are treated like animals or children. For example, when the men are out slaving all day, they have to ask permission to do anything whether it be wiping themselves off, taking a drink of water, or taking off their shirts (Pearce and Pierson). They are told when to eat, when to fight, when to sleep, and when to work. The authorities work them to the bone from dawn till dusk, so they will not have the energy or time to rebel. Of course, Luke could find a way to rebel; Luke just has the attitude and determination of a rebel. Everyone sees it in him on his first day there, especially the Captain. “…In case you git rabbit in your blood and decide to take off fer home, you git a bonus a some time and a couple leg chains to keep you slowed down a little – fer your own good” The Captain goes on to say that he can “be a good guy” or a bad guy, but it is up to the men. First of all, he makes it sound like a pair of leg chains is gift from the heavens. All of the punishment enforced at this prison is for the good of the men, he claims. In reality, it is just a way for him to stay in control over them and keep them following his rules. Second of all, his being nice or being mean all depends on if the men conform or not. So, it is basically a threat that if Luke were to rebel, the Captain would be his worst enemy. Not to mention the whole speech Carr makes to the new men about the rules. Any violations of the rules, and the man will spend the night in the box (Pearce and Pierson), and the rules are ridiculous. When Luke’s mother dies, he has to spend a few days in the box because the Captain does not want him to get any ideas of running. First a man loses the woman who birthed him, and then he has to be punished for it by sitting in a box like some dog. This is what really sets Luke off; this is when he starts to actively rebel. The first time he runs, he gets a pair of chains. The second time, he receives two pairs and a lot of bullying from the bosses. But, like McMurphy, Luke cannot be broken; he is too persistent and too free-spirited. The only way to break him is to forcibly take his free will from him, or in this case, his life.

In conclusion, all three literary works argue that the government will do anything, even steal the free will of individuals, in order to achieve conformity within the society, because conformity equals control which equals total power. Each has the rebel who tries to keep his God-given rights as a human, but only one survives. Both McMurphy and Luke are killed as a result of their rebellion. Alex gets another chance, because his free will is returned to him eventually; his brainwash is undoable. McMurphy and Luke are gone forever as a sacrifice to those to do not have the persistence, determination or strong will to stand up for themselves. There is something to say about a man whose only breaking point is death, and even then, he leaves an everlasting impact. The authority will forever be weakened by their refusal to conform.

Works Cited

Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange. 1962. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1986. Print.

Kesey, Ken. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. 1962. New York: Signet, 1963. Print.

Pearce, Donn and Frank R. Pierson, screenwriters. Cool Hand Luke. Dir. Stuart Rosenberg. Perf. Paul Newman and George Kennedy. 1967. Warner Brothers Entertainment, Inc., 1995. DVD.


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    • autumndouglas profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      Thanks:) I'm glad you liked it.

    • ScienceOfLife profile image


      6 years ago

      It's a good article: well written, edited, and flows nicely. It appeals to me as a strong individualist. It also touches upon the deeper philosophical roots of the concept of free will, but concentrates on something less abstract: the tension between conformism to authorities and the freedom of expression or behaviour of the individual.


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