It is suggested that in modern literature, the true element of tragedy is
not captured because the protagonist is often of the same social status as the
audience, and therefor, his downfall is not tragic.
This opinion, I find, takes
little consideration of the times in which we live.
Indeed, most modern plays
and literature are not about monarchs and the main character is often equal to
the common person; this, however, does not mean the plot is any less miserable
nor the outcome any less wretched.
The first work I have chosen proves this
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, a first novel by Ken Kesey published in
1962, is a contemporary tragedy describing the downfall of a rigidly
administered ward in a mental institution led by the rebellion of a new
The work I have chosen to compare this novel to is the classic play
by William Shakespeare, Hamlet.
There is an intimate relationship between
these to works beyond that they are both tragedies; the protagonist in each
lacks conventional hero qualities.
Both Hamlet and R.P.
McMurphy in One Flew
Over the Cuckoo's Nest, can be defined as anti-heroes making these two pieces
comparable for study.
To examine the aspect of anti-heroes in tragedy, and how this relates to
the characters of R.P.McMurphy and Hamlet, an analysis of the motivation of each
Motivation is the source of all action, and only in this area
these two characters similar to a traditional protagonist.
As the character
himself evolves through the course of the plot, so do their motives.
McMurphy begin at different points with different purposes, but soon meet with a
For Hamlet, this initial impulse is derived from his
embitterment towards his mother for remarrying so soon after his father's death
and for selecting her late husband's brother Claudius, as her second partner.
In a witty statement to his closest friend Horatio, he expresses his
indignation; "The funeral baked meats/ Did coldly furnish forth the marriage
Entirely unrelated, is McMurphy's need to be "top man".
This is the
original driving force that inspires him to challenge Nurse Ratchet, the
antagonist, for her authority in the ward.
In his first appearance in the
novel, McMurphy's conduct brands him as a leader in his provocation of the other
"It's my first day, and what I like to do is make a good impression
straight off on the right man if he can prove to me he is the right man," says
McMurphy in an equally witty, yet less subtle passage then Hamlet's comments
about his mother's wedding.
It is their behavior in the latter half of each story, that ties these
Revenge becomes a common prompt.
For Hamlet, this is simply
avenging his father's death after much contemplation and indecision.
point, doubt and procrastination had him deterred from any action against
Painfully stagnant deliberation and an inspiring encounter with
Fortinbras' army (Act 4, Scene 4), finally persuaded Hamlet to assert himself.
He cries at the close of this scene, "O, from this time forth/ My thoughts be