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One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest : A Study of Tragic Characters Using “Cool-Hand Luke”

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  1. Introduction
  2. Hamartia
  3. Expectations
  4. Death and effect
  5. Conclusion
  6. Citations

Arthur Miller once wrote that the reason so few tragedies exist is because the world is in lack of heroes and the common man thinks too little of himself to be otherwise. The reluctance to be anything more than ordinary is attributed to the inherent assumption that heroes can only come from sophisticated and complex individuals superior in form who are exceptionally courageous in the face of adversity. Intimidated by such a misconception, persons fully capable of committing virtuous acts are unable to. The pedestal that heroes are put on seems impossibly and hopelessly high from a distance, but at a closer look, it is in fact within reach. Even the most laudable of heroes who during great moments of peril choose altruism and put the lives of others before their own walk on earth afterwards like everyone else. Though putting one's life at stake is heroic, a hero is not merely defined by that one act but by his or her state of mind and admirable qualities that are put to use in matters of serving the greater good. And for the common man, because human beings are intrinsically entitled to govern their own lives, he has the choice to be more than himself and by that, choosing to fight for a just cause regardless of its outcome merits him the title of a hero in his own right.

[...] Though it may be true that a hero's motivations are more ambitious, what distinguishes the run-of-the-mill hero from a tragic one is the practicality of these goals and to what extent are the heroes able to achieve them. The tragic hero has unrealistic expectations for himself because he has a ?compulsion to evaluate himself justly,? meaning that his own perception of himself deviates from the norm of thought in that he has an image of himself that requires him to go to extreme lengths to be what he expects of himself.1 McMurphy has always been very strong in governing himself and adopts the mindset that he must adhere to that characteristic. [...]


[...] He remains the hero because he is doing so well under what the Big Nurse is putting him through thus the men all look up to him still, but there is a tragic air that surrounds him because he is so steadfast on a certain aspect of his character that he begins to lose the ability to exhibit the spectrum of reactions that a person uses with different situations. However, because McMurphy chooses to demonstrate a limited range of expression, he is eventually and tragically forced to suppress other aspects of his personality, such as his ability to reason and weigh the consequences of his actions, the negligence for which would eventually lead to his demise. [...]


[...] Three : death and effect Often times a hero may make the ultimate sacrifice in order to serve the greater good by putting life itself on the line, but what differentiates a tragic hero from a typical one is that the former is willing to risk life not necessarily to save that of another, but to ?secure a sense of personal dignity.?1 Though McMurphy technically dies when a fellow friend ends his life after he undergoes an unsuccessful lobotomy and is unable to make the decision for himself whether to live or die, Bromden ends his friend's life because he believes that that McMurphy would have wanted that since if he were to see himself lying in a bed, helpless and unable to think for himself, he would die of shame. [...]

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