Evaluating Failure of Prevailing Assumptions: An Appraisal of Major Characters in Three Plays

It is agreeable that our ethical values as well as deliberative processes that define them ought to be tested in practice subject to standards upon which to examine them. It is imperative to note that the normative principles accrue genuine authority not corresponding to a wide spectrum of mind-independent moral facts but instead to a continuous and time-tested approach, accentuating a harmonious interface between individual and the environment, whereby the environment encapsulates the social and cultural expectations. While we can describe and define how individuals ought to deliberate, we however cannot satisfactorily predict the outcome of any deliberations. Most of the prevailing assumptions are subject to foundational moral and ethical truths that may take the form of unconditional, absolute, universal ethical laws or a set of foundational and absolute ethical facts.  It is crucial to understand that such ethical fundamentalism may be fallacious and may actually subvert the effective deliberation as well as the perception of reasonable conduct.  This essay endeavors to look at the failure o prevailing assumptions accentuated by the major characters in three plays.

In Dale Wasserman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, we focus on Randle P. McMurphy. A major character in the play, McMurphy can be considered a rebellious protagonist. The character is initially incarcerated for offenses such which include battery and illegal gambling. McMurphy is also subject to an accusation of statutory rape although he is not convicted. As early as in the Act one the character goes as far as bragging of him sleeping with a fifteen year old who had made claim that she was seventeen. The character cannot be considered as a typical hero from an ethical fundamentalism approach. We see McMurphy poke fun at the patients in the asylum on his first day and proceeds to heckle the institution’s staff. It is clear from the onset that McMurphy is eager to stir up both fun and trouble. However, besides all these transgressions, McMurphy defies the prevailing assumptions on ethical values and captures a spirit of freedom. He can be admired for his enthusiasm to resist despotism and conformity (Wasserman, 1963).

McMurphy is a larger than life character and determined to metamorphosis the asylum in the long run. While he may be stereotyped as a psychopath, it is evident that he is smart and likeable which endears himself to the patients and subsequently allowing them to take hold of the power stolen from them by the Nurse Ratched through her petty rules as well as cruelties. It is vital to note that while McMurphy as an opportunity to conform to the rules and in so doing redeem himself; he ultimately makes a choice to instead fight for the men in the ward. He is cognizant of the power possessed by Ratched then nurse but e does not seem to comprehend the danger she poses to him.

Although he conforms for a while in a bid to redeem himself, McMurphy later realizes that Nurse Ratched cruelties present a life and death scenario. This realization comes to him following Cheswick committing suicide and subsequently McMurphy steps up his rebellion. Being punished by electroshocks does not pacify his resolve but rather serves as a way of strengthening his will to preserve himself from the cruelty and manipulation of Nurse Ratched.  He seems to want to hang around until he can aid Billy overcome his phobia of women without not being fully aware of Ratched’s danger to him. However, he is confident enough that he can go against the power structure and status quo resented by Ratched’s rules. McMurphy seems to win up until Bill Bibbit commits suicide which subsequently pushes him to strangle Nurse Ratched. However, returning from the hospital after attempting to strangle Nurse Ratched to death, McMurphy is portrayed as a different man both in his mind and spirit.

Although considered as intellectually inferior, Susie Monahan in Margaret Edson’s Wit appreciates Vivian’s suffering and approaches it with kindness. Vivian Bearing who is a renowned professor of literature having received a diagnosis of metastatic ovarian cancer at the age of 50, can be characterized as a brilliant ad tough. She seems to approach her illness with intellectual dimension as she does her studies of the Holy Sonnets metaphysical poetry.  She is aggressively quizzical as well as intensely rational. She offers an opportunity to research doctors, Jason Posner and Harvey Kelekian, for medical research and experimentation and they subsequently evaluate her cancerous cells without much regard for her suffering (Clay, 1999).  As she reevaluates her life and work through intellectual insight as well as humor, she becomes aware of the finality of her life. It is through Susie’s compassion that allows Vivian to finally connect with fellow human beings and she is humanized. It is Susie’s empathy that provides fuels her with sufficient courage to make the most fundamental decision of her life.

While Vivian condition, as well as that of any other patient calls for proficient doctors and thorough research, doctors, Posner and Kelekian, demonstrate superior ability as well as enthusiasm when it comes to scientific facets of Vivian’s condition. It is important to note that these doctors treat Vivian as a research experiment and fails to appreciate her suffering. They seem to be detached from their patient and ignore the need to be passionate and sensitive. While the doctors’ behavior towards Vivian can be seen as the prevailing assumption in the practice of medicine, Susie’s character challenges this stand and accentuates the need for medical practitioners to have a responsibility in the restoration of the patient’s sense of human identity (Clay, 1999).  She demonstrates that a physician has a duty to handle and deal with patients with more sensitivity and compassion subject to the upsurge in emotional vulnerability occasioned by the illness as well as the fear of death. Susie underlines the fact that the physician’s strongest instrument should be empathy as well as the ability to comprehend the patient’s human condition. Susie highlights the need for transmission of kindness can be easier, helpful and effective than carrying out a scientific experiment on the patient or writing a prescription.

In Arthur Miller’s Enemy of the People, we look at Dr. Thomas Stockmann.  Being the protagonist, he learns of the pollution of the medicinal spring that is the primary source of income in his town. The whole town turns against Stockmann as he seeks to voice out and publicize his findings.  Stockmann can be characterized as being generous with his neighbors. He cares deeply for the welfare of others and society and endeavors to make his town and the world a better place.  Additionally, he is a man of principle and determined to pit up a fight for his beliefs irrespective of the cost involved. His dedication and determination are accentuated by him being stripped of position in the society, his employment as well as his subject to his refusal to remain silent over the town’s unhealthy and polluted baths.  Being aware that the medicinal spring is the main source of income the town is relactant to deal with the pollution for the fear of losing income.

Challenging his town’s status quo, Dr. Stockmann unyieldingly pushes for the renovation of the baths even if it means ruining the economy of the town. While endeavoring to stand by his principles and defend what he believes in, Stockmann puts his family and job at jeopardy. The doctor persists with his push for renovating the baths despite the fact that his family is left in a terrible position and financial ruin. In an effort to fight for ethical right and truth, Dr. Stockmann brings destruction to his family. While Dr. Stockmann can be criticized for being naively idealistic, he also comes out as a heroic fighter for truth even when the social system works against him and maintains a status quo.

From the above scenarios, it is important to observe that the key role of moral deliberation and actions is beyond intuition and non-conscious judgment and calls for more than mere justification after-the-fact by principles (Johnson, 2014). It mirrors the process of ethical actions that involves possible course of action available to an individual that is subject to a morally and ethically problematic situation that best suits and harmonizes the competing impulses, ends and values even when they are in conflict with the power structure and status quo.


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