One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest From a Marxist Perspective
At first glance, a reader may wonder how Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a book depicting a group of mentally unstable men and their boisterous Irish-American leader, connects with the economic and sociological view of Marxism. The novel, which takes place in an Oregon psychiatric hospital, centers around the conflict between manipulative Nurse Ratched and her patients. Randle McMurphy, a transfer from Pendleton Work Farm, becomes a champion for the men’s cause as he sets out to overthrow the dictator-like nurse.
Initially, the reader may doubt the economic implications of the novel. Yet, if one looks closer at the numerous textual references to power, production, and profit, he or she will begin to interpret Cuckoo’s Nest in a different light. Marxism was developed by German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the mid-nineteenth century. It holds that productive labor is essential for human survival, that producers dominate consumers, and that societies evolve through a series of conflicts between the ruling class (bourgeoisie) and the working class (proletariat). Marxists advocate a classless society in which wealth is distributed evenly among citizens (Bressler 192-3). Capital is not merely money, but money that that is used to make more money (Parker 213).
Marxists detest the alienation of labor experienced by workers who exert exceptional amounts of energy in factories, yet never benefit entirely from their work (Parker 214). There are many examples within the text that illustrate the conflict between the ruling class (Nurse Ratched), middle class (Dr. Spivey, who is intimidated by Ratched), and working class (patients). The symbol of machinery as a means to mass-produce a standard product is also explored, as well as what??”or whom??”counts as machinery. By viewing One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest from a Marxist perspective, one will discover how Kesey uses his novel to make a statement about money, materialism, and mechanization in the twentieth century United States of America. The author skillfully uses plot, imagery, and character development to declare that individuals with mental disorders are more than machines that need to be fixed in order to be productive in society; they have value in and of themselves.
Like Marx’s proletariat, the patients in Cuckoo’s Nest are alienated, the result of their labor being directed and overseen by Ratched. The patients continually have a sense that someone is watching them because not only are they mentally ill, but Ratched actually insists they spy on one another and report any of their peers’ poor conduct. The narrator, Chief Bromden, relates how the doctor who works with Ratched urges: Talk . . . discuss, confess. And if you hear a friend say something . . . list it in the log book for the staff to see. It’s not . . . squealing,’ it’s helping your fellow (Kesey 47). This helping your fellow creates a feeling of contempt and competition among the men, and competition is the antithesis of Marxism. This is just one of Ratched’s many abuses of power over the ward. Literary critics Roger C. Loeb and Irving Malin shed light on the way patients are used as laborers, or at least treated as such. Both critics clearly illustrate the divide between the patients and the people in power within the facility. One of the first things the reader notices is that the hospital functions on a rigid schedule run by a rigid nurse who seems more machine than woman, or human being for that matter. She runs the ward like a smooth, accurate, precision-made machine (Kesey 26). The only thing feminine about her is her large breasts which she keeps hidden underneath her uniform. Malin writes that “The ‘Big Nurse’ is no longer a woman??”she has become a Frankenstein monster. All of her gestures, commands, feelings, and possessions are mechanized (441). Even her voice has a tight whine like an electric saw (Kesey 138). Bromden describes her as a truck, who trails her nurse’s bag behind in her exhaust like a semi behind a Jimmy Diesel (Kesey 93). Loeb points out that the reason the nurse acts like a machine is because it enables her to control others (87-88). She determines who is released, who stays on the floor, and who is sent to the Disturbed floor. She even controls time by adjusting the clocks on the wall, or at least it seems this way to Bromden, a schizophrenic, She’s given to turning up the speed . . . when you got somebody to visit you. . . . But generally it’s the other way, the slow way (Kesey 74-5).
Another important way the nurse controls the inmates is by withholding gum, cigarettes, and television privileges from the men. This is characteristic of an economic system that distributes aid at its own leisure (Capitalism 222). It is also representative of how the upper-class denies the lower-class of wealth, status, leisure, and even the fruits of their labor. Consider poor factory laborers who work for extremely low pay to make fine clothes that they will never have a chance to wear themselves. When McMurphy attempts to change Ratched’s policy about television, he faces considerable opposition, and after McMurphy finally gains enough votes to have the World Series shown in the ward, Ratched insists that he does not have a majority because he has not accounted for the Chronics, patients with such severe mental illnesses that they are considered incapable of ever leaving the ward, in the total amount of patients (134). The Chronics cannot do much of anything, let alone vote to watch a baseball game. Kesey seems to suggest that democratic voting holds little value even in a capitalist society built on the principle of individual freedom. Sadly, the patients watch a blank screen and pretend they are watching the game instead. Interestingly, the Chronics symbolize a separate class than the Acutes, patients considered capable of rehabilitation, whom Ratched also dominates. The Chronics are described as machines with flaws inside that can’t be repaired (Kesey 51). Imagery such as shock treatments and brain operations carry Kesey’s message that society is becoming too preoccupied with fixing things and that people are not pieces of equipment that need to be fixed, but are thinking, feeling human beings whose illnesses need to be cured through warmth and compassion. He advocates that those with mental disorders have more to contribute to society than their own ailments, which secure health care providers such as Ratched a place in the workforce. Through McMurphy’s rehabilitation of Bromden, a Chronic, over the course of the novel, Kesey argues that the patients are more than the paychecks they provide hospital management; they are more than defective brains to be examined and probed.
It is worth noting that the people who have the most power in the story are those that are educated, including the nurses, doctors, board members, and president of the hospital. The “black boys,” the male, African-American orderlies who serve Ratched, are portrayed as less intelligent and merely function as robots following orders. McMurphy’s ethnic, working class background also puts him in a position lower than that of the Big Nurse. This is a reflection of the hierarchy in real-world America. Kesey could be warning his readers about the danger of science and knowledge as he makes the characters with the best education powerful, but also cruel. The uneducated McMurphy is unlike the machinery-like Ratched in that he is uninhibited, rowdy, and emotional, while she is cold and calculating. The Irishman laughs at problems to keep his spirits up and prevent himself from becoming a body with no soul. At one point in the story, McMurphy takes the men out on a fishing trip where they are rejuvenated with nature, far away from the mechanical institution (238).
While Ratched acts like a machine, she essentially functions as a manufacturer and symbol of the oppressive upper-class (Haslett 35). While McMurphy tries to bring about equality between the patients and head nurse, she holds onto her self-proclaimed right to exact power over her charges because of her money, education, and, ultimately, sanity. The patients represent the working-class by providing Ratched, the manufacturer, with the products from which she profits??”their deranged minds. The patients can even be viewed as products themselves after shock therapy treatments and lobotomies leave them without personality. The negative effects of the hospital’s organizational structure are numerous. The men feel worthless, abused, and manipulated, much like the proletariat who endured horrendous working conditions and rarely saw the fruits of their labor during the Industrial Revolution in the United Kingdom and United States in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century (Industrial Revolution 630). Perhaps the most conspicuous example of the hospital environment’s detrimental impact is Billy Bibbit’s suicide after Nurse Ratched threatens to tell his mother about his night with Candy, the prostitute McMurphy brings onto the ward (Kesey 302-304). While this event can be interpreted as merely a tragedy between a manipulative nurse and an overwrought patient, it can also be interpreted as a representation of the harm that can result from an economy that encourages certain groups of people to dominate others.
By examining One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest from a Marxist perspective, the reader develops a sense of the underlying meanings beyond much of the imagery that fills the novel. Kesey makes a powerful statement about overproduction and overconsumption in 1960s America by depicting a group of mental patients whose function is to serve the hospital from which they should be receiving quality care from, a reflection of how the poor serve the rich. Through varying techniques, he expresses that there should be more equality between different classes and groups, and that there must be more value placed on the human than the machine. With any hope, society can learn something from Cuckoo’s destructive, yet equally hopeful outcome.
Review Of The One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is seen through the eyes of the mute, supposedly deaf Chief Bromden. He witnesses the ongoing cruel activity that happens in the mental ward. As the newcomer, R.P. McMurphy was admitted, he plans to break the head nurse, Miss. Ratched, which leads the inmates to rebel and oppose the Big Nurse, who governs the asylum. In the novel, Ken Kesey identifies the development of the character and the dialogue.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest displays how many of the characters are evolving because of McMurphy’s presence. On page 3, Bromden refers to the nurse’s aides as the black boys. He mentions how nervous and daunted he is by them, Better if they don’t see me they got special sensitive equipment detects my fears, Bromden exclaims. As he is hiding from the aides, he reminisces old memories to eliminate his fear. As soon as they found Bromden, they shaved his face and turned on the fog machine. Kesey demonstrates to his readers that he is weak and uses techniques to relieve his anxieties. When terrible incidents begin to occur, the fog appears and he does not remember a bit of what happens. The fog and Bromden’s flashbacks symbolize the escape of his reality to help him cope with the situation he is in. We, readers illustrates that his mind keeps him from rebelling against Miss Ratched and her aides.
Another example is that Bromden views himself as not big, but some characters claim that he is. Even if he is big, he’s scared of his own sh-sh-shadow. Billy Bibbit stated on page 23. Because of his self-appearance belief, McMurphy said he will help him gain his strength back. On page 211, I get you big as you used to be you not only get my special body-buildin’ course for nothing McMurphy told the him. Chief Bromden is somewhat similar to The Wizard of Oz’s cowardly lion because they are both afraid and do not believe in themselves. As soon as the lion takes the courage potion, he is fearless. Just like Bromden when McMurphy helps him regain his confidence. He begins to defy the nurse by avoiding taking his medication at night. Towards the end of the novel, the fog begins to clear up and he is able to resist the aides and the Big Nurse. While I was watching him go, the other one came out of the shower and a put a wrestling hold on me–arms up under mine from behind and head locked behind my neck The author turned his cowardly lion into the king of the jungle by the help of his friend. McMurphy’s act of rebellion made the other inmates follow his path which Kesey showed the development of the character.
The theme of this novel is rebellion. The Big Nurse is described as, pleased and peaceful, on page 4. This is misleading because she is strict and controlling. Her aides were chatting and Bromden thought she would show anger towards them because they should be cleaning and not talking but Nurse Ratched calmly says, . . . and we have quite a number of appointments this morning, so perhaps, if your standing here in a group talking isn’t too urgent If the patients do not do what they are told she gets frustrated that is why Bromden thought the aides would be punished. We see she is getting frustrated with McMurphy because he is manipulating them. McMurphy begins annoying her and calling her a name Good morning, Miss Rat-shed! Readers know that these little things are irritating the nurse because she is respected by all of her patients. Mcmurphy wants to annoying to get under her skin. Many of the patients were blindsided by the Nurse Ratched. She was controlling that the patients were fearful because they knew what would happen if they disrespected her.
The patients wanted to escape tyranny so it led to disobeying her. Nurse Ratched losing her control with her patients causing them to get shock therapy. He starts asking her if he can watch the world cup and in the afternoon he can clean and she said no and he disobeyed her. The inmates notified her what will happen if he on goes. He could get shock therapy for it. This results in the change of Big Nurse. She was always in charge but if any of them got to the point where they disobeyed her they will receive shock therapy or by chance have a lobotomy. In the beginning it is shown that she is calm but towards the end she is annoyed of McMurphy. Kesey wants the reader to know that Nurse Ratched is slowly losing her patience with McMurphy. He is not following the rules as he should like the other inmates. In the end McMurphy does get the lobotomy and is a vegetable.
The Big Nurse runs a mental institution. On page I’m afraid That is exactly what the new patient is planning: to take over. He is what we call a manipulator,’ she exclaimed. She is being ironic because she says Mcmurphy is also being very controlling to the other inmates but she is also controlling them. The big nurse is basically saying he is ill because he is a manipulator which sounds like her. She wants to have him removed for his act which she should be removed to for her foolishness.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo s Neat Literally Analysis
Power and manipulation are common characteristics villains’ possess in literature. In Ken Kesey’s allegorical novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the depraved Nurse Ratched is destructive in her villainous schemes by controlling others to acquire more power. Through her despicable ways of hurting others, she gains power and manipulates her patients to get what she desires.
Big Nurse is known as a strong dictator who uses fear to control her patients. Power corrupts an individual, which is created by control in order to rule a society of their choosing. With all of her authority, she is able to strike fear into people’s minds and seize the powerless. At the mental institution, the narrator, Chief Bromden describes it as, “Like a cartoon world, where the figures are flat and outlined in black, jerking through some kind of goofy story that might be really funny if it weren’t for the cartoon figures being really cool guys…” (30). The hospital is characterized as a pretend world that the nurse created. She is the villain inside of the cartoon and her patients are her victims, where they cannot escape her totalitarianism rule at the institution. This demonstrates how Big Nurse is corrupt with her power and uses it to control other people’s lives.
Therefore, Nurse Ratched uses cruel punishments on her patients that rebel against her authority. “What worries me, Billy,” she said – I could hear the change in her voice – “is how your mother is going to take this”… “Billy, I have to tell. I hate to believe you would behave like this, but, really, what else can I think? I find you alone, on a mattress, with this sort of woman.” (264). When Big Nurse finds Billy Bibbit with a prostitute after McMurphy held a party from the night before, she then uses her manipulation on him to get what she wants, additional preponderance. Since she knows and is best friends with Billy’s mother, the nurse has special authority over him. Consequently, when the nurse mentions “is how your mother is going to take this,” this led to Billy committing suicide as a punishment because the nurse knows that his greatest weakness is fearing his mother since he is considered a mama’s boy. Nurse Ratched predominantly does this as a way to retaliate McMurphy in order to stop him from reaching his aspiration of liberating the patients from her isolation and corruption.
Hence the nature of evil, it is characterized as “whenever someone grows in strength by weakening someone else…” (Fosters 19). Nurse Ratched is selfish in her own matter of mortifying others in order to benefit herself for having more authority by using her foremost utensil of manipulation. One way is that she endears relinquishing people’s amour-propre such as forcing her patients to give up their confidential information and secrets they have during her mandatory group therapy sessions. The narrator describes her therapy sessions as “when twenty minutes had passed, she [Nurse Ratched] looked at her watch and said, “Am I to take it that there’s not a man among you that has committed some act that he has never admitted?” She reached in the basket for the log book. “Must we go over past history?” (77). Eventually, with her evil intentional ways, “Her eyes clicked to the next man; each one jumped like a shooting gallery target. “I—one time—wanted to take my brother to bed.” (78) as she forced the men to give up their personal secrets and linger until the patients snitch on one another. But not all of the commoners, since McMurphy is a foil persona to Nurse Ratched and is aware of her evil intentions.
For her vicious schemes, Nurse Ratched gains intimacy of gratification by hurting living souls. She is egotistical only in the matter of hurting individuals so that she can acquire additional jurisdiction over the institution. Through her despicable ways, she gains power and manipulates her patients to get what she desires.
Main Points At One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
Character 1: Chief Bromden is a patient in a phyciatric ward and also the narrator of this story. (the one telling the story) He is made fun of in the beginning of the book. In the begging it states that Bromden was bullied and called Chief Broom, because they made him sweep the halls of the hospital.
(A bluetick hound bays out there in the fog, running scared and lost because he can’t see. No tracks on the ground but the ones he’s making, and he sniffs in every direction with his cold red-rubber nose and picks up no scent but his own fear, fear burning down into him like steam.) In this quote it shows how Bromden in the beginning has a constant fog that follows him that represented his fear. In the final stage of the book Chief Bromden no longer has the fog following him and escapes the psychiatric hospital. Meaning he no longer has the same fear following him around.
Character 2: Nurse Ratched. Her face is smooth,calculated, and precision-made,like an expensive baby doll,skin like flesh-colored enamel,blend of white and cream and baby-blue eyes,small nose,pink little nostrils. (Chief Bromden’s description Nurse Ratched.) Bromden also calls her the Big Nurse. Nurse Ratched is one of the employes at the psychiatric hospital. She is not a very nice person to her patients and controls the whole hospital. Character 3: McMurphy is the most carefree character in this book. He is confident that the hospital will not be as bad as a farm he use to be at. Throughout the book he begins to realize the control Nurse Ratched has over him and all the other patients and also realizes that no one can manipulate or control Nurse Ratched. He also stares a rebellion. At the end of the book Bromden suffocates McMurphy because he rather him die the live under the power of Nurse Ratched. Beginning: The begging of the book introduce Chief Bromden an how he is in a psychiatric hospital and sweeps the floors. He goes through constant humiliation and bullying.They laugh and then I hear them mumbling behind me, heads close together.Nurse Ratched humiliates him and his fear begins to surround him.( the fog) Randle Murphy is a new patient This new redheaded Admission, McMurphy. He came from a farm. The psychiatric hospital was divided into two group the Acutes(can be considered curable) and the Chronics. Bromden belongs to the Chronics. Nurse Ratched runs the whole hospital and being the same bitch as always.
Middle: Bromden no longer sees the fog. Out in the hall all by myself, I notice how clear it is – no fog any place. Mcmurphy learns that Nurse Ratched can send anyone to electroshock therapy if she wants. The middle of the book just portrays the control that Nurse Ratched has on the hospital and everyone in it. When they try to start a rebellion Mcmurphy notices that everyone has fear Nurse Ratched. The Nurse can easily have thrown Mcmurphy out of the hospital after some incidents.But she is not worried because she knows that she is in full control of the hospital and no one would dare go against her. Since Ratched decide when Mcmurphy can leave he decides to adapt to the norm and rules. When Cheswick dies Mcmurphy decides to resume his rebellion.
End: The rebellion continues and Mcmurphy and Bromden work together. Mcmurphy and Bromden are sent to treatment because they get into a fight. During the treatment Mcmurphy is fine and contributes but Bromden fight to keep the fog out and clear his head. They receive more treatments. The patients tell Mcmurphy to escaped the Nurse Ratched’s wretchedness. Mcmurphy attacks Ratchet and rips her uniform. Many patients leave because of how war has broken out in the hospital. Murphy overall helped everyone obtain victory over the hospital and the evil people that worked there. Even if it lead to death. Bromden finally felt that he has obtained victory.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest Character Analysis
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is a novel written by Ken Kesey, documenting a hidden world of men, who’s lives have been incapsulated into a mental ward over a broad spectrum of societal differences. Among these men, is Billy Bibbit. His character defies the current-time definition of mentally handicapped, as he is simply a man living with built up anxiety, a verbal stutter, and a push-over’ demeanor.
His character crippling under the weight of his own mind sets the stage for many other characters, such as Nurse Ratched, McMurphy, and even his own mother, to use his nervous energy to their deceitful advantage.
Billy has a nervous anxiety that effects the way he functions within the ward. This nervous energy was spotted out by McMurphy, just minutes after entering the ward of men before him. McMurphy is insistent on having control of the ward, so he utilizes Billy’s overwhelming fear to locate the bull goose loony on the ward (p. 19). McMurphy’s strategy to find out who he’s going to replace is by pressuring Billy, by lean[ing] down and glar[ing] so hard that Billy feels compelled to stutter out that he isn’t the buh-buh-buh-bull goose loony yet, though he’s next in luh-luh-line for the job (p. 19). The pressure Billy feels from the way McMurphy first approaches him with a question is enough to not only scare him into speaking, but also induces his stutter, which is an indication of his anxiety level. Once Billy Bibbit informs McMurphy that Harding is the bull goose loony, both Harding and McMurphy use his anxious and quiet demeanor to show dominance over the other. Instead of speaking directly to each other, they speak through Billy. Mr. Bibbit, you might warn this Mr. Harding that I’m so crazy I admit to voting for Eisenhower. Bibbit! You tell Mr. McMurphy I’m so crazy I voted for Eisenhower twice (p. 21). And so on. Although in this altercation, Billy is too nervous to actually speak, his fear is used against him as the men address each other through him. Although the argument is short lasted, it proves to be a new situation for Billy, as McMuphy’s arrival to the ward brought him additional over-stimulating attention, causing him to become frantic in his actions. Billy nods his head up and down real fast; Billy’s tickled with all the attention he’s getting (p. 21). Billy isn’t used to being addressed in such a manor that McMurphy brings to the ward, so although the attention Billy’s receiving isn’t all negative, it is all out of his comfort zone, leaving him anxious and excited over his spot in the ward.
Billy is in the ward for multiple things, but none of which justify why he is there in the first place. He is also incarcerated by the Big Nurse due to his stutter. In todays world, a stutter is not often recognized as a mental disability, but because he was considered different back in the day because of it, he was sentenced to the life of an insane man. His stutter is also influenced by his mood. Whenever Bibbit is in a situation that sparks his anxiety, or is driven by fear, his stutter gets worse. His stutter is often affiliated with the dominance Nurse Ratched asserts over him. After a group meeting that didn’t go great for the men of the ward, Billy said You s-saw what she c-can do to us! In the m-m-meeting todayAh, it’s no use. I should just k-k-kill myself (p. 68). Billy’s stutter appears here with the presence of suicidal thoughts, showing that his nervous behavior and stutter go hand in hand. Because of one bad meeting, he has not only resorted to suicidal thoughts, but he has a hard time even projecting those thoughts because they have induced his stutter. However, it is no wonder as to why Billy Bibbit’s condition is not improving from his time on the ward. There is a story that once, years ago, Santa came into the ward on Christmas. He should have been hurrying along, but the black boys move[d] in with flashlights [and] kept him [for] six years before they discharged him, clean-shaven and skinny as a pole (p. 76). Considering even Santa Claus can be pulled apart and shaken by living on the ward, it is obvious, that Billy, already having anxiety and a stutter, cannot benefit the way he should be from help’. Toward the end of the book, McMurphy gives Billy the comfort of a woman, which seems to heal his stutter and bring confidence to his being, but it lasts up until he is caught by Nurse Ratched. Big Nurse threatens Billy, by saying she is going to tell his mom, words that made Bibbit flinch and put his hand to his cheek like he’d been burned with acid (p. 314). Because Nurse Ratched is still aware of the strength she has over Billy, she continues onto telling Billy his actions are going to disturb [his mother] terribly[and] how ill the woman can become (p. 315). Billy then, due to Nurse Ratched’s rule, goes into a terrible fit of anxiety and stutter, begging Big Nurse Nuh! Nuh!…You d-don’t n-n-needDuh-duh-duh-don’t t-tell, m-m-m-miss Ratched. Duh-duh-duh (p. 315). Billy has become so scared, that he can no longer speak fluently. His fear, and Nurse ratched have crippled him, with lasting consequences.
Billy’s character is also a bit of a push-over when it comes to everyday things. Toward the end of the novel, we learn of a character who’s actions may just be the cause of Billy’s turtle-like demeanor; his mother. Billy, throughout the novel, has been marked as child-like, and young looking. It may solely be due to the fact that his mother has babied him his whole life. The relationship Billy and his mother share would more likely fit that of a relationship between a mother and her three-year-old toddler. She works as a receptionist at the ward, and Chief Bromdon once recalled watching Billy’s mom take her boy by the hand and lead him outsideand Billy lay beside her and put his head in her lap [letting] her tease at his ear with a Dandelion fluff (p. 294, 295). It may sound sweet, until you remember that he is a th-th-thirty-one [year] old man (p. 295). Because of this child like relationship he holds with his mother, and with the safe assumption that their relationship has likely been similar to this his entire life, he exhibits behavior of a child stuck in a full-grown man’s body.
Billy Bibbit’s overwhelming struggle with the feeling of inferiority to others is a sole reason he took his life. The feeling of anxiety and fear led Billy to end it all in one slice to the neck, while left alone in Nurse Ratched’s office. The poor miserable, misunderstood boy [that] killed himself left a mark to all others around him (p. 318). Billy’s life proved that we are all a result of our environments, and that regardless of anxiety, and fear, being condemned and overpowered is likely what made him, and all of the other patients in Nurse Ratched’s ward truly insane.
Character Analysis Of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
The evaluation of the narrative One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey through character analysis shows the theme of power and individual suppression (Foley, 31). Through the characters, it is clear that power has strength; depending on who might be holding it, who doesn’t hold it, who is yearning for it, who is potentially losing it, how those owning and holding it can utilize it in manipulating and intimidation, and for what purpose. The concept of how it can be subverted and disrupted, denied, challenged, and assumed is presented through the story through the different characters. The paper is going to address and evaluate the theme of power or the strength associated with silence and speech as different individuals can use these two attributes to gain an advantage in their power struggle periods.
The paper is also going to address the different characters in the story and how the author used them to show that and prove the notion that the greatest power is never held in silence or speech alone, but through an effective combination of the two. The characters in the novel show that once power is misused, it results in the imposition of actions and feelings to others.
- 1 Chief Bromden
- 2 Randle McMurphy
- 3 Nurse Ratched
- 4 Dale Harding
- 5 Billy Bibbit
- 6 Nurse Ratched and McMurphy
- 7 Works Cited
The author uses him as the story narrator as well as a patient in a hospital for mental health individuals located near Portland in Oregon (enotes.com). He is a Native American with six feet, and approximately eight inches is regarded most powerful and largest and physically strong in his hospital ward. Other patients present in the ward called him Chief Broom simply because he could spend almost entirely the whole time sweeping the floor. Through the power of the Big Nurse (Nurse Ratched), he was forced and subjected to numerous electroshock treatments over his hospital years. He depended on a sedative to deal and subdue the fears and estrangement feelings from those around him. He refused to utter any word thereby convincing everyone who knew him he was deaf. The author uses him by considering his perception that the mental hospital was used as huge American Combine forcing men into prescribed and confinement behavior in which they were reduced to impotent automation. He sees Nurse Ratched the leading Combine’s evil as she castrated agents against her and who were self-destructive and futile to handle.
Randle McMurphy is a patient in the mental hospital and was transferred from Pendleton Farm of Correction by the government through the state for possible and diagnosis treatment. He reflects that he feigned and faked psychosis to ensure he is not subjected to physical labor from the correction center (enotes.com). He enters the hospital aged 35 years with a definite history in barroom fights and street arrests, drunkenness, and peace disturbance as well as statutory rape. He is ever talking, thigh-slapping, and a jovial storyteller and he is fiercely independent serving defiant role model for the other ward-patients. From the time he joined the hospital and concluded it is run by the totalitarian Nurse Big and her black counterpart attendants, he swears and devotes to lower the nurse’s power over the men in the ward. He wanted to implement and embrace a democratic governance system. Although McMurphy relatively wins significant fights against her, she ultimately possesses the official power in destroying him by using lobotomy and electroshock mechanisms. His indomitable spirit outlived his consciousness as he effectively created discipline route for Chief Bromden.
She was commonly called Big Nurse since she headed the acute ward in the mental hospital. She entirely relied on rules and regulations with full expectations that every patient would follow. Ratched was as steel-cold, unyielding, and mechanical just as her identity suggested and she fully controlled her ward, so that is takes-after a smooth-running, accurate, and an efficient machine. To ensure her patients remain predictable and obedient, she treats them as naughty children and browbeating them as well as ensuring they are spies on each other and give a report back (Kesey, 381). She used this mechanism to subject trouble makers to lobotomies in extreme cases and electroshock treatments. An example is the case of McMurphy who she subjected to both treatments as a way to punish and eventually destroy him. Her tormenting influence to the other patients is too extreme that Ratched was unable to tolerate. His continuous ribald humor senses make the patients laugh reminding them their life endeavors which have been shadowed by oppressive rules, sedatives, and fear; making them feel guilty of spying each other, making them perceive the pretense of Ratched as a democrat as a dictatorship. He offers them unfettered potential glimpse showing them Ratched hid her humanness fallible beneath tyrannical demeanor. She wanted to destroy McMurphy for his antithesis to her ward vision perspective, world, and hospital.
He is considered the most educated patient admitted on the acute ward as he portrays extreme articulate attributes. On his marriage, he has suffered impotence, and he feared of being a homosexual. Dale was often racked by paranoia and insecurities which entirely Nurse Ratched exacerbated verbally day-in-day-out to ensure she manipulated and controlled him. Even though he considerably spent time in convincing himself that the nurse was giving some help to him to become health, McMurphy’s manipulation and influence on the ward compelled Harding to uphold honest about Retched and himself (Kesey, 75). The social pressure outside the society has really crippled him. Although he is married, his preference is committing himself to the mental hospital rather than facing the wrath and prejudice of his wife. After Nurse Ratched lobotomized McMurphy, Harding leaves the ward paving the way for those cured patients to check out also. Harding’s re-emergence and development of self-individuality signaled how successful MucMurphy’s protagonist to Ratched worked.
He is aged 31 years, and his crippling domination through his mother is conspicuously and acutely shown in the hospital. He portrays shyness as a patient and has bad stutter making him look much younger as compared to his age. He is a receptionist in the hospital, and shockingly Nurse Ratched is his neighbor and close friend. His presence in the hospital is voluntary as he fears the outside society. Nurse Ratched takes the advantage of this closeness to control Billy as she habitually every time threatens to report his behavior to his mother. Towards the end of the story, he commits suicide because of these threats after he was caught by Big Nurse with a prostitute enjoying sexual encounter for the first time. Billy took part in establishing McMurphy a super hero or an alpha male (Abbara, et al., 278).
Nurse Ratched and McMurphy
These characters are used by Ken Kesey as madness victims to portray conformity of power. The tyrannical attack on instrumental rationality through these two characters imposes conformity thereby dismissing individuality are seen as insanity forms (canadausa.ne). They don’t portray this solely by submitting to hyper-masculinity and tyrannical femininity as they followed institutional roles of inmate and employee. The nurse’s professional smile is a painted one concealing true emotions. Her artificial smiles can be said to reflect emotional labor in service transactions. McMurphy teaches the other inmates to replace and resist imposed identity articulate to social conventions and at the same time nurture and treasure their voices. Murphy shows the character of an undivided man as he doesn’t maneuver from private to public selves showing he merely remains a public performance.
The following minor actors played important roles in the story. For instance, Warren, Washington, Williams, and Geever were hospital aides. They were hired by Nurse Ratched as they were full of hatred and easily submitted completely to her wishes. Warren, Williams, and Washington were Ratched’s daytime aides while only Geever attended the night shift. Doctor Spivey was chosen by Nurse Big to attend patients in her ward since he was easily dominated and cowed just like the patients. He was mil-mannered addicted to opiates and supported McMurphy in unusual carnival plans. Charles Cheswick supported McMurphy’s protagonist to Nurse Ratched. He did little action but talked much and eventually drowned on the pool by committing suicide as McMurphy didn’t return the favor of supporting him when he rebelled against Ratched.
Candy Starr was carefree and a beautiful Portland prostitute. She accompanied McMurphy and the patient crew on the fishing trip and later attends the late-night party arranged by McMurphy. Chief Tee Ah Millatoona is Bromden’s father who was nicknamed The Pine That Stands Tallest on the Mountain. He was the Columbia Indians chief married to Caucasian woman taking her last name. Her wife made him made him become alcoholic and feel small. The submission and marriage to the white woman made a complete statement regarding the oppression the natural order is deprived off by the so-called modern society. It also reflected the white’s encroachment on the Native Americans. Rawler was a patient in the hospital but on (Disturbed ward) and ended up committing suicide by cutting off his testicles (Kesey, 270). The castration symbolized the psychological emasculation the patients were subjected to routinely. This is because they didn’t possess the power to defend themselves.
In conclusion, everyone at one point of his/her live feels out of place or different. This is because everyone may have faced a bully or that individual they didn’t wish to be around them. The discussed characters show the daily situations one faces. Through the discussed characters, several themes like individual oppression, racism, freedom, and power are surfaced and how they impact our daily operations in society. Some people believe staying in society is difficult and are unable to fend themselves hence they require someone to control them. Some individuals turn against their lifestyles and force change amendments. Through the characters, individuality and agency are explored in the binaries world. The characters trying to transcend the binaries don’t escape the conformity of social trap.
- Representation of madness in Kesey’s One flew over the cuckoo’s nest. Retrieved on 27th of November 2018 from https://www.canadausa.net/representation-of-madness-keseys-one-flew-over-the-cuckoos-nest
- One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest Characters. Retrieved on 27th of November 2018 from https://www.enotes.com/topics/one-flew/characters
- Foley, Andrew. “Allegories of freedom: Individual liberty and social conformity in Ken Kesey’s one flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”Journal of Literary Studies17.1-2 (2001): 31-57.
- Kesey Ken. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. London: Penguin Books, 2005
- Abbara, Aula, & Huda Al-Hadithy. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Student BMJ 14 (2006)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest:A Controversial Novel
The groundbreaking novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, gives readers a realistic view of the world of the insane, shown through the eyes of a man living in a psychiatric unit. The author highlights a disturbed world that is increasingly becoming dehumanized and gives it a timely and accurate picture of human condition, which is far from perfect. The novel is largely subjective and contains language many considered obscene, racist, and immoral.
The language in the novel exposes readers to the many themes portrayed throughout the book, giving an overall message of obtaining freedom and a controversial view of a disorderly society many see as problematic. Though this novel is considered controversial for its harsh language and portrayal of mental issues, it should not be banned because it allows readers to gain a new perspective on psychiatry wards and psychosis.
The novel gives readers an accurate picture of the human condition inside a mental hospital. It uses language, habits, and attitudes, that were typical of disturbed men whose world has been dehumanized. The novel uses many sensitive issues that exceed the boundaries of acceptable social behavior to give readers a sense of authenticity on mental illnesses and the numerous hallucinations that may go along with it. These sensitive issues including racism, sexism, obscenity, and immorality caused the novel to be subject to controversy and have many attempts of banning it. The novel is narrated through the eyes of a half-Indian patient named Chief Bromden. He is thought to be deaf and dumb and through these assumed disabilities, he hears and sees things go on in the mental institution that he would normally not know about. Throughout the novel, he is obsessed with the struggle between good and evil and eventually falls victim to the evil that goes on inside the mental hospital. Though the Chief is the narrator of the novel, he is not the protagonist, and instead provides a firsthand look at a figure who dominates the story through force and rebellion. McMurphy, who faked insanity to escape a prison sentence, encourages the other inmates to follow his rebellious actions and fight a battle against the hospital. Giving the Chief hope that life is not as conformed outside as it is inside the mental hospital, he starts to see McMurphy as a hero and protects him from the evil. With their constant struggle between good and evil, the chief gain freedom but fails to protect McMurphy against the evil inside the mental institution. Through the Chief’s role as the eyes and ears of the novel, he gives readers a deeper understanding of the sane and insane and allows readers to experience and compare themselves to the inner conflicts and realistic problems encountered by him and the other character.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is known for its influential themes and other important ideas. Pivoting on the idea of domination and rebellion, it has been subject to continual battles across the country over whether it should be banned. The novel consisting of racism, sexism, obscenity, and immorality, gives students exposure to the many mature concepts. The level of maturity in the novel has caused many schools and parents to criticize its influence on risky behavior. Challenged in Strongsville, Ohio in 1974, because it glorifies criminal activity, has a tendency to corrupt juveniles, and contains descriptions of bestiality, bizarre violence, and torture, dismemberment, death, and human elimination was removed from all school classrooms and eventually banned. The novel’s most recent challenge was in 2000 in Californian school. It was banned after complaints by parents stated that teachers can choose the best books, but they keep choosing this garbage over and over again. Giving readers a view of the darker sides of society and civilization, the novel attempts to show the truth behind a mental institution. Showing what happens inside a psychiatric institution, it becomes dangerous to places that teach conformity because it influences and brings awareness and change. The novel has many disagreeable themes and crude language that many would rather not have students reading about. These complaints over its vulgar and vivid descriptions over violence and other scandalous ideals has caused the novel to be one of the most challenged books in the United States.
The novel written during the early 1960s, was a time where social norms were being highly debated and rejected. It focuses on the inner workings of a mental institution and challenged and raised awareness of the psychiatric culture. Before more ethical practices were introduced in the twentieth century, the novel used many psychological treatments that were normal during the time. It wasn’t until the novel was written, that Americans became aware of the horrible treatments mentally ill patients had to undergo in order to be cured. Centering around the history of mental health, the novel takes place in a psychiatric institution where inhumane practices were being applied. Throughout the novel, the issue of ethical patient treatments that were used, were brought to light, and eventually changed. The narrator, Chief Bromden, suffers from the psychological condition of paranoid schizophrenia. Trapped in the Oregon psychiatric ward, he struggles with extreme mental illness that increasingly worsens. He and McMurphy undergo many operations such as electroconvulsive therapy, that many view as violent and unethical. When McMurphy attempts to strangle the nurse because she causes one of the patient’s death, he is sentenced to undergo lobotomy that leaves him in a state of comatose. Left in a vegetative state, Chief Bromden see that’s there’s nothin’ in the face. Just like one of those store dummies. This misuse of psychosurgery during the 1960s on patients that were considered mentally ill, was unethical and left severe unintended effects on the patients.
Moving Towards Misogyny in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”
“Hell yes, we have a quota…We do keep women out, when we can. We don’t want them here — and they don’t want them elsewhere, either, whether or not they’ll admit it.” This statement, issued by an unnamed dean of a medical school in 1960, generated an uproar within the feminist community. Two years later, author Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, a novel that sparked second wave feminism, a political movement focused on women’s right to work and break out of the domestic sphere. These ideals, however, were not without backlash. Many men felt that women would push them out of the workplace and firmly believed in the role of a housewife. The same year The Feminine Mystique was written, Ken Kesey published One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a novel which shows the author’s misogyny through his portrayal of women. The antagonist, Nurse Ratched, is a women in a powerful position who uses her power to belittle and control the patients in the psychiatric ward, thus earning her the nickname “ball cutter.” The rest of the novel is scattered with female characters that overpower the men in the psychiatric ward. Kesey uses the sexuality and movement of female characters within the novel to suggest that women in power are unnatural, by depicting powerful women as stiff and tight, and subordinate women as loose and sexual.
Through Nurse Ratched’s hidden sexuality and stiff movement, Kesey shows that women in power are unnatural because women must change their natural tendencies in order to have power. Kesey illustrates that women must cover their sexuality for power, because men dominate women through sex. At the beginning of the novel, Miss Ratched covers her body in order to have full power over the ward. However, Kesey establishes Miss Ratched as a sexually appealing person by emphasizing her very large breasts, “In spite of all her attempts to conceal them in that sexless get-up, you can still make out the evidence of some rather extraordinary breasts” (159). Even though Miss Ratched has appealing physical features, Kesey shows how the men cannot overpower her because her “sexless get-up” gets in the way of his vision of the natural order of power. Then, towards the end of the novel, McMurphy, who is portrayed as the savior, rips open Miss Ratched’s uniform. When she returns to the ward after the attack, the narrator, Chief Bromden, describes her appearance, “In spite of its being smaller and tighter and more starched than her old uniforms, it could no longer conceal the fact that she was a woman” (268). When McMurphy violently assaults Nurse Ratched, he is asserting his physical dominance over hers. Kesey sees this as the natural order; women are subordinate to men just because of their bodies. After the attack she can “no longer conceal the fact” that she is a woman because her masculine facade generated by her “starched uniform” has been assaulted. Nurse Ratched came to be subordinate as her sexuality became uncovered because she no longer possessed the masculinity Kesey claims is needed for power. To further his ideology that women with power are unnatural, Kesey not only uses Nurse Ratched’s hidden sexuality, but also her mechanical, unnatural movement.
To deepen his argument against women in power, Kesey uses several minor characters to compliment Mrs. Ratched by also portraying them as stiff. Because the Combine, or societies institutions, is such as vast concept, Kesey must show other women in positions of power throughout the Combine to strengthen his argument. Kesey first uses a memory of Chief Bromden’s to further illustrate his disillusionment with women unnaturally in the workplace. When a woman comes to Chief Bromden’s home to evaluate the land, Kesey immediately sets up this woman as an antagonist. She is a leader within the Combine set out to destroy the natural lands of the Indian Reservation. Kesey then draws connections between this woman and Miss Ratched through the woman’s outfit when he writes, “an old white-haired woman in an outfit so stiff and heavy it must be armor plate” (179). Kesey compares Miss Ratched’s nurse attire and this woman’s “armored plate” as both stiff and nonsexual. However, this woman’s outfit is more exaggerated having been compared to a knight’s breastplate to ward off sexual attacks from men. The outfit not only hides the women’s sexuality but confines movement and is unnaturally “heavy” for such a hot day. The woman also wants to destroy the natural landscape of the reservation, making her go against nature both literally and figuratively. Kesey uses stiff, unnatural, and restrictive clothing to again illustrate that women in power are unnatural.
Finally, stiffness is also portrayed through Billy’s mother, a woman who is close friends with Miss Ratched and abuses her power as a mother, “…lead [her son] out outside to sit near where I was on the grass. She sat stiff there on the grass” (246). Kesey places her in a natural setting being unnaturally stiff, just like the woman at the reservation. Usually when people sit outside in the grass, they lay carelessly at ease, but not Billy’s mother whose stiffness seems uncomfortable. Kesey uses her connection to Miss Ratched through to show Billy’s mother’s ultimate power over her son’s life as she holds him back from recovery. After Billy makes his “recovery” by sleeping with Candy, he kills himself because he cannot face his mother, giving her ultimate power over him. A mother is someone who is supposed to be “the cure” for their sons or daughters, not the death of them. So not only is her stiffness unnatural, but so is her position as a mother who killed her son. Through Billy’s mother’s stiffness and her position of power in an antagonistic role, Kesey asserts that women shouldn’t hold positions of power because it is clearly unnatural. Throughout minor female characters within the novel, Kesey asserts their unnatural positions of power through covered sexuality and stiff movements that compare to Miss Ratchets’ own.
To further his position on women in power, Kesey portrays a prostitute, Candy, with blatant sexuality and loose movement to highlight the natural female position of subordination. Kesey makes it obvious that Candy is the very opposite of Mrs. Ratched when Chief Bromden describes Candy’s clothes, “…it didn’t look like that was near enough material to go around considering what it had to cover” (197). If Nurse Ratched covers herself through her clothing, Candy is just the opposite as she doesn’t even have “near enough material” to cover her body. Nurse Ratched is used to show Kesey’s belief that it is unnatural for women to be in power, while Candy serves to show the position that Kesey sees as natural for women: subordination. To show his appeal to Candy’s character, Kesey makes Candy the only reason the men can go on the fishing trip. Only one car comes to pick them up, and McMurphy needs a second car to get all the men to the pier. The doctor is so attracted to Candy; he agrees to drive another vehicle. Because of Candy’s body and her revealing clothing, the patients are able to go on the fishing trip that makes them more confident. Through this interaction between the doctor and Candy, Kesey is putting a positive connotation around subordinate and sexual women. Then on the trip, when Candy is on the boat, she insists on having her turn to fish. When she gets a large fish hooked on her line and struggles with holding onto the rod, Chief Bromden describes, “the reel and the reel cranks knocking against her as the reel line spins out… the T-shirt she had on is gone- everybody gawking… with the crank of that reel fluttering her breast at such a speech the nipple’s just a red blur! Billy jumps to help” (211). The moment Candy loses power control of her fishing pole, she is seen as sexually desirable by the men who are “gawking” at her as her shirt flies up. Billy jumps in and exerts his physical dominance over hers, showing her subordination in her natural sexual state. Kesey uses the fishing boat situation to show how it is natural for women to be subordinate to men. Kesey creates a natural, light feeling to the way Candy moves because, as a prostitute, she willingly shows off her body to men. By juxtaposing her occupation and her natural movement, Kesey illustrates the natural position of women as subordinate to men. Through both her movements and sexuality, Kesey uses Candy, a prostitute, as the cure for the patients in the psychiatric ward to show the natural subordination of women.
Throughout the novel, Kesey condemns women in power as unnatural through movement and sexuality. The issue of discrimination of women in the workplace started in the 1960s, but still continues today. Although feminism and misogyny had shaky definitions throughout history, Rebecca West, an influential feminist writer in the mid 20th century, clearly depicted the struggle for women when she wrote, “I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.”
Treatment Of The Theme Of Sexuality In “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”
Sexuality has always been a powerful tool for writers: it can make heroes or break them, forge relationships or destroy them, suggest utter misery or heavenly bliss. Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest offers a unique take on this theme: there is no single long-standing relationship in the whole of the novel, and yet sexuality is one of the most important themes in terms of plot development.
Before examining the details, one must first concentrate on the larger issues at play in this work. The Oregon State Mental Hospital, where the novel is set, immediately suggests the importance of this theme to the plot. The institute is run almost entirely by women, and all of the patients are men. The radical division of the two sexes asserts the role of each gender in the story from the start. Women are the ones in charge, the ones who dictate the rules and enforce them (if they choose to do so). Men, on the other hand, must be quiet, submissive, and obedient. As Harding puts it in one of the book’s most memorable quotes, “We are victims of a matriarchy here.” Given that the book was written in the 1950s, during a time when decidedly concrete gender roles were commonly endorsed, it is likely that this inversion was intended to shock readers. Much of the scandal caused by the book originated from the silent implication that women could control men.
The novel’s matriarch is Nurse Ratched: a once-attractive woman of 50 and the head of the ward. She wields her power over the patients and other staff members with a total lack of remorse. The metaphors used in her initial description are decidedly unnatural: “Precise, automatic gestures. Her face is smooth, calculated and precision-made, like an expensive baby doll, skin like flesh coloured enamel.” The implication is that she is the tool of a machine-like society, and as such, has assumed its features. She is devoid of feelings such as compassion, empathy, and regret: all that remains is a plastic smile of practiced sympathy that hides wholly opposite intentions. The dehumanization of her character extends beyond her personality. The “Big Nurse” wears an overly-starched, tight-fitting uniform in order to hide her large breasts – a symbol of her womanhood, and therefore of a carnal weakness. “A mistake was made somehow in manufacturing, putting those big, womanly breasts on what would have otherwise been a perfect work, and you can see how bitter she is about it.” The result is a ruler as impenetrable as a fortress: simply put, she has no weakness to exploit. Insinuation and guilt are her main weapons, used to crush any rebellious behavior and make patients believe that they are doing wrong. “She doesn’t need to accuse. She has a genius for insinuation.”
The intentions behind Nurse Ratched’s sexless, cold attire are explained by Harding: “man has but one weapon against [women] but it is certainly not laughter. One weapon, and with every passing year in this…society, more and more people are discovering how to render that weapon useless.” Harding is talking about the male phallus – a tool that men use to subvert women. Nurse Ratched’s composed attire and frigid attitude, however, repulse the human feelings a man would feel towards a beautiful (though old) woman such as she. In doing so, she is able to undermine men, reversing the situation. McMurphy is forced to agree: “I couldn’t get it up over old frozen face in there if she had the beauty of Marilyn Monroe.”
Nurse Ratched’s nemesis is Randle McMurphy. He is the newest admission on the ward, and different from anyone that Nurse Ratched and the other patients have seen. He is a con-man, a joker, a gambler, and – most importantly – a playboy, so much so in fact that his sexual relations are one of the reasons he has been sent to the hospital: “‘psychopath’ means I fight and fuh – pardon me, ladies – means I am overzealous in my sexual relations.” The novel depicts him as emotionally strong because he possesses two qualities that no one else on the ward has: sexual freedom and the ability to laugh. For these reasons, he is also the only truly “sane” character in the novel. McMurphy can, in a way, be seen as a beacon of light in a world of darkness: amidst the madness of the patients and the institution, he reminds the reader what true sanity looks like.
McMurphy is the most sexually accomplished of the patients, but does not brag about his conquests openly because he knows that to do so would only discourage his comrades. Rather, he puts his skills to use against Nurse Ratched. McMurphy and Nurse Ratched are opposites, and must inevitably clash. One loves controlled order, while the other revels in utter chaos. One is a remorseless megalomaniac, while the other is a fun-loving trickster. One is sexless, while the other cannot get enough of it. This last difference is the strongest weapon in McMurphy’s arsenal: by alienating herself from sex, Nurse Ratched has forgotten that she herself can be subject to sexual scrutiny and humiliation.
Throughout the book, McMurphy and Nurse Ratched remain locked in a power struggle over the patients. However, McMurphy is fighting for the patients’ physical and mental freedom, while Nurse Ratched seeks their imprisonment for the purposes of her own ego. The weapons they wield are as different as their goals. Nurse Ratched uses insinuation and a divide-and-conquer tactic to subvert McMurphy, while he uses what comes most naturally to him: his sexuality.
The patients see Nurse Ratched as more than a woman, more than a human, even. Her sexless nature helps create this illusion, but by distancing herself from her own sexual instincts she makes herself vulnerable. McMurphy constantly harangues Nurse Ratched, asking “if she didn’t mind tellin’, just what was the actual inch-by-inch measurement on those big ol’ breasts that she did her best to conceal but never could.” Later, “through the back of her uniform, [he] gave her a pinch that turned her face red as his hair.” As a consequence of McMurphy’s jokes, the patients’ notion of Nurse Ratched as an impregnable being ceases to exist, and with every one of McMurphy’s sly comments the power structure shifts slightly. At the end of the novel, this power is completely dispelled through McMurphy’s last, desperate sacrifice for the sake of his friends: “he grabbed for [Nurse Ratched] and ripped her uniform all the way down the front, screaming again when the two nippled circles started from her chest and swelled out and out.” This gesture not only exposes Nurse Ratched as a human being, but also nullifies her power – never again will the patients see her as the superhuman being they once thought she was.
Much of the evidence for this theme is hidden in symbolism. One clear symbol of sexuality in the novel is McMurphy’s boxer shorts. In one of their many confrontations, McMurphy meets Nurse Ratched wearing only a pair of boxer shorts, “coal black satin covered with big, white whales with red eyes” and curiously similar to the figure of Moby Dick. This is important because Moby Dick was often interpreted as a phallic symbol, and here it is representative of McMurphy’s sexuality. The Moby Dick shorts are also symbolic of McMurphy’s struggle with Nurse Ratched, which mirrors Ahab’s struggle with the whale. Finally, many have interpreted Moby Dick as a holy figure, much as McMurphy mimics Christ in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The shorts were originally given to McMurphy as a present “from a co-ed at Oregon State, a Literary major…She gave them to me because she said I was a symbol.”
Another important symbol is the pack of cards McMurphy plays with throughout the novel. The pack is the first object he presents the patients with, and the cards depict “fifty-two positions.” Exactly what these cards depict is made clear by Cheswick’s reaction: he is “pop-eyed already…what he sees on those cards don’t help his condition.” Apart from being an obvious representation of McMurphy’s open sexuality, the cards also reveal something about his character. This is no normal pack of cards; the pack thus reveals McMurphy’s non-conformist nature and need to shock, to be the center of attention.
McMurphy’s association with symbols does not end there. While he and the patients are returning from their fishing trip, he notices a small dress hanging from a tree, “a rag, yellow and black.” The dress inspires him to tell the story of how he first lost his virginity to a girl of nine, whose dress ended up in the boughs of a tree after McMurphy cast it into the wind. McMurphy wears his sexuality like a dress in the wind, waving it proudly for everyone to see. Symbolism aside, this part of the novel is extremely important to both the theme of sexuality and to the development of McMurphy’s character. This insight into McMurphy’s youth helps the reader understand where his unique personality originated, as famously stated by McMurphy himself: “[she] taught me to love, bless her sweet ass.” It reminds the reader how important a healthy sexuality is to the growth of a man: the other patients had troubled sex lives, and are now deemed mad. The situation is thus infused with a heavy dose of irony: the other patients have been institutionalized because of an under-active or unhealthy sex life, while McMurphy because of his over-active sexuality.
Billy Bibbit is an insecure 34-year-old virgin with a speech impediment. The root of his problems is his non-existent sex life, which left him unable to mature into a man. The blame for this falls not on Billy, but on his mother. Having been treated like an infant all his life caused Billy to be overwhelmed by the world’s complexities, creating the foundation for his insecurity. In the one scene where his mother comes to visit, it becomes obvious that Billy’s mental condition was borne from his mother’s oppressiveness: “Billy was talking about looking for a wife and going to college someday. His mother laughed…at such foolishness.” Were Billy younger such a conversation might have sounded rational, but Billy is “th-th-thirty-one years old,” and is clearly no longer college-bound.
Later in the novel, McMurphy helps Billy lose his virginity with Candy, a prostitute who breaks into the hospital, thereby eradicating his life-long stutter and insecurity. The beautiful moment, however, is short-lived: after Nurse Ratched discovers what has taken place, she threatens to tell Billy’s mother, sending Billy into a nervous breakdown: “He was shaking his head like a kid that’s been promised a whipping just as soon as a willow is cut.” Soon after he is taken away, the others receive news that he has “cut his throat.” Billy’s suicide is not entirely surprising. He behaves much like a child facing punishment, blindly attempting to escape the guilt and the fear.
Indeed, all patients in the hospital have had a powerful, emasculating female figure in their lives. In Harding’s case, this was his wife. Harding has been institutionalized because he is a homosexual. While no one explicitly reveals this information, the reader can deduce this both from his first conversation with McMurphy (“I have been accused…of having relations with male friends of mine, of holding my cigarette in an affected manner…” ) and the description of his wife’s visit (“She talks of some of Harding’s friends who she wishes would quit dropping around the house looking for him…The hoity-toity with the nice, long hair combed so perfectly and the limp little wrists that flip so nice”). What isn’t known is whether he was a homosexual before or after he married, though there is strong evidence to suggest the latter. Harding claims to have been intimidated by his wife, who is indeed a very beautiful woman who attracts a great deal of attention. Harding also states that he was afraid he would not be able to satisfy her. Evidently his fears swamped any love he might have had for her or any other woman, causing his interests to wander elsewhere. For Harding, there is no quick solution as there was with Billy, but he states in the final pages of the novel that he wants to come to terms with his sexuality before confronting society again.
The narrator of the novel, Chief Bromden, has also had a traumatizing experience with a woman: his mother. She was able to slowly sap any confidence and power from both him and his proud father and tribal leader, Tee-Ah-Millatoona (“The-Pine-That-Stands-Tallest-On-The-Mountain”). Only her surname is mentioned in the book, Bromden, an indication that the Chief is trying to forget her stifling presence. She imposes her surname on the Chief’s father and himself: a symbol of the permanent influence she has on their lives and a direct usurpation of Tee-Ah-Millatoona’s role as head of the family. His downfall into the sorry drunkard he becomes is a consequence of the mother’s oppressive nagging, which the Chief says “made him too little to fight any more” and ultimately persuaded him to sell the valley that was home to him and his ancestors. The Chief’s mother can be seen as a tool of a mechanistic society, infiltrating one of nature’s last havens in an effort to conquer and exploit it.
We know that the Chief finally became insane while fighting in World War Two because he was committed shortly after the war ended, but his perceptive abilities had already been significantly stunted by his mother. When McMurphy asks the Chief how big his mother was, he replies that although a carnival worker once told him she was “five feet nine and a hundred and thirty pounds,” he imagines her to be bigger than his father, “twice his size.”
Sexual violence is yet another theme present in the book. When Nurse Ratched pretends to get McMurphy’s name wrong and calls him “McMurry,” he delves into a story about “an uncle whose name was Hallahan…he went with a woman once who kept acting like she couldn’t remember his name right and kept calling him Hooligan just to get his goat. It went on for months before he stopped her.” When the doctor asks how he stopped her, McMurphy replies, “I keep Unk Hallahan’s method a strict secret, you see, in case I need to use it myself someday.” He is, of course, referring to rape. In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, rape is portrayed as the last resort for men who wish to assert their “natural” authority over women.
The first time this theme appears in the novel is during Chief Bromden’s recollections about Taber. Without warning, Nurse Ratched’s cronies “catch Taber in the latrine and drag him to the mattress room,” where Nurse Ratched is waiting, “smearing Vaseline on a long needle.” Shortly afterwards, she reappears, “wiping the needle on a shred of Taber’s pants.” Significantly, she “[leaves] the Vaseline jar in the room” for the wardens to use on Maxwell. Symbolically, it is as if she has raped him. Not only is Nurse Ratched able to nullify men’s last weapon over women, but she is even capable of using it against them.
The last time this theme appears in the novel is during McMurphy’s final sacrifice. Prior to being committed to the hospital, he was never violent in his sexual relationships – contrary to what the hospital believed. The atmosphere of the hospital, however, with its twisted absence of sexuality and horribly cruel psychological ordeals, forces McMurphy to turn to sexual violence as a last resort. He rebels against the cruel matriarch, tearing off Nurse Ratched’s uniform. In a way, McMurphy has to resort to “Unk Hallahan’s” method to bring about change – ultimately, the uncanny prophecy proves to be true.
Yet another major theme in the novel is castration. The most memorable usage of this theme occurs during Rawler’s suicide: he bleeds to death after cutting off his own testicles. Particularly striking is the phrase with which the Chief concludes the anecdote: “What makes people so impatient is what I can’t figure, all the guy had to do was wait.” The sentence can be interpreted in a number of different ways. Firstly, the Chief might be suggesting that the institution itself would have killed him in the long run: being classified as “Disturbed,” Rawler would have been subjected to electroshock therapy and other operations that would most likely have brought about his demise. However, the Chief might also have meant that Rawler would have eventually been castrated by the institution. The sexless nature of the hospital would drive any man to a mental – if not physical – castration.
This theme becomes even more important towards the end of the novel, after McMurphy has been subjected to three electroshock treatments. Nurse Ratched, seeing no change in McMurphy’s behavior, suggests “that we consider an operation” – by which she means a lobotomy. Before she can continue, however, McMurphy retorts that “it wouldn’t be any use to lop’em off; I got another pair in my nightstand.” As usual, he makes a joke out of the nurse’s grave announcement, pretending to believe that they want to castrate him. Both operations, however, rid a man of his individuality, his freedom to choose, and his pride. Kesey’s implication is that the two operations are symbolically identical.
There is much debate over the function of this theme in the novel. Many have simply labeled the novel as offensive towards women, but the truth of the matter is in fact far more complex. Kesey’s negative portrayal of women is not intended to undermine the female sex. In order to effectively convey the extreme differences between the nurses and the patients, Kesey not only had to separate them not only morally, but also physically. By dividing them by gender, Kesey creates a world in which females can immediately be identified as “evil” and male characters as “good.” The notion of a society completely governed by women is extremely alien to us (and would have been even more unimaginable to Kesey’s contemporaries), thereby emphasizing that the hospital environment is twisted and unnatural.
Possibly foreseeing the reaction to his novel, Kesey included a character intended to discredit the theory that he was blatantly misogynistic. The Japanese nurse who treats McMurphy and the Chief’s wounds is the only truly “normal” woman in the novel: she has a little of the prostitutes’ goodness and a little of the nurses’ authority and status – in other words, she is a true neutral. Her kindness and thoughtfulness come through when she “[gives] McMurphy a cigarette and me a stick of gum,” but her lesser authority prevents her from being able to protect the men by keeping them in her ward. Her remark that “It’s not all like [Nurse Ratched’s] ward. The Army nurses…are a little sick themselves” strengthens the theory that Kesey did not want to portray women negatively: the hospital nurses are exceptions, and not indicators of women as a whole. The criticism that women are portrayed as little more than sexual playthings is also countered by the Japanese nurse. McMurphy attempts to flirt with her, asking “how long [they] could have the pleasure of her hospitality” and spinning her response around: “Not very long, you’re afraid?” but her indifference to McMurphy’s advances clearly indicates that Kesey did not want women to be merely objectified.
Similarly, some have called the novel racist because of the decidedly negative portrayal of the black wardens. This accusation is likewise unfounded because of the presence of the Negro night warden Mr. Turkle, who “unties the sheet from across [the Chief] if it’s so tight I squirm around” and participates in McMurphy’s midnight party.
The theme of sexuality in “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” is central to the novel. It is McMurphy’s primary weapon against Nurse Ratched’s cold rule, culminating in the successful toppling of the evil matriarch and the subsequent liberation of the patients. On the other side of the spectrum, it has the power to render men insane when wrongly used, as is the case with many of the hospital’s patients. Sexuality can even cause men to do horrific things, as when Billy Bibbit ends his own life. The novel is woven with intricate sub-plots: castration and the subsequent dehumanization, the emasculation of men, and sexual violence as a solution. Many have criticized Ken Kesey as offensive and misogynistic, but I believe that he is a visionary able to infuse inflammatory themes with elements of pure truth.
Comparison of the authors’ presentation of alienation and isolation in ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and ‘The Catcher in the Rye’
The themes of alienation and isolation in ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ and ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ are highly prominent, as the authors seek to portray the journey of an individual (or indeed group) that exists outside of mainstream society. In both novels we see the story told through the persona of an alienated first person narrator, a viewpoint that profoundly affects our comprehension and interpretation of the stories told, whether it be Bromden’s hallucinatory description of “the fog” and its effects or Holden’s quasi-reliable description of the events that lead to his being in a mental asylum. It is important to illustrate the subtle difference between alienation and isolation: Although the two terms are closely linked and often seen to be synonymous, I understand ‘alienation’ to be a more passive term; an alienated character has been alienated by the society around them. I understand isolation, however, to be a conscious – or at least intentional on some level – move by a character to exist outside of society. Society alienates a character, whereas a character isolates himself – naturally, there is some overlap between the two. Both of these phenomena are presented in, and are key to understanding ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and ‘The Catcher in the Rye’. There is no doubt that the narrators of both novels assert their individuality, and in doing so isolate themselves, through their idiosyncratic use of language and lack of adherence to narrative conventions. From the moment that we meet Holden, we see him using the slang (“lousy”, “all that kind of crap”) and standoffish direct address (“don’t even mention them to me”) that characterise his narration throughout the novel. Similarly, the opening line of the narrative of Bromden in ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ is “they’re out there” – a completely subjective and paranoid statement that instantly creates distance between him and the reader due to its seeming implausibility. Kesey also punctuates Bromden’s narrative with long and bizarre hallucinations, of manipulative machinery and robotics for example, which too initially create distance between himself and the reader. However, as the novels progress, we grow to accept the strange and somewhat difficult narrative, and it becomes personable and likeable. The language and narrative styles of the novel serve to force the reader to go through a journey regarding their proximity to the narrator: at first, we are alienated by their unconventionality, but as the novels develop we find ourselves very much on the side of the narrator. In my opinion, this journey of the alienation of the reader is of just as much importance as the alienation of the characters themselves. For Holden, isolation is a means of self-protection. In his interactions with other people – especially girls, such as Sally and Faith – he seems ill-at-ease and confused as to what he should say, trying forcibly to sound “suave as hell” and adult in place of actually making any connection with anyone he talks to. He isolates himself, therefore, both intentionally (his journey around New York City) and unintentionally (through his odd behaviour in an attempt to be adult) as a way of avoiding having to face the clear confusion and inner conflict that he possesses. This illustrates the irony of Holden’s character and actions; he isolates himself as a result of an unfulfilled desire to fit in with the society around him. His famous red hunting hat, for example, is a clear and intentional physical symbol of difference. His assertion – however jocular – that it is a “people-shooting hat” is suggestive of his explicit desire to stand out by wearing it, but his numerous mentions of Allie and Phoebe’s red hair suggest that he wears it simply as a subconscious attempt to fit in to his family. At the same time, Holden seems both proud and self-conscious of the hat (often not wearing it when meeting friends, or taking it off when it is commented on), a clear symbol of this conflict between isolation and fitting in. In many respects, Bromden (and indeed many of the minor characters such as Harding in ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’) uses isolation as a means of self-protection, much in the way that Holden does. Bromden’s pretence that he is deaf and dumb could, in some respects, be compared with Holden’s pretence of adulthood and maturity – both are used because the perpetrator believes that it is the only way to get by and fit in with a society that they do not fully understand. However, whilst Holden seems unaware of his use of isolation as a means of protection, Bromden does so intentionally. He believes that he is “cagey enough to fool” everyone else in the ward – and in doing so, makes himself less of a target than the other patients. Indeed, he only lets this guard down much later on for McMurphy, once he is certain of his trustworthiness. In this respect, Bromden’s self-imposed isolation is an effective tool – he avoids the vicious and destructive sessions of group therapy, through which “the Big Nurse” is able to maintain a stranglehold over the ward through psychological manipulation. However, this isolation alone is not enough for Bromden to regain his confidence and sanity – it requires a character like McMurphy to catalyse this process. The fog is the ideal symbol of Bromden’s isolation – it appears at emotional points in the story, and creates a veil – symbolic for the reader, but physical for Bromden – behind which he “feels safe”. Although he knows that the fog – his isolation – is wrong, “as bad as it is”, slipping back into it allows him to distance himself from the situation. Kesey therefore seems to suggest that although isolation is an effective shield, simply withdrawing from society is not enough in itself to bring about change. The active struggle, although often sisyphean, is portrayed as more heroic and effective than simple passive withdrawal; Bromden’s struggle against “the combine” is only really escaped by his breaking out of the institution, and McMurphy’s struggle, although not bringing him freedom, is enough to mentally liberate the other ‘inmates’ of the ward, from both mental imprisonment, and in Bromden’s case physical imprisonment too. Loss of identity is prominent in both novels, both as cause and effect of isolation and alienation, and both Bromden and Holden have a perception of identity that shifts greatly during the course of their respective stories. Kesey manifests Bromden’s changing identity, like much of his mental state, through physical symbolism in “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. As a result of societal alienation in the form of the government’s destruction of his heritage and his subsequent institutionalisation, Bromden feels that he physically shrinks – despite being “six foot eight”, he sees McMurphy to be “twice the size” of him. As he is pushed out from the society he knows, he loses all sense of power and confidence, and sees his depression manifest itself physically. As with his ‘deafness’, it is only when he regains acceptance into society – albeit the counter-culture society embodied by McMurphy – that he returns to his normal size. We also see a reflection of this in the narrative itself, namely in that although Bromden is the narrator, he does not tell his own story, rather centring on McMurphy’s story, and including his own as almost subsidiary. The fact that Bromden is almost a passive eyewitness to his own life, focusing instead on McMurphy’s, illustrates the powerlessness and loss of identity that he feels as a result of alienation. Holden too suffers from loss of identity, or at least uncertainty. However, contrary to Bromden, for whom loss of identity is result of alienation, for Holden we see changing identity to be a root cause of his isolation. Much like Bromden, there is a duality in Holden’s identity. However, unlike Bromden, who clearly develops from one identity into the other (powerless to powerful), both sides of Holden’s identity seem to be ever-present, and in direct juxtaposition with one another. For Holden, this duality is between adult and child identity. It is this conflict in identity that is the foundation of the novel, and one of the reasons that it is considered the archetypal Bildungsroman in English literature. It is even alluded to in the title of the book – Holden misinterprets the lyrics of a folk song about a sexual affair to be “can a body, catch a body, comin’ through the rye” – an idea which then reoccurs as what Holden wants to be when he is older, a ‘catcher in the rye’ – someone who catches children before they fall off a cliff. The cliff can be seen to represent adulthood, and that Holden wants to ensure that children (himself included, perhaps) can remain young and innocent, without falling off the “cliff” of adulthood and responsibility. The fact that Holden derived this naive and innocent image from a song about sex is indicative of the duality in his identity – simultaneously, Holden wants to be immersed in the adult world, as represented by his constant emphasis on smoking and drinking, and desire to act ‘adult’. However, at the same time, he is clearly unsure and afraid of the adult world, as seen by his paying a prostitute to just talk, as he did not feel comfortable with the idea of sex. It is, incidentally, interesting that both novels feature prostitutes as relatively important characters – Candy in ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and Sunny in ‘Catcher in the Rye’. As perhaps the most alienated and isolated group of people in society, the fact that the prostitutes in the novels are portrayed as the norm in comparison to the isolated characters illustrates the extent to which they (the members of the ward and Holden respectively) are socially estranged. This conflict between adult and child, and its resultant confusion, is present in almost all of Holden’s actions throughout the novel. His great interest in the museum, for example, could be seen to represent his desire to understand and compartmentalise the complexity of the world, as in a museum. It is ultimately this duality that leads both to Holden’s alienation and his isolation – he is alienated by both the adult world that he is too immature to take part in, and the childish innocent world that he is seen as too old for. As a result, we see him isolate himself not only from his family but also from himself, by becoming a parody of an adult, going through the motions of adulthood so as to avoid having to confront the complex duality that exists within his character. In many ways, this is the absolute antithesis to Bromden; the psychological problems that cause Bromden to isolate himself are manifested physically – in his changing size and perception of “the fog” and “the combine”. Conversely, Holden internalises his problems to the extent that he seems almost oblivious to them, only beginning to express them by childishly accusing everything and everyone but himself as “phony” – when ironically, it is Holden’s persona that seems to us the most fake. The hugely different backgrounds of the two isolated characters – Holden and Bromden respectively – should be taken into account when comparing them. I believe that the backgrounds of both characters, although hugely different, are relevant in examining their alienation and isolation: Holden’s wealthy upper-middle class white background makes him seem like the perfect all-American aspirational figure, making his isolation and views on society all the more ironic. Holden has no obvious motive to feel distaste for American society or those within it – he is very much a part of the society that he sees as “phony”. His isolation is all the more striking considering his everyman status – he is not the ‘typical’ outsider by any means. In contradistinction, Bromden is a Native American, a fact which, although not seen as hugely important, I believe to be crucial to the portrayal of alienation and isolation in the novel. As a subjugated people, effectively driven out from their land and culture – a fact seen in the novel – Native Americans are an excellent symbol of the alienating effects of society. Furthermore, the connection of Native Americans to nature (a fact that is again seen in Bromden’s recollections of his youth) makes the alienation of the ward even more poignant as Bromden is alienated from his natural roots by the cold and artificial world of “the combine”, with its disturbing mechanical parts. The metaphor of a “combine” – a combine harvester machine – is a brilliant image of this; a combine being a mechanised device that cuts down and harvests the land’s products – representative both of the loss of the Native American people and the alienation of Bromden by an emotionless society. In conclusion, I believe that isolated and alienated characters are effectively used as a statement against mainstream society in ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and ‘Catcher in the Rye’, as we see the alienating effects of society and the attempts of the protagonists to (unsuccessfully, in my opinion) counter them through isolation. Indeed, the link between the two concepts is often blurred, and we often see one causing the other – as Bromden says, “it wasn’t me that started acting deaf; it was people that first started acting like I was too dumb to hear”. However, it is Bromden’s journey of freedom from the alienating world of the ward that is more optimistic than Holden’s downward spiral of isolation and resultant alienation. This is not to say that the two books convey a greatly different message regarding the isolated individual; in both novels we see isolation as an ineffective tool against the inequalities and “phoniness” of society – it is through fighting the system of alienation that freedom is achieved by Bromden. The two books are, in my opinion, simply mirrors of each other – Bromden begins as a powerless mental patient, and is liberated through rebellion, whereas Holden begins by rebelling and, we discover at the end, is eventually institutionalised. Although Kesey and Salinger therefore would seem to disagree in their presentation of alienation and isolation on many fronts, they are, in my opinion, two sides of the same coin.