Ken Kesey, “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” by Ken Kesey, explains activities at a psychiatric institution where the struggles between a new student, McMurphy, and Nurse Ratched continue and eventually involve all patients. McMurphy appears at the hospital from jail for evaluation, which leads him to feel that he might be innocent, and he attempts to break the law not understanding that Nurse Ratched rules the psychiatric ward like an iron hand. She used whatever way possible to keep the residents under control, including bullying, drugs, and electroconvulsive therapy. McMurphy, the defiant resident, attempts to persuade the rest of the residents to defy Nurse Ratched’s authority. In the novel, McMurphy is the protagonist while Nurse Ratched represents the antagonist. Therefore, the relationship between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched is an expressed as a metaphor for social oppression and forced conformity which shall be the focus of the essay.

Nurse Ratchet tries to impose rules on gambling activities within the ward and manipulates the patients to bend to her will which does not resonate with McMurphy. For instance, she does not appreciate the gambling which involves money that McMurphy had introduced and decided to manipulate the residents by using cigarettes as bribes to win their approval of her rule by suggesting that they were deeply thought and had therapeutic value (171). Additionally, she limits them from using the tab room which was a secure location with minimal supervision where they could gamble and talk about issues affecting them, which Nurse Ratched did not approve. McMurphy took a drastic measure to express his disapproval of the rules and protocols imposed by the Big Nurse (Nurse Ratched) to curtail the freedom of the inmates. He went and smashed her window took a pack of cigarette from the carton with his name and left leaving the Nurse shocked at his actions. Nurse Ratched operated from the combine which was her office with instruments she used to exalt herself above anything including her seniors in the institution. The window that McMurphy had broken was one from this room and was a metaphor to show that he was ready to extinguish her power within the facility.

Nurse Ratched was abusing her power by skewing result of various democratic processes such as voting to provide crooked results which McMurphy was keen to note and used such opportunities to turn other patients against her. For instance, he was once told by the Chief that only Nurse Ratched has the final word of who leaves the facility as healed among other administrative functions. From that moment McMurphy was keen to detect and expose her abuse of power. For instance, during a voting process where the patients were to cast a vote for/against the watching of world Tv series, majority voted for the program, but she announced fake results that most were against. The reason she gave was that McMurphy took more time to vote last. This was a strategy by McMurphy to expose the Nurse and her faulty manipulative actions. In the end, the Patients were not happy about the results from the votes and decided to ignore by joining McMurphy in front of the new television (128). McMurphy said that the nurse was there ranting and screaming behind them as they pretended to see motion pictures on the grey screen as a way of showing they have noticed her criminal conducts.

Moreover, Nurse Ratched was a symbol of oppression and did not recognize the right of the patients which was a point of collision with McMurphy. For instance, he expressed displeasure towards the music played by the Nurse and asked her to switch it off. However, the nurse recognized that she had heard the concern by McMurphy but was not willing to comply. She gave an excuse that music was therapeutic and that anybody should find it appealing especially those with mental issues (19). McMurphy was so disappointed by the response and asked her rhetorically to explain what was therapeutic about Laurence Welk. McMurphy complained that as a patient she found the sound rather noisy than musical and as a professional nurse she was supposed to understand that any psychological discomfort for psychiatric patients is a risk factor for worsening the condition. Instead, the nurse wanted McMurphy to conform to the norm that any person should embrace anything considered therapeutic. This was the reason he challenged her ideas and even decided to lean on the glass window which he knew was against the rule only to get under her skin which he was successful.

McMurphy used the word “ball cutter” to describe Nurse Ratched for her behavior of not allowing others to exercise their sexuality. Ratched wanted the patients to be sexually repressed as a way of making them conform to her expectation when it came to sexuality. For instance, when Billy had sex with Candy and had been confirmed was therapeutic. Ratched did not recognize the accrued benefits but went ahead to be judgmental with harsh criticism which was not constructive. Ratched told Billy that she was ashamed of him that it might make her cry (263). She went further to describe Candy that she was a cheap and low woman with the intention to make Billy feel guilty and lower his self-esteem. Hence McMurphy saw Ratched as a person who stood between people and ability to express their sexuality, which is what he was explaining to the group he was talking with sharing ideas and experiences at the facility. McMurphy was openly in support of people expressing their sexuality. For instance, he was the one who organizes for Billy to have the encounter with Candy, he has asked the night shift ward to help them to ensure the plan was successful. Therefore, McMurphy was resisting the social oppression regarding sexually deprivation that was being promoted by Nurse Ratched the mental health facility.

In conclusion, Ken Kesey, used “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” to show the relationship between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched expressed as a metaphor for social oppression and forced conformity. The antagonist and protagonist in the novel were Nurse Ratched and McMurphy respectively. The nurse used rules which she designed and operated from her office to control both the staff and the patients in the mental health facility. The other patients confirmed to what she imposed over them, but McMurphy was not willing to bend to her will. McMurphy was not a psychiatric patient as he had used his trick to be transferred to the facility from the prison he was serving his sentence, which made it easy for him to notice the crooked ways of the Nurse.

For this reason, he consistently went against her will since his mind was sound which kept the two characters constantly at conflict. For instance, he led the patients against her after releasing falsified result from a vote on watching television. He also, told her they would continue to gamble despite the Nurse telling him it was against the law. He exposed her when she tried to manipulate Billy after having therapeutic sex with Cindy. Such instances confirm how the Nurse promoted social oppression and force conformity at the mental health facility.

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