People are at peace when they are surrounded by others who are like them, accept them, and don’t try to change them. When one is free to be him or herself they will be happy. Society has the power to control this freedom and make one feel trapped. Individuals can be manipulated to believe in irrational ideas or morals. In One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, Nurse Ratched, the ward and society outside the ward influence and try to control the patients.
The power of the patients’ minds determines if they maintain their mental freedom or allow society to control them.
The window that Nurse Ratched sits behind shows the omniscient power she has over the patients. She can watch everything the patients are doing in the day room. It’s like a fish tank, the patients have no privacy from the Nurse’s gazing eyes. All of the patients feel the glare of the nurse from the window, they know they are always being watched which makes them feel inferior and weak.
Although the window is transparent, it represents a barrier between the patients and the power the nurse has. McMurphy challenges the nurse’s superior power and literally shatters the window to pieces.
Bromden describes this act of rebellion. “The glass came apart like water splashing, and the nurse threw her hands to her ears. He got one of the cartons of cigarettes with his name on it and took out a pack, then put it back and turned to where the Big Nurse was sitting like a chalk statue and very tenderly went to brushing the silvers of glass over her hat and shoulders. ” (72) The other patients of the ward let Nurse Ratched have the control she does, while McMurphy fights her power. Nurse Ratched also maintains power over the patients by emasculating them.
She is a woman with large breasts and tries to hide them under her uniform, trying to make the men feel that she is less of a woman. Her goal is to make the patients and any other male at the ward feel less masculine and weaken them to maintain her power. McMurphy even refers to her as a “ball cutter” (54) or a person “who try to make you weak so they can get you to toe the line, to follow their rules, to live like they want you to. And the best way to do this, to get you to knuckle under, is to weaken you by gettin’ you where it hurts the worst. (54) The nurse targets the patients vitals areas mentally to weaken them and think they’re inadequate. If she can make the patients believe they have a lack of strength she can control them. An example of McMurphy challenging Nurse Ratched’s plan of emasculating the patients is when he asks her if he even told her “about my uncle Hallahan and the woman who used to screw up his name? ” (47) Basically, McMurphy’s referring to male dominance over a woman and is threatening Nurse Ratched’s power and reminding her that outside of the ward she isn’t the one with the power.
Society outside the ward leads many patients to believe the only place they belong is inside the ward. Those who are different from the norm are characterized as people who belong in a mental hospital. There are two types of patients in the ward, committed and voluntary. Committed patients, like McMurphy, are sent by the law to the ward. On the other hand, voluntary patients choose to be in the ward. Society makes them feel that they can’t function and are mentally ill. They are the ones that lose complete control of themselves.
Billy Bibbit, a voluntary patient, stays in the ward because he’s “not big and tough” (167) and he proceeds to say that “Neither is Harding. Neither is Fredrickson. Neither is Sefelt. ” , who are also voluntary patients. They run away from the harsh reality of the world because that is better then how they feel in society. Even harding says “This world … belongs to the strong, my friend! The ritual of our existence is based on the strong getting stronger by devouring the weak. We must face up to this.
No more than right that it should be this way. We must learn to accept it as a law of the natural world. ” (185) They aren’t mentally strong enough to fight society. Although the ward isn’t an ideal place to chose to live your life, they are so unhappy and miserable in regular society that they rather be there. By making people, or the patients feel this way, society can easily get rid of people who can’t conform. McMurphy is a different story. He’s “committed” (165). He’s strong enough to not like society’s opinions control him mentally.
Instead, the only way for society to dispose of him is by using the law, and declaring him mentally ill. For the voluntary patients, it’s a vicious cycle of them being miserable in the ward due to their incapacity of mental strength. For committed patients it’s mostly a battle against being let out or not. The general outline of the social structure at the ward has Nurse Ratched at the top, the black boys in the middle and the patients at the bottom. The black boys are Nurse Ratched’s second eyes and hands. She adopts the three black boys “after more years of testing and rejecting thousands. (28) She would let go of the other candidates because “they don’t hate enough” like she does. (28) The Nurse and the black boys tune into the same “frequency” and keep the ward in order. (29) The presence of the black boys is similar to Nurse Ratched’s window. The patients are always being watched, there is no freedom. The ward also controls the patients using group therapy. One time the Nurse asked the patients to “let out those old secrets” and when no one responded she threatened them saying “must we go over past history? The threat of the Nurse having complete control of exposing the patients secrets led many to exclaim things such as “I tried to take my sister to bed. ” and “I killed my cat when I was six. Oh, God forgive me, I stoned her to death and said my neighbor did it. ” By making the patients announce such horrid actions it makes them weaker. After hearing what they just told all the other patients they are embarrassed and feel like they belong in that ward even more than before. Nurse Ratched also tries to weaken McMurphy with past mistakes but fails.
She says that McMurphy was accused of “rape” (40) and he confidently defends himself. The patients that Nurse Ratched, the ward and outside society gained control over lost their freedom and happiness. They allowed society to change them and disturb the peace inside them. This can be shown through the amount of laughter present at the ward. “The air is pressed in by the walls, too tight for laughing” (43) and society has too tight of a control of the patients’ minds that they won’t even laugh. They are “scared to open up and laugh” (63) and they have lost their “footing. (63) McMurphy keeps his laughter from the moment he walks in the ward because he doesn’t let the ward control him. He can’t seem to understand why the patients would let themselves be controlled to the point they won’t even laugh. All in all, The patients of the ward were manipulated by Nurse Ratched, the ward and society outside the ward into thinking there was something truly wrong with them, when it was just because they weren’t ideal members for society’s conformity. They lost their joy and pleasure in life
Cite this One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest
One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. (2016, Oct 26). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/one-flew-over-the-cuckoos-nest-3-2/