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One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest Oppression Essay

Throughout the years, millions of people have been admitted to mental institutions for a variety of reasons. However, mental hospitals have been under scrutiny for years over their methods of treatments of their patients. Set inside an Oregon mental hospital, in his book One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey argues that self-worth is discovered by breaking the system of oppression. Summary One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962) written by Ken Kesey is about the journey to discover one’s self-worth by breaking free of the oppressed system aimed against the patients.

In his novel, a woman is the head nurse over the male patients in the mental institution. Kesey portrays the women in his novel as castrators due to their terrifying and threatening statures. Throughout the novel, most of the male patients besides McMurphy have a fear of women due to past damaged relations that occurred with women. Nurse Ratched excludes all of her patients from the outside world and prevents them from expressing their true feelings due to the fear she has instilled in them. In addition, Kesey also uses mechanical imagery throughout his novel to symbolize modern society and its destruction of natural expression.

The hospital represents modern society, while the nurses and the aides represent society’s need for conformity. The nurses and aides force the patients into succumbing to whatever they desire, and if the patients rebel or question the nurses, they face consequences such as shock treatments or even a lobotomy. Kesey also emphasizes the importance of sexuality in his novel through his character Randle McMurphy. Nurse Ratched tries to keep the ward as sexless as possible, preventing the patients from experiencing any kind of sexual relationships.

Most of the patients have no form of a sexual identity due to their damaged relationships with women. McMurphy tries to correct the other patients by sneaking in two prostitutes, and arranging for a fellow patient Billy Bibbit to lose his virginity. However, Billy is shamed into committing suicide because of Nurse Ratched and her threat to tell his mother of his decision. By the end of the novel, Chief Bromden is able to break from the oppressed system of the hospital and Nurse Ratched and successfully escapes from the hospital and embarks on a new journey with his newfound personality.

Literary Elements Characters Chief Bromden also nicknamed “Chief Broom” is the narrator and main character of the novel. Bromden tells the story of the hospital and about the big nurse, and about the other patients, and McMurphy. In the beginning of the novel, Bromden is bullied, paranoid, and caged in most of the time by a hallucinated fog, which represents his medicated state and his desire to hide from reality. Bromden also believes that he is extremely weak even though he used to be extremely strong.

Bromden has been belittled for much of his life, and despite his huge stature at six feet, seven inches tall, he thinks that he “used to be big, but not no more” (Kesey, 1962, p. 219). Everyone in in the hospital believes that Bromden is deaf and dumb. It is not until McMurphy begins to pull him from the fog that he realizes the source of his act, “it wasn’t me that started acting deaf; it was people that first started acting like I was too dumb to hear or see or say anything at all” (Kesey, 1962, p. 210).

By the end of the book, Bromden no longer experiences the fog, and his former strength has returned allowing him to escape from the hospital, and have the ability to record his account of the events. Randle McMurphy the new patient to the ward represents sexuality, freedom, and self-determination, characteristics that clash with the ward, which is controlled by Nurse Ratched. McMurphy attempts to manipulate the hospital system to his own advantage; however, when he discovers the amount of power Nurse Ratched holds over him, he backs down.

His fate as the nonconforming insurrectionist is foreshadowed by the fate of Maxwell Taber, a former patient who was also a “manipulator”. As opposed to Bromden, McMurphy’s path throughout the novel starts with him as a sane and powerful patient, and by the end of the novel, McMurphy ends up as a helpless vegetable, having sacrificed himself for the sake of the other patients in a Christ like manner. In charge of McMurphy’s fate is Nurse Ratched, the head nurse who enforces all the rules and regulations around the hospital and has the final say over the fate of the patients.

She keeps her power by using shame and guilt to keep her patients in line. She represents the emasculation, dehumanization, and oppressive mechanization of modern society. Nurse Ratched has a large bosom, which she hides to the best of her ability under a heavily starched uniform representing her desire to exclude sexuality from the ward. Setting One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is set in a mental institution in Oregon somewhere between the 1950s and 1960s because of the recent memory of World War II for Chief Bromden. The hospital is run and controlled by Nurse Ratched.

She has a strong position of power, which is further strengthened by her ability to determine the fates of her patients, such as the types of medications and treatments they need to take. She uses the ward to put the patients against one another, which helps further strengthen her rule. Nurse Ratched mainly uses her power to keep as much of the outside world away from her patients as she can. However, when McMurphy arrives, he uses a change of setting as a way to undermine Nurse Ratched. To the other patients, McMurphy is a taste of freedom and of the outside world, which is a threat to Nurse Ratched.

McMurphy is able to change the scenery of the ward for the patients. He is able to get a new day room in an old tub room that is away from the Nurse’s station and he is also able to get some of the acutes and Chief Bromden out on a fishing trip. These setting changes help some of the patients escape from Nurse Ratched’s control and from the fear that she has instilled in them. By the end of the novel, because of McMurphy, Chief Bromden is able to change the setting for himself and eventually escapes from the hospital completely.

Contextual Analysis During this time period, Ken Kesey worked a night shift in a psychiatric ward and noticed that these patients were not insane but rather they were oppressed by society for not conforming to what society pictured as normal (Authors, 2003). The patients in the novel are oppressed by Nurse Ratched’s power and the instilled fear in them allows Nurse Ratched to remain in control and to continue excluding them from the outside world. McMurphy enters the ward as a sane person who only transferred to the mental institution because he wanted to get away from the workhouse.

However, by the end of the novel, McMurphy ends up as a vegetable representing that it is society and oppression that hurts and changes the patients. Literary Criticism Marxist The division of the patients into two groups within the hospital is a representation of the class division in a capital society. The head nurse and the other nurses represent the rich and powerful at the top of the class system, while the acutes represent the middle working class that have a chance to work their way up if they can get to the outside.

The chronics like Chief Bromden represent the poor, disabled class that have no chance of making it to the top and will never make it to the outside. The power that Nurse Ratched holds over the rest of the patients allows her to oppress and abuse the patients. She encourages the patients to turn against one another, and if someone reveals a personal detail about themselves, she encourages them to write it in the logbook in exchange for the chance to sleep in the next morning. Nurse Ratched’s oppression and power over the patients strips them of their ndividuality and strips them of their ability to express themselves. When McMurphy enters the ward, he is able to lead the other patients in a rebellion against the head nurse or the ruling class, and after her attack Chief Bromden remarks, “she couldn’t rule with her old power anymore” (Kesey, 1962, p. 321) symbolizing that her rule of oppression has finally been broken and the patients are now able to express their individuality. Which by the end of the novel, Bromden gains the ability to escape the hospital.

Feminist The gender roles are switched in this novel, with the women as the head of the hospital who are very strong and powerful while the men are the disabled, weaker ones who need the help of the women. Nurse Ratched, the head nurse runs the entire hospital and everyone is beneath her, which is a representation of the beginning of the women’s equality movement that occurred during this time period. The patients view the head nurse as a “ball-cutter” who symbolizes castration.

With a woman as the head nurse, the male patients are stripped of their manhood and are excluded from their sexual desires. As Bromden remarked after a former patient committed suicide by cutting off his testicles that “all he had to do was wait” (Kesey, 1962, p. 129) symbolizing that the hospital would have taken away his manhood if he did not already do it himself. Psychoanalytical The fear that is instilled in the patients by Nurse Ratched has made the patients to act only on their superego in fear of the consequences.

Meanwhile, McMurphy only acts on his id and defies all of the rules and regulations set in place by Nurse Ratched, which then in turn leads to his eventual downfall and lobotomy. The patients do not have the power to freely think and express their opinions in fear of facing severe consequences imposed by Nurse Ratched such as shock treatments or even a lobotomy.

They have seen what happens when one decides to question the authority, using former patient Maxwell Taber as an example who underwent treatment” and became docile and unable to think for himself anymore after trying to ‘ manipulate the system as Nurse Ratched claims. Which is similar to McMurphy’s eventual fate after defying and going against the Head Nurse throughout the book. While under Nurse Ratched’s power, the patients do not have the freedom to express their individuality and they are oppressed from the outside world. It is not until McMurphy’s downfall, do they realize Nurse Ratched’s rule and finally start to express themselves and take charge of their own fate.

Evaluation Conclusion Ken Kesey presents the problems with oppression in society through his novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In his novel, Ken Kesey argues that self-worth is discovered by breaking the system of oppression imposed upon a person. Because of the sacrifice made by McMurphy, the patients were able to see the oppression put upon them by Nurse Ratched and they were able to restore their individuality and take charge of their own fates.

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