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One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest Essay

one flew over the cuckoo's nest essay

Example #1

Randall Patrick MacMurphy s struggle against institutional authority in the 1975 Academy Award-winning film One Flew Over the Cuckoo s Nest illustrates one man s rebellion against the repressive and controlling powers of a total institution. MacMurphy is committed to a mental institution after his ejection from a prison work farm due to his belligerent attitude so that he can be evaluated some at the prison believed him to be crazy.

Within the walls of the manmade cuckoo s nest, MacMurphy and his fellow inmates are placed under total control and of course very close supervision. Their information is controlled to the point where they can not even watch the current World Series on television all personal freedoms are erased and insignificant, including pre-existing status and all semblance of personal freedom.

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The degradation ceremony that strips away this pre-existing status occurs as soon as MacMurphy enters the ward and all his personal belongings are collected from his holders. From that point on he is no longer a man, he is a case file, to be dealt with in a standard fashion by the powers that maintain control of his life.

Power in this total institution is solely divided between the leaders of the mental hospital. The doctors and nurses make the rules, they are the people responsible for stripping away the identity of the inmates and controlling their new ones. The doctors and nurses employ a number of techniques to demonstrate their control over the inmates.

Those in positions of power in the hospital have access to all parts of the ward. They are privileged to be able to walk through any doors they please. The patients however are designated to only certain areas of the ward. They are always in rooms divided by a large observation window and are never on the side of the glass doing the observing.

At all times this division of space is a constant reminder to the patients that they are being watched, they are always aware that their controllers can see what they are doing. The patients know they are not to break the rules laid down by authority for they know the consequences are painful. The repressive Nurse Ratched knows how to exploit the mental weaknesses of the inmates and does so to keep them in line. A prime example is her actions toward Billy Bibbit towards the end of the film.

Billy, a shy and virginal boy deathly afraid of his mother, is emasculated by Nurse Ratched as she threatens to tell his mother of his actions with Candy, a prostitute. Just as Billy is beginning to gain some confidence he is set straight by the powerful nurse. So plagued with the guilt of his horrible actions, Billy slits his own throat with a piece of glass.

This exemplifies Erving Goffman s argument that the institution shapes the illness. If it were not for Nurse Ratched controlling Billy he would have made huge progress concerning his issues of shyness and paranoia. Although Billy was moving away from his insecurity, he wasn’t moving away from it the way Nurse Ratched wanted him to so he is again labeled as deviant and controlled.

Another example of the institution shaping the illness is the neurotic Cheswick s demand for his cigarettes at a group discussion session. He throws a temper tantrum, which demonstrates a dramatic change in his demeanor.


No longer is Charlie Cheswick the insecure man he was before. Though he goes about it in a very uncontrolled and disturbing manner, Cheswick is demonstrating a huge amount of self-confidence. These child-like statements show that he does have the ability to say he wants something, even though his methods of asking arent quite developed.

It is impossible to tell in either of these situations whether the subjects are crazy or they are making breakthroughs to the sane world. In this hospital situation, both Billy and Cheswick s actions are viewed as negative. Their change is misinterpreted as a change for the worse yet they are only progressing forward.

Since Nurse Ratched believes the only way for the patients to recover from their illnesses is from therapy in the group discussions, she doesn’t see that MacMurphy may be aiding the patients by treating them like human beings. This special environment she has created in which there is no cure except for her own leads her to misread every action of the mental patients that she does not provoke or expect.

For example, when MacMurphy refuses to take his pills because he does not know what they might contain, he is accused of getting upset. MacMurphy is merely questioning the idea of blindly swallowing a medicine whose ingredients have not been disclosed to him, a very understandable request. The man was not upset, but concerned; Nurse Ratched misunderstands this as a blatant antagonistic attack against her control.

Most of the patients within the walls of the mental institution were not committed, they willfully entered on their own accord. They volunteered to join the mental ward s community to escape the pressures of the outside world. But unlike men on vacation, they escaped to a world that they could handle. They volunteered themselves into a total institution, where everything is regulated for their treatment.

Most of the willful inmates entered the institution with the idea that they would leave someday a better man, cured. It is evident now that none of those voluntary members of the institution will ever leave. They are so conformed to the lifestyle the total institution has created for them that they could never be expected to readjust to the pressures of the outside world.

The inherently awful Nurse Ratched had socialized each and every member of the community to her wishes. She has [them] coming and going. Her domineering attitude is not appropriate for the care of those with mental and emotional problems – she would be more suited at the head of a slave ship with a whip or club. When she comes in contact with the very sane yet very belligerent R. P. MacMurphy the two personalities clash in a chaotic manner.

The wrath of the total institution s dominance is witnessed when Mac s need for independence and Ratched s need for absolute control causes them to lock horns in the war that Ratched eventually wins at all costs. Billy is pushed to suicide and MacMurphy ordered lobotomized a fate worse than death for the free of spirit and mind.

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Example #2

In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey portrays women as overwhelmingly negative, either dominating or submissive. Nurse Ratched, Vera Harding, and Billy’s mother are controlling women who use fear to reign over men and mask their feminine qualities.

Candy Starr and Sandy Gilfilliam, on the other hand, are prostitutes who submit to objectification by men. Nurse Ratched masks her feminine qualities while the other women emphasize their sexual availability. Aside from one balanced female, the unnamed Japanese nurse from the Disturbed ward, Kesey’s women are extreme and negative characters.

Nurse Ratched defeminizes herself and subdues the men’s masculinity. Her attempts to defeat the men are ironic because she herself tries to embody masculine characteristics. Illustrating her effect on the men is McMurphy’s observation: “No, the nurse ain’t some kinda monster chicken, buddy, what she is is a ball-cutter” (57). Symbolic language like “ball-cutter” is a metaphor because men know the degree of pain that is associated with groin injuries.

Though the nurse does not physically harm the men; her actions damage their mentality. This destruction is shown by Harding’s comment: “She’s unselfish as the wind, toiling thanklessly for the good of all, day after day, five long days a week” (58). This quote represents the devastation of the men’s ability to decipher manipulative activities.

The men in the ward have become accustomed to Nurse Ratched and dismiss her tyrannical attitude as caring management. However, McMurphy is perceptive to Nurse Ratched due to his life adventures of working and gambling. He also is a fresh member of the ward and fakes mental illness in order to escape a work farm sentence.

Even patients recognize that Nurse Ratched makes men feel inadequate; Harding, for instance, states: “Doctor Spivey is exactly like the rest of us, McMurphy, completely conscious of his inadequacy” (59). She belittles men by initially using peaceful words and ending with hurtful intentions: “Good morning, Mr. Harding – why look, your fingertips are red and raw. Have you been chewing your fingernails again?” (90). She further proves her maliciousness towards the men when she displays Chronics as a reminder of what can happen to the Acutes.

Vera Harding, Dale Harding’s wife, differs from Nurse Ratched in that she uses her physical appearance and sexuality to intimidate Harding. When coming to visit, she flirts and blows a kiss to the black boy. This behavior leaves Harding feeling sexually insecure and vulnerable. When he does show happiness, she remarks, “Dale, when are you going to learn to laugh instead of making that mousy little squeak?” (158).

This direct insult cracks his ego because it tears away at his personality and humor. She continues her insults by saying, “Oh Dale, you never do have enough, do you?” (158). Harding understands that this is a reference to his sexual inadequacy, and he becomes a pitied figure. By provoking her husband, Vera has restrained him into a nervous state. Vera shows her domineering attitude in a way, unlike the cold Big Nurse.

Vera Harding also exploits her husband’s homosexuality. The novel gives good reason to believe that Harding is a closeted gay, in part through what Vera says about him – for instance, declaring that she wishes Harding’s friends would quit dropping around the house.

She continues by saying, “The hoity-toity boys with the nice long hair combed so perfectly and the limp little wrists that flip so nice” (159). Vera’s attempts to “out” her husband is demeaning, potentially lowering his status among his peers. Vera is clearly another vicious woman whose actions are intended to dominate men.

Billy Bibbit’s mother has authority over him, something Nurse Ratched uses to emasculate Billy and entrench his dependence on women. Nurse Ratched reacts to finding Billy with a prostitute by saying, “You know how [your mother] is when she gets disturbed, Billy; you know how ill the poor woman can become”.

The thought of inducing illness in one’s mother is unthinkable, especially to a “mama’s boy” like Billy. After the nurse shames him, Billy’s stutter – a symbol of his fear and self-doubt – reappears. As neighbors and friends, Billy’s mother and Nurse Ratched work together to dominate the young man.

Candy Star and Sandy Gilfilliam are submissive women, in contrast to those just described, but are no more positively portrayed than Kesey’s other female characters. The women depend on men for financial reasons, not for love. Candy scoffs at the marriage in saying, “To tell the truth ol’ Sandy got married” (196); Sandy revels in sexual gratification when describing her experience with Sefelt: “I have never experienced anything to come even close to it” (254). With their dependence on men, lack of commitment, and illegal profession, the prostitutes are another example of Kesey’s negative portrayal of women in this novel.

The strong-minded Japanese nurse who makes a brief appearance does not compensate for the negativity towards females that prevails in the rest of the book. She insults Army nurses by saying, “Army nurses, trying to run an Army hospital.

They are a little sick themselves. I sometimes think all single nurses should be fired after they reach thirty-five” (234). She opposes conformity, which suggests that Kesey thinks of her as a female of substance, but lacks a name and any power in the ward – she works, after all, under Nurse Ratched. The Japanese nurse, therefore, does little to counter the novel’s general negativity towards women.

Dominant or submissive, malicious, or shallow, the women in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest are stereotypical and flat. The single female with gumption, the Japanese nurse, lacks the power or presence to counter these characters. Kesey’s novel is hailed as a great one, and for good reason, but his depiction of women is far less than laudable.


Example #3

In “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey, Nurse Ratched symbolizes the oppression of society through archetypal emasculation. The male patients at the ward are controlled, alienated, and forced into submission by the superior female characters. Throughout the novel, there is a constant fear of female superiority; Randle McMurphy, the sexually empowered male protagonist, states how they are essentially being castrated.

Castration, in the novel, symbolizes the removal of freedom, sexual expression, and identity. Furthermore, Nurse Ratched, the mechanical enforcer, represents American society: corruption, surveillance, and the deterioration of individuality. The suppression that the male patients face traces back to the suppression of American society.

McMurphy refuses to be another robot following orders aimlessly, he fights to maintain his individuality and to spread that individuality to the other patients. Just as the novel, society in America is very mechanical, citizens follow mundane orders like machines, and when a unique individual breaks through and expresses themselves, they are eliminated.

The power that Nurse Ratched feels against male patients is similar to the power that Society holds on their people, order and control are essential. Both entities fear individuals who have an original thought, those people cause a threat since they can influence others to think the way they do–control is then lost.

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Example #4

The Kesey novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, outlines how mental wards were run in the 1960s. Patients were not given the right to make choices and were often treated under strict rules. Staff acted as dictators in the lives of those who were committed or those who chose to commit themselves to mental health.

Independence cannot be gained without individual rights. In the Kesey novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, the antagonist Nurse Ratched strips her patients of their individual choice via “ward policy” and the ward schedule. The protagonist Randle McMurphy gives choice back by rebelling against Nurse Ratched and inspiring the patients. Nurse Ratched acts as the authoritarian figure in the story who strips all the power from the patients with her “ward policy”.

The acute patients are the only ones present for the vote to change the schedule. For example, she mentions “There are forty patients on the ward, Mr, McMurphy. Forty patients, and only twenty voted, you must have a majority to change ward policy”(Kesey 209) She says this because the twenty patients present at the group meeting are the only patients who are capable of thinking for themselves.

The other patients who are not present at the meeting, are still accounted for as chronic patients. This is one of the many ways she rigs ward policy in her favor in order to prevent power from leaving her side. Kesey also uses symbolism to describe her overwhelming intimidation.


Example #5

Ken Kesey’s novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, is a very interesting yet disturbing account of the human psyche. It is the story of several men living in an insane asylum and the journey of one unique man ironically trapped in this society. Randle McMurphy is an extremely dimensional character and this is shown through the book’s themes and illustration of life in an abnormal mind.

In this novel, many themes exist through the characters but the strongest ones are those of rebellion, friendship, and courage. The story portrays the mysteries of what goes on inside a mental institution, the need that the men in the asylum have for friendship, and the courage the men have to stand up to their greatest fear, Mrs. Ratched.

The themes of rebellion and courage are apparent constantly throughout the story because of the men’s everyday, on-going struggle with Nurse Ratched. McMurphy’s endeavor with Ratched is the most centralized plotline of the book and his impact on the men’s lives is of equal importance. When McMurphy came to the mental institution the men were so fascinated by him and they wanted to know everything about him.

Randle was a gambler, a thief, and although very doubtful, a very courageous man. As soon as he came to the ward the “Big Nurse” knew he would be trouble. McMurphy did everything he could to try and make the nurse go crazy. He broke almost all of the rules.

Randle tried to take all the other patients money by gambling, planned fishing trips the nurse was totally against, fought with the “black boys” (who were assistants on the ward), and gave the other men the courage to stand up to Mrs. Ratched when they probably wouldn’t have otherwise done so. Randle McMurphy brought courage to the ward.


Example #6

Written by Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was published in 1967 by Penguin Books. This story was written based on the author’s experience while working in a mental institution. He held long conversations with the inmates in order to gain a better understanding of them.

It was during this period that he wrote the first draft of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Most of the characters in the novel are based upon actual patients he met while working at the hospital. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is set in a mental hospital in Oregon. The novel is divided into four parts. Parts One, Two, and Four are set in the hospital itself.

She believes him to be an ordinary man and that he will eventually settle down. Nonetheless, McMurphy continues to do all he can to annoy her. Throughout the story, the two battle against each other, seeing who will give in to who first. Everything is rather harmless until and inmates party rolls around. McMurphy smuggles in prostitutes to help out the inmate, Billy. When the nurse found out what had been going on she was furious.

Billy ended up slitting his throat and bleeding to death. McMurphy was in real trouble with the nurse this time. To retaliate he tore open Nurse Ratched uniform. As a result, McMurphy is taken away and give a lobotomy. When he returns, he has been changed into a vegetable.

His Indian friend known as Chief Bromdencannot bear to see his friend in such a state and ends up smothering him to death to save him from such a miserable existence. However, he escapes to freedom after that. Ironically, dead Mcmurphy had given this man a new life.

McMurphy is a gambling Irishman and convict, who grows tired of laboring at the Pendleton prison farm. To escape prison life, he feigns insanity and gets himself involuntarily committed to a mental hospital in Oregon. He tries to bring about a change at the hospital, for he does not like the fact that grown men act like “rabbits” and are scared of the Big Nurse. He tries as hard as he can to “get her goat”, by not doing the duties he is given.


Example #7

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is a novel written by Ken Kesey, documenting a hidden world of men, whose lives have been encapsulated 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 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).

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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 McMurphy’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 manner 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 today’s 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 today, 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 at 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.

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 brings 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-need Duh-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.


Example #8 – interesting ideas

Since the point of your essay is to show that Cuckoo is not anti-women and instead, is anti-establishment, you can raise these points:

1. The men in the novel are suppressed, both emotionally and sexually, so this is not congruent to the argument that the book is anti-women/anti-feminism.

2. Nurse Ratched is a huge factor contributing to the suppression of the men, so she is shown as a “ball-cutter” – this effect is diminished at the end when she “cracks”.

3. The overarching theme of the entire novel is of the individual versus society, therefore I don’t think that the anti-feminist aspects were the main point of the novel, even though they did contribute to a significant proportion of it.

This is the assignment for psychology. It is purely based on the movie. If someone knows something about any of these topics I really need some ideas.

Using “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” as a fictional example, create a reflection piece on the therapies that were used. You should write on one of the following bullet points:

  1.  Make a comment on one therapy you thought was effective and why you felt it was effective. Also, discuss one therapy that you thought was ineffective and why you thought it was ineffective.
  2. What types of medicines did doctors/nurses use? Were they effective? Why do you think they were effective/ineffective?
  3. How was the psychology (mindset) different during this period than it is today.

Have you seen the movie? (Read the book, it’s even better.) There are three major treatments featured in both. Therapeutic community-sort of like group therapy sessions. Medication–the drugs used were never specified, but Chief was often tranquilized and many of the other men were on regular meds

Shock treatment-administered to McMurphy, Chief, (and Cheswick in the movie). Obviously the mindset was that patients needed to be stabilized and controlled via shock and medication. We’ve lightened up a lot knowing the ill effects of such treatments now. It’s much more about other less invasive forms of therapy now.

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