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Power of the Women

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey

Judy Kim

on 7 December 2012

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Transcript of Power of the Women

Femininity vs. Masculinity

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey THEME Women are depicted as powerful and threatening figures who emasculate and belittle men. Intro Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest centers around a mental ward where gender roles are countered to the roles in a patriarchal society. Women take control over the patients and the men in the asylum become “victims of a matriarchy” (Kesey 61). For example, Bromden and McMurphy, the protagonists of the novel, describe the suffering of the mental patients in masculinity under hands of Nurse Ratched and the hospital supervisor. Such dominating female characters are negatively portrayed as threatening and overpowering figures who emasculate and damage men. This theme can be exemplified through the female characters of Nurse Ratched, McMurphy’s past lover, Harding’s wife, and Billy Bibbit’s mother. Through the relationships between the men and women, sexism is apparent in this novel; the author seems to favor the traditional roles of femininity and masculinity. Kesey tries to assert qualities that can be identified as feminine and thus undermine the qualities considered as masculine. For example, Kesey portrays that masculinity engenders spontaneity, sexual freedom, and rebellion against the female qualities of societal repression. Therefore, the novel reveals a bias against women where the author expresses his view on the more positive masculine qualities and the more negative feminine qualities. In the novvel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, women are depicted as powerful and threatening figures who emasculate and belittle. “It was better than she’d dreamed.
They were all shouting to outdo one
another, going further and further,
no way of stopping, telling things
that wouldn't ever let them look one
another in the eye again. The nurse
nodding at each confession and saying
Yes, yes, yes.” (page 89) QUOTE: ANALYSIS:
Big Nurse is the dominating character
in this novel. She manipulates the men
in the mental ward to spill all their secrets
during Group Therapy. In efforts to keep
the ward under her control, Nurse Ratchet
strategizes to turn the men against each
other. She keeps the men insecure and indigent under repression, stripping their masculinity of independence and rebellion. Quote:
“Mr.Harding has been heard
to say that she ‘damn well gives the
bastards a reason to stare.’…He has
also stated that his wife’s ample bosom
at times gives him a feeling of inferiority”
(page 43-44) Analysis:
In this quote, the big nurse is talking
to the whole group about Harding’s
problems with his wife. Harding constantly
felt uneasy through his whole relationship
with her because his wife always made
him feel inferior of her. This relates to the
theme because this is yet another woman
in this book who takes away a man’s masculine façade. Quote:
“Mother, I’ th-th-thirty-one years old!”
“She laughed and twiddled with weed. Sweet-heart, do I look like the mother of a middle-aged man?”(Kesey 295) Analysis:
This quote shows how Billy’s mother,
through over-protection and condescension, has
managed to make Billy powerless in dealing with
the real world, displaying her dedication to maintain
power over her son. She raised him in such a way
where he became extremely dependant on her even
after Billy turned thirty years old. Quote:
“So my colors were
flown, and from that day to
this it seemed I might as well
live up to my name–dedicated
lover–and it’s the God’s truth:
that little nine-year-old kid out
of my youth’s the one who’s to
blame” (page 257). Analysis:
When McMurphy was
only 10 years old, he lost his virginity
to a nine-year-old girl and in doing so,
she also took his innocence. McMurphy’s
naiveté about sex made him feel the need
to announce it, but the girl was humored
by this idea and instead left her dress with
him. This incident highlights the theme of
female empowerment and led McMurphy to
fear emasculation by women. Quote:
“What she dreams of there in
the center of those wires is a world of
precision efficiency and tidiness like a
pocket watch with a glass back, a place
where the schedule is unbreakable and
all the patients who aren’t Outside, obedient
under her beam, are wheelchair Chronics
with catheter tubes run direct from every
pantleg to the sewer under the floor.” (page 30) Analysis:
This quote shows Mrs. Ratched's
absolute power in the ward. It also
reveals her persistence in obtaining
what she wants. She will manipulate
everyone in the ward until she has
the staff under her control. A Sexist Novel BY: Elizabeth McMahan Quote:
“His idea of positive female characters are nurturers
of men... it will change only with female empowerment
and equality of men.” Quote:
“The portrayal of women in Cuckoo’s Nest as ‘castrating bitches’
can hardly be considered a victory” Conclusion:
Ken Kesey published One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in the year of 1962. The 1960’s was a period of social turmoil when the Civil Rights movement and the second wave of Feminism occurred. Therefore, this novel takes a stance as a form of retaliation against the civil rights and feminist movements. Kesey illustrates this time period when women were procuring stature and control as they made headway in facets of society. However, as an anti-feminist, Kesey negatively portrays dominating women as threatening figures who emasculate and strip away the physical and mental strength of men. He instead expresses his approval of the prostitutes in the novel, showing his favor and liking toward the traditional role of women of nurturing and submissive. Therefore, overall, Ken Kesey reveals a bias against women in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest through the relations of men and women.
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