Analysis Of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Historical Lens Essay Over 20,000 people received lobotomies in the 1950’s and over 100,00 people received electroshock therapy in the 1960’s. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a very well known literary work due to the surprising way it showed social problems at the time. In the novel the author, Ken Kesey, introduces the reader to what life at a hospital ward during the 1960’s where these kind of treatments were performed. The story follows Chief, a big Native American, as Kesey critiques the cultural view of the late 50’s and early 60’s on gender roles and conforming to, and rejecting, authority by showing the negative effects these can have on characters through Nurse Ratched and McMurphy.

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In the story, McMurphy is the newest patient at the ward and is determined to undermine Nurse Ratched’s power. In the story, after McMurphy comes to the ward, he and the other inmates decide that they need to take power away from Nurse Ratched, so McMurphy decides to “lose” his clothes one morning causing Nurse Ratched to come and talk to him. During McMurphy and Nurse Ratched’s interaction Chief comments, “Her nostrils flare open, and every breath she draws she gets bigger, as big and tough-looking’s I seen her get over a patient since Taber was here… Then, just as she’s rolling along at her biggest and meanest, McMurphy steps out of the latrine door right in front of her, holding that towel around his hips - stops her dead! She shrinks to about head-high to where that towel covers him, and he’s grinning down on her” (96). In this quote Chief is expliang that McMurphy showing off his masculinity and sexuality takes Nurse Ratched’s power away from her which causes to “shrink” in size. This flips the gender roles of the time because showing your sexuality was seen as more of a “feminine” trait. This is exemplified when Nurse Ratched loses her power and subsequently “shrinks” while McMurphy gains it and “grows…show more content…
In the novel Chief and McMurphy share sleeping quarters with each other along with a few other patients. Later in the story Chief decides to speak with McMurphy about society’s expectations, referred to as “the combine” by Chief, and the ward. During this conversation Chief tells McMurphy, “That’s why you shouldn’t of broke that window. They see you’re big, now. Now they got to bust you… They don’t bust you that way; they work on yiu ways you can’t fight! They put things in! They install things. They start as quick as they see you’re gonna be big and go to working and installing their filthy machinery when you’re little, and keep on and on and on until you’re fixed!” (221). In this section Chief explains to McMurphy that if you’re different or “big” in a way that society doesn’t like, they “fix” you to be the way society wants you to be. This critiques the cultural views on conforming to authority during the late 50’s and early 60’s because it depicts them “fixing” a person to conform to society’s view on how people should act as a bad, if not terrible, thing. This is exemplified later in the book as McMurphy is lobotomized, which is done so to “fix” him, because he didn’t conform which essentially makes it so he can no longer care for himself leaving him, for all intents and purposes, a
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