Authority In One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

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"Nothing builds authority up like silence, splendor of the strong and shelter of the weak" (Charles de Gaulle). This idea is reflected in Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, where it is shown how authority becomes more powerful by abusing the silence of the people. This silence is literally and figuratively represented through Chief Bromden, a longtime patient of a psychiatric ward during the 1960s in the United States. Bromden, along with all the other patients in the ward, religiously abide by the rules and regulations enforced by the ward administration, particularly Nurse Ratched, a strict and abusive manipulator who does anything in order to maintain her power. This power dynamic quickly evolves
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Due to the structure in place by Nurse Ratched’s orders, all patients must participate in therapeutic meetings, where they have a group discussion with the nurse and Dr. Spivey. These discussions specifically target one patient where the others proceed to humiliate them. When Bromden narrates a meeting of this nature, Harding, another patient, is the one under harsh criticism, “The group is still tearing into Harding when when two o’clock rolls around” (Kesey 53). In the ward, the nurse has created an environment where the patients do not feel safe. She pits them against each other using methods such as the therapeutic meetings, which cause the patients to feel as though they cannot trust one another. These elements keep the nurse in power, as many of the patients fear being the target of one of these meetings and worry that they will again be betrayed by others. By introducing order through these activities, Nurse Ratched undermines the safety of the patients that should be under her care and keeps them silent. Nurse Ratched's oppressive order is not only seen in a literal sense, but also through the attitudes of the patients under her care. Chief Bromden describes the nurse as being “able to set the wall clock at whatever speed she wants just by turning one of those dials“ (Kesey 70). Nurse Ratched’s control over the patients’ lives extends to the point where…show more content…
In the ward, the only individual capable of undermining Nurse Ratched’s power is Randle McMurphy. By blatantly disregarding the nurse’s strict rules, standing up for himself, and encouraging other patients to do so, he creates a situation that jeopardizes the order Nurse Ratched has created. When McMurphy manages to get a fishing trip approved, granted he gets ten other patients to sign up, Nurse Ratched uses malicious methods to thwart his plans: “The nurse started steadily bringing in clippings from the newspapers that told about wrecked boats and sudden storms on coast” (Kesey 178). In order to dismantle the immense progress McMurphy has made towards changing the attitudes of the patients, Nurse Ratched discourages them from attending his trip. Her motive in doing this is to have the patients lose faith in McMurphy, ultimately destroying the influence he has over them. By weakening McMurphy’s power in the ward, she creates an environment where can continue to thrive in her power through the systems she has set in place. However, Nurse Ratched’s plan does not succeed and McMurphy is allowed to proceed with his fishing trip. He continues to undermine the nurse’s authority to the point where he physically assults her after she blames Billy’s death on him. His actions give Nurse Ratched an opportunity to give him the ultimate punishment, a
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