Masculinity In One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

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Chief Bromden, the narrator of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, is a willingly mute inmate of a psychiatric ward, run by a nurse who clings to control in order to secure herself as the leader of the ward. She uses her matronly presence as a weapon against Chief and his fellow inmates in order to deprive them of their masculinity. The Nurse (what Chief calls her) uses these tactics to break down the inmates. Chief, wanting to avoid this confrontation decides to be mute. As he tells the story through his eyes, Chief repeatedly looks at his inmates ' hands and describes them thoroughly. In Ken Kesey’s Cuckoo’s Nest, texture, contour, and the movement of people’s hands is how Chief is able to understand the masculinity his fellow inmates feel as…show more content…
Dale Harding’s wife, Vera, visits him in the ward, and is very flirtatious around the other inmates, especially McMurphy. Harding is praising McMurphy for besting the Nurse, and telling his wife about his recent successes. While Harding is telling the story, his hands “...weave the air in front of him into a picture clear enough to see, dancing the story to the tune of his voice like two beautiful ballet women in white… But as soon as the story’s finished, he notices McMurphy and his wife are watching the hands, and he traps them between his knees” (Kesey 183). Chief sees that Harding is very self conscious about how his hands move, and can infer that he does not feel that he is in a position of power. This quote from the novel connects to the theme of masculinity. Harding traps his hands between his knees because stereotypically, men who move their hands limply while they are talking are homosexuals. Thus, Harding doesn’t feel comfortable that his hands move while he gets excited because it makes him look less masculine. Nevertheless, this shows how Chief looks at people’s hands to identify power and masculinity compared to
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