English IV (H), period 2
February 23, 2012
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest; A Struggle for Power
In Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, he uses the concept of power as a theme that is laced throughout his novel in many different forms, most of which are abstract and some of which are tangible objects. Kesey uses the arrival of McMurphy as the catalyst for all the events that follow. McMurphy’s clash with Nurse Ratched is a classic example of a power struggle with a few twists. McMurphy gains his followers through a cleansing corruption process that returns them to their status as individual men and not just prisoners of Nurse Ratched’s will.
From the first time he steps into the hospital, every man knows that McMurphy is a different sort of man than the rest of them. The Chief knows:
even though [he] can’t see him, [he] know(s) he’s no ordinary admission. [The Chief] don’t hear him slide scared against the wall, and when they tell him about the shower he don’t just submit with a weak little yes, he tells them right back in a loud, brassy voice that he’s already plenty damn clean, thank you. (Kesey 11)
He has a swagger in his walk, holds his head high, and emanates an aura of manliness and pride about him. Though “when he isn’t laughing the laughing sound hovers around him, the way the sound hovers around a bell just quit ringing – it’s in his eyes, in the way he smiles and swaggers, in the way he talks” (12). McMurphy is clearly a hard-working man who has been around and seen many things in his life, toughness from experience, but he counteracts this by having fun, laughing and smiling whenever he gets the chance. The Chief describes him as:
redheaded with long red sideburns and a tangle of curls out from under his cap, been needing cut a long time, and he’s broad as papa was tall, broad across the jaw and shoulders and chest, a broad white devilish grin, and he’s hard in a different kind of way from papa, kind of the way a baseball is hard under the scuffed leather. (12)
McMurphy is different in that he is not meek and won’t bend to the will of others because he doesn’t answer to anybody except himself and has no family or friends other than the men he comes to care about on the ward. From the Chief’s perspective:
he sounds like he’s way above them, talking down, like he’s sailing fifty yards overhead, hollering at those below on the ground. He sounds big. I hear him coming down the hall, and he sounds big in the way he walks, and he sure don’t slide; he’s got iron on his heels and he rings it on the floor like horseshoes. (11)
McMurphy is a man who likes to have things go his own way despite others trying to impede his desires, and this is what immediately causes conflict between Nurse Ratched and him. Nurse Ratched tries to tell him that “everyone ... must follow the rules” (25). But McMurphy replies, “‘ya know-that is the ex-act thing somebody always tells me about the rules’ ...