Friday, May 7, 2010

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

Every week by Saturday morning...
* Read 100 to 150 pages.

* Write 300+ words a week in response to your reading.
* Respond analytically and personally to what you have read.
* Discuss the significance of at least one passage/quotation.
* Discuss the relationship between what you are reading and something(s) else you have read this year.
* Respond to a comment made by a peer (after the first week).


andrew said...

The book One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest deals a lot with the maintenance of power and control. Nurse Ratched maintains her power within the ward by being strict, and unfeminine. Nurse Ratched is very strict in the ward, ordering the patients and the aides around. She tells them what to do at all times, and is acutely observant. She is extremely stern and punishes anyone who rises up against her. Chief Bromden, who narrates the story, tells the reader that the people who have stood up to her have been highly medicated and have been given electroshock therapy as a result, leaving the patient harmless and submissive. Chief Bromden, who narrates the story, describes how Nurse Ratched’s only feminine quality is her large bosom, which she protects with her starch uniform. By showing no feminine qualities, the patients do not see sexually attractive. The fact that Nurse Ratched is a woman in charge of an all male ward makes the men feel less dominate than they would normally be if a man were in charge.
Nurse Ratched also uses guilt and shame to keep control in her ward. At the group meetings that Nurse Ratched initiates, she humiliates the patients and allows the other patients to attack as well. McMurphy, who is the rebel in the book and who tries to take control over Nurse Ratched’s ruling, describes the scene as a “peckin’ party”. McMurphy tells Harding, who is the patient that is ridiculed by Ratched’s cruel words at the group meeting, that Ratched’s tactics are to turn the patients against one another in order to keep her in power. McMurphy tells Harding on page 57, “The flock gets sight of a spot of blood on some chicken and they all go to peckin’ at it, see, till they rip the chicken to shreds, blood and bones and feathers. But usually a couple of the flock gets spotted in the fracas, then it’s their turn. And a few more gets spots and gets pecked to death, and more and more. Oh, a peckin’ party can wipe out the flock in a matter of a few hours, buddy, I seen it. A mighty awesome sight. The only way to prevent it-with chickens-is to clip blinders on them. So’s they can’t see.” Despite McMurphy’s boisterous behavior, he is seen as a charismatic character, especially toward the other patients. It is not clear whether or not McMurphy is truly crazy or if he’s pretending to be.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is similar to Invisible Man in that each main character is being suppressed by his society. McMurphy and the invisible man are not in control of their surroundings and even though there are moments where they attain some sort of power, it is snatched away from them soon after.

Katina T said...

One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest is through the eyes of Chief Bromden, who is a patient in a mental hospital. Because he has been there so long and never speaks to anyone, everyone assumes that he is deaf and dumb. I think the author chose Chief Bromden as the narrator because he flies below the radar. The characters forget he is actually there, so that Bromden just soaks up all the information he hears and sees when others figure he’s just dear and dumb. The person in charge of this hospital, Nurse Ratched manipulates and dictates over all of the patients. Like Andrew said, all womanly qualities about her do not exist. Without any attraction to this woman, it eliminates any option for any of the male patients to have the advantage against Nurse Ratched. It becomes aware to me that Nurse Ratched has a tight hold on her patients when Chief Bromden says, “She’s lost a little battle here today, but it’s a minor battle in a big war that she’s winning and has been winning. We mustn’t let McMurphy get our hopes up any different, lure us into making some kind of dumb play. She’ll go on winning, just like the Combine, because she has all of the power of the Combine behind her, She don’t lose on her losses, but she wins on ours. To beat her you don’t have to whip her two out of three or three out of fine, but every time you meet. As soon as you let down our guard, as soon as you lose once, she’s won for good. And eventually we all got to lose. Nobody can help that.” on page 101. The patients feel hopeless when they are in the clutches of Nurse Ratched. The Combine and her represent a dominating world that oppresses society. The patients represent the people being oppressed. McMurphy, the new patient, doesn’t realize the patterns of society that the other patients have followed. He wants to break this. The patients want to see a light in him as he tries to undermine their authority, Nurse Ratched, but they all know how unlikely it is, after seeing so many patients fail to do so. A book that reminds me of this story so far is Jane Eyre. Jane is suppressed in her society just like the patients at the mental hospital. Jane was given a happy ending after going against the grain, hopefully McMurphy and the other patients will also have one too.

Brianna A said...

One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest deals with a lot of issues of power and passion. In the psychiatric ward all of the male patients seem to be dealing with a struggle for both. The power struggle between the Doctors and Nurses and the patients is clear. Nurses such as Nurse Ratched exploit their power. Nurse Ratched as Andrew pointed out, uses manipulating the patients to turn against each other to gain control and power. If any brave souls challenge her she uses harsh and thought somewhat unjust forces to punish them, such as lobotomies and electromagnetic shocks. The separation of the patients into groups is also a way for the hospital staff to gain power and control. They are able to divide and conquer and make the patients feel absolutely defeated if they are in the Chronics; the incurable group. This is as opposed to the Acutes, who still have hope that they can be cured and salvage their freedom. Power is also played with with gender. All the patients in the psych ward are male. They are mostly ruled by female nurses and have troubling pasts with women. Kesey is playing with the roles of society and how the unusual can really control the crazy. I think it will be interesting to see how passion is controlled in this novel as well. Already the difference between the Chief and McMurphy is evident in how they express themselves. “I been silent so long now it’s gonna roar out of me like floodwaters.” This quote from the chief foils the kind of control that the hospital staff has on the patients. They are either manipulating the passion and expression in the patients or suppressing it until the patient feels they are truly crazy. As for McMurphy; he tries to figure this out right away by explaining to everyone about Nurse Ratched strategy to turn everyone against each other. As McMurphy’s passion is expressed and the hospital’s forces are strengthened it is hard to tell whether McMurphy is a crazy wild man, or if he is just arrogant and likes to stir things up.

Brianna A said...

I totally forgot to compare this to Jane Eyre which is what I meant to do last night. I think these two novels have similar themes of power struggle and suppressing passion. Jane struggles throughout the book to learn how to control her passion although some believe it is right to snuff it out. Bertha is an example of passion that is caged but then explodes wildly. Bertha's wild passion results in her being perceived as crazy, just like with McMurphy. Jane Eyre is also similar to Cuckoo's nest because of the gender issue between Jane and Rochester, but the power that Rochester tries to keep hold of over Jane.

Katina T said...

As the book goes on, McMurphy continues to test Nurse Ratched, and starts a rebellious streak with the other patients. Such as Bromden refusing to take his sleeping pills, or Cheswick speaking up about cigarette proportions. But when McMurphy finds out that most of the patients are not committed, and voluntarily go to the hospital, he questions why the other patients stay. Billy explains that they’re not as “big, strong, and brave” as McMurphy. He also found out why the others were so scared of Nurse Ratched before he came. She controls who goes to shock therapy and lobotomies. Which isn’t really legal, but she can do it anyways. She also controls who can stay and who leaves. After learning about this, McMurphy, at first, tones down his rebellion. He complies to Nurse Ratched’s ruled, but then sees that he is just conforming to what he doesn’t want to be a part of, and resumes back to his original rebellion, such as when he smashes Nurse Ratched’s window. But because he has decided to take the punishments from Nurse Ratched for acting out, he loses strength as he has to go through the shock treatments. Nurse Ratched’s influence over these patients, is not the only female influence in the book. It seems that power and feminism coincide with each other to control the males in the book. Such as Bromden’s mother, who belittles her husband, turning the chief of a tribe, into a weakling. Also, Billy’s mother doesn’t allow him to mature sexually. When Billy finally regains some masculinity by having sex with Candy, he is happy until Nurse Ratched plans to tell his mother, which leads him to kill himself. These women always seem to win the battle in the long run. Nurse Ratched also feels as if she will win the battle as time goes on too. She controls whether McMurphy can leave or not, and therefore, no matter what, she always has the time to win back a battle that she has lost before. For example, on page 174, after McMurphy broke the window, Bromden says, “After that, McMurphy had things his way for a good long while. The nurse was bidding her time till another idea come to her that would put her on top again. She knew she’d lost one big round and was losing another, but she wasn’t in any hurry. For one thing, she wasn’t about to recommend release; the flight could go on as long as she wanted, til he made a mistake or till he just gave out, or until she could come up with some new tactic that would put her back on top in everybody’s eyes.” She has all the time in the world to break McMurphy down, and does exactly this. She tries to turn the other patients against him. But this fails because the patients realize that McMurphy always tries to help them. Nurse Ratched sees her plan failing, and sends McMurphy in for countless shock treatments and eventually a lobotomy. She wants to give McMurphy a punishment worse than death by turning him into a vegetable. She would be making him living proof of what happens when a patient stands up to her. But Bromden dignifies McMurphy by suffocating and killing him. Bromden made sure the McMurphy would remain a symbol of a martyr for the ward. Therefore, it was another win for the patients, and ending with a loss for Nurse Ratched.

Brianna A said...

As Kesey’s novel continues more truth about safety and invisibility comes out. McMurphy discovers later on that most of the patients are there voluntarily. McMurphy does not understand why they would want to stay, imprisoned and powerless. Billy Bibbit for example has strong issues with women. Although he is in his thirties his fear and disabilities – like his stuttering – make him seem a lot younger. His mother is good friends with Nurse Ratched so being in the institution never really frees him from abuse. But Billy tells McMurphy that is afraid of the world as are many other patients. As bad or helpless their lives may be within the hospital, at least its safe from the torments of the world. As these patients are being looked down upon by society for being different or ill they are within their own comfort and element within the walls of society. They are not in control of their lives, they don’t have to worry about being seen or heard or making something of themselves. In the hospital they can easily drift along and they were doing this until McMurphy came along to question their stability and strength. If they are invisible then no one will disturb them, but McMurphy smashes through the glass, twice, anyways. Even when the glass is fixed and McMurphy leaves it alone, it is accidentally smashed. One Flew over the Cuckoo’s nest is very similar to The Awakening in the way that these characters are trapped in their safe bubble where maybe they are not really living but they are comfortable and naïve. Edna awakens herself however, where as McMurphy awakens characters such as Billy Bibbit. Sexuality is also a way to challenge their awakening. Once Billy Bibbit has sex he is awakened and able to find his confidence in himself. Kesey is challenging the victims of society to challenge back and break out of their safety to find that maybe they are not the crazy ones after all.