The Role of Men and Women in Ken Kesey's One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest

1181 Words Jun 11th, 2013 5 Pages
In a perfect world, men and women would live as equals, sharing power in all aspects of life. While this may be an appealing notion, it is nonexistent in society. Strong men are seen by women as abusive and dominating, while strong women are seen by men as castrating and emasculating. The text of Ken Kesey’s novel, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, in many ways, conforms to the structure of conventional male myth and asks the reader to accept that myth as a heroic pattern. From a masculinist perspective, it offers a charismatic hero in Randle Patrick McMurphy, a figure of spiritual strength and sexual energy, whose laughter restores the patients of the mental institution to life and confounds the combine’s “machines,” or authoritarians. …show more content…
In the struggle between McMurphy and the Big Nurse, good and evil are represented in the form of male and female. This struggle is clearly marked as a sexual one: Nurse Ratched derives a great deal of her power from her ability to infantilize and humiliate the men – to render them sexless. McMurphy calls her a “ball-cutter,” and according to Harding's analogy she is the “wolf” who has turned the men into castrated “rabbits.” As Robert Forrey describes in his article, “Ken Kesey's Psychopathic Savior: A Rejoinder,” “the premise of the novel is that women ensnare, emasculate, and, in some cases, crucify men” (Forrey 224). The events at the end of the novel confirm the text's masculinist perspective, leaving the reader with a disturbing sense that McMurphy's sacrifice is necessary in order to carry out the ritual violation of the “mother” that is demanded by the male community of the ward. This displays the anti-feminist theme of the text.

The masculine approach of the text creates a dichotomy between the males and females of the ward. During his shock therapy, Bromden recalls a tune he used to sing with his grandmother, which provides insight into the division between the male patients and Nurse Ratched:

Ting, Tingle, tingle, tremble toes, she’s a good fisherman, catches hens, puts ‘em inna pens…wier blier, limber lock, three geese inna flock…one flew east, one flew west, one flew over the cuckoo’s nest…O-U-T spells out…goose swoops down and…