Characters and Stereotypes in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Essay Example

  • Category: Literature, Novels,
  • Words: 1035 Pages: 4
  • Published: 07 June 2021
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Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is undoubtedly one of the greatest psychological explorations introduced to the world of fiction. Through the unique standpoint provided via the eyes of Chief Bromden, readers are given a vivid impression of the patient’s psychological states that are constantly manipulated by the dictatorship Nurse Ratched holds over their heads. By providing a wide perspective that the readers have the ability to experience, Ken Kesey puts himself in an unrestrictive position where he can discuss a variety of characteristics without having to worry about providing too much detail. In doing this, Kesey is able to demonstrate the patient’s masculinity, or rather their lack of such, as the main disability leading to their, mainly voluntary, institutionalizations. 

Through his skillful use of metaphor implementation and sedulous characterization, Kesey indicates that the prime reason of the patients’ admittances is because of their emasculated personalities. In doing such Kesey develops his stance that patriarchal roles are considerably normal and most effective, so in crude terms the novel works towards breaking down prejudices towards mental disabilities, but works toward building a prejudice towards gender. 

The most explicit example exhibiting the stigma of emasculation as a representation of disability would be Kesey’s assertion that a lack of masculinity is the ultimate reason that the majority of the patients voluntarily institutionalized themselves. Upon the introduction of McMurphy to the ward, Harding goes into a great metaphor suggesting that he and the patients of the ward display characteristics following those of “rabbits,” also known as “the weak” (Kesey 64) bunch. Extending on the metaphor, throughout the novel it is pointed out that the men consistently think of themselves as failures, as they lack even the simplest of things like the “stereotyped sexual promiscuity” (Leach) demonstrated by both rabbits and men such as McMurphy.

Although Harding never specifically identifies the gender to which he is speaking about, the attributes he is associating to both the patients and Nurse Ratched, “a good strong wolf” (Kesey 64), are suggestive of stereotypical gender roles. His inadequate confidence in his masculinity is suggestive of the dynamic of “hegemonic masculinity,” a concept that is accrediting to “‘men who are strong, courageous, aggressive, independent, [and] self-reliant.’” (Leach) - in metaphoric terminology, wolves. In doing so, he accounts for the fact that he is a rabbit, and therefore unable to fit in a world that “belongs to the strong.” (Kesey 64) Furthering his development on the reason as to why he and the others are in the institution, he broadly states that it is because they are incapable of adjusting to their “rabbithood.” (Kesey 64) Harding elucidates to emasculation being the prime reason of their admittance to the ward, and thus fully implies that it is at least a considerable part of their disability.

Emasculating characterization of the characters

When taking a more individualistic look at the emasculating characterization of the characters, the link between gender and disability gains prominence over the supposed mental and emotional disabilities being treated at the institution. Take into consideration Harding, who’s most concerned subject at the group therapy sessions is his wife. It is clear from the beginning of the first group therapy session that Harding feels emasculated by his wife and her “ample bosom [that] at times gives him a feeling of inferiority” (CITE) It is clearly noted in Kesey’s novel that Harding’s wife is seemingly an equal to Harding as she is “‘as tall as he is,’ ‘carries her purse like a book,’ and ‘hate[s]’ her marital name.” (Leach) However Harding does not directly infer that he feels emasculated until he discusses the term better half with McMurphy, as he states that the term is meant to indicate an implication of “equal division” (CITE) - something “he clearly feels is absent.” (Leach) Concluding Harding’s clear lack of masculinity as being his own disability would be his absence of any overt symptoms of an actual mental disability, making his emasculation the actual “manifestation if his disability.” (Leach)

While Harding’s lack of masculinity was unparalleled by any observable symptoms of an actual mental disability, Billy Bibbit’s emasculation fell in correspondence with changes in his speech impediment. The most prominent example demonstrating this concept would be the strengthening of Billy’s masculinity upon the arrival of Candy - McMurphy’s prostitute friend. Well before the party occurs in the ward, it is clearly seen that Billy demonstrates a great attraction towards Candy, who in turn asks him whether or not he truly is “phrenic this and pathic that” claiming that he does not “look like he [would] have all [those] things” (CITE) Billy’s overcoming of his emasculation-as-a-disability occurs at the party where he spends the night with Candy, and comes out seemingly fixed as his stammer is gone. However, upon the arrival of the main emasculating figure – Nurse Ratched – he quickly regains his stammer, indicating that he has once again lost his masculinity. His inability to overcome his evident fear of Nurse Ratched and his own emasculation insinuates the initial reason behind his institutionalization. Furthering the clear reason behind his entering of the ward would be his physical manifestation of his emasculation-as-a-disability, thereby proving that the reason he is unable to leave, and essentially the reason he was forced to enter the institution, would be his lack of masculinity.

Chief Bromden’s struggle with emasculation is also one that is representative of his own disability. It is thought that Chief Bromden’s lack of masculinity is rooted from his mixed-race heritage where his drunk, Indian father is subject to his white, wife’s, Chief Bromden’s mother, oppressive nature. While the majority of the patients struggle to regain their masculinity, throughout the novel Chief Bromden works towards overcoming his struggle with emasculation upon meeting McMurphy; ultimately regaining it by the end of the novel. Following his regaining of his masculinity, Bromden associate it with his cognitive hallucinations of a foggy atmosphere. Nearing the end of the novel, Bromden works towards battling his final fog delusions where he says the room is “fogging a little, but I won’t slip off and hide in it. No… never again” (Kesey ___) Upon saying this, along with the fact that it was directly after he defended McMurphy – the action that led to his re-masculization – a clear correspondence between his emasculation and cognitive impairments becomes apparent indicating how his lack of masculinity is in relation to his initial institutionalization.

In order to effectively remove the common stereotypes associated with mental disabilities to improve the character’s individuality, Kesey replaces a disability with a representation of emasculation. By the end of the novel readers do not only have a better understanding of the characters and the stereotypes associated with mental disability, but they are also exposed to Kesey’s support of “the normalcy of patriarchal gender roles” (Leach).



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