The war against society is neverending. In Ken Kesey's novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, patients in a mental asylum fall under the rule of the supreme, Nurse Ratched and her merciless aides. Nurse Ratched holds ultimate control of the ward as well as over the patients, until Randle Patrick McMurphy's arrival. Nurse Ratched and McMurphy compete for power over the patients, but it is McMurphy's unselfish characteristics that win over the loyalty and respect of the men in the ward.
The 1950's was a time when pressures in society were at their highest point. People were fed up with the hypocrisy, but the only thing that they could do was to sell out and conform. McMurphy refuses to fall victim to the 'Combine' or hospital, which parallels with society itself, 'The Combine hasn't got to him in all these years; what makes that nurse think she's gonna be able to do it in a few weeks'? He's not gonna let them twist and manufacture him.'(140). He is a non-conformist in the purest sense. Initially, McMurphy has no intention of being the ward's savior, but he helps them realize that they 'She can't have you whipped. She can't burn you with hot irons. She can't tie you to the rack. They got laws about that sort of things nowadays; this ain't the Middle Ages. There's not a thing in the world she can-'(63). McMurphy is a threat to Nurse Ratched, he strives to disrupt the hospitals order. His rebellious acts of self-interest turned into motivation to help the men realize their individuality.
Nurse Ratched believes that her unorthodox methods were helping the patients become 'acceptable' members of society. She uses her authority to strip the men of any freedom and sense of identity they have by humiliating them and molding them to her liking. She desires control in every aspect; societal and physical. During one of their group meetings, McMurphy realizes Ratched's true motives, as evident in this quote: 'Is this the usual pro-cedure for these Group Ther'py shindigs? Bunch of chickens at a peckin party'?(55). The 'therapy' that Nurse Ratched forced them to participate in, only made the men tear each other apart. McMurphy's wish is to bring Nurse Ratched down, but he is always reminded that no matter what he does, she has the last word. 'You're committed, you realize. You are...under the jurisdiction of me'.'(127), the capabilities that come with her status outweigh McMurphy's, yet this does not hold him back.
McMurphy continually challenges Nurse Ratched's authority despite his status as a patient. He organizes a fishing trip with 10 other patients in spite of Nurse Ratched's attempts to cancel it. This trip helps the men realize that they are capable of acting for themselves. They could sense the change that most of us were only suspecting; these weren't the same bunch of weak-knees from a nuthouse that they'd watched take their insults on the dock this morning.'(215). McMurphy allowed the men to explore on their own and they returned with self confidence. McMurphy's final attempt to lead the patients to freedom is throwing a huge party that breaks every hospital rule. Because of the party, one of the patients, Billy Bibbit, commits suicide, he is incapable of dealing with the consequences that are brought upon by Nurse Ratched. This causes McMurphy to cross the line by tearing the Nurse's clothing. As punishment, Nurse Ratched orders a lobotomy for McMurphy, which ultimately ends his life.
In the end, McMurphy's struggle to humanize the patients cost him his life. Nurse Ratched defeats McMurphy physically, but he is the true victor in the battle. It is because of him that the men find inner strength and the will to escape the Combine.
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