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Misogynistic And Sexist Undertones In "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest"

1564 words - 6 pages

From the moment that the apple touched Eve’s lips, women have been seen as an embodiment of all that is evil. This reflects misogynistic societal beliefs that women are below men. While many of the prejudices towards women are hidden in modern American society, some misogynistic stereotypes are still present. In Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, one can see many misogynistic and sexist undertones. Big Nurse Ratched is in a position of authority over a large group of men and is seen as a tyrannical and unjust ruler. Although most of her methods would have been seen as awful when used by any person, the saturation of bad women in the novel creates an unfavorable picture of women in general. The balance of power in the ward is never equal; it is either in the hands of women, or of men. Nurse Ratched is determined to take power from the men, while McMurphy is determined to win it back. Therefore, a push-pull situation is created, in which each group is attempting to take power from the other. Kesey’s misogynistic tones create the feeling that men and women cannot be equal; for one to rise, the other must fall.
One of the defining characteristics that embody men is their manhood. Take away this manhood, and the person is stripped of power, thus becoming genderless. One of Nurse Ratched’s methods for extracting power is a metaphorical castration. From the moment McMurphy enters the ward, he understands the nurse’s methods. He knows that “what she is is a ball-cutter… [she tries] to make you weak” (54). McMurphy goes on to tell the men that by removing their balls, the Nurse is removing a source of their strength. By implying that men’s power resides in their sexuality, Kesey is giving in to sexual stereotypes about men. In order to completely castrate the men, the nurse needs to remove all sexual temptation that might allow them to regain power. Therefore, she “attempts to conceal [her breasts] in [a] sexless get-up” (64). In order for McMurphy and the men to regain power, they must regain their sexuality and reveal the nurse’s. McMurphy’s final stand against the nurse involves him “ripp[ing] her uniform all the way down the front” (275) and revealing breasts that she had concealed. With this metaphorical rape, Kesey is equating the men regaining power with sexual dominance over women. The rape of the nurse is seen as a heroic act by McMurphy, which conveys the misogynistic message that men have a right to sexual power over women. The way that McMurphy performs this rape is effectively silencing the nurse, as he had his “heavy red fingers [in] the white flesh of her throat” (275). Using silence in conjunction with a metaphorical rape gives a further misogynistic tone, as McMurphy is exerting sexual dominance as well as stopping her from being able to speak out against him, or any man. Because this is McMurphy’s final action, it is seen as his greatest one. Therefore, the man who can break a woman is seen as an ideal specimen.
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