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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - Barron's Booknotes
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Such women gain their power over men in two ways. They
oppress men's sexuality. Harding and McMurphy agree that
Nurse Ratched's control comes from the fact that men can't be
sexually aroused by her; Mrs. Bibbit has prevented Billy from
becoming a functioning adult by preventing him from losing
his virginity. Just as important, they destroy men's ability to
laugh. McMurphy says, "A man go around lettin' a woman
whip him down till he can't laugh anymore, and he loses one of
the biggest edges he's got on his side. First thing you know he'll
begin to think she's tougher than he is..."

Opposed to the Nurse and her kind are women like Candy Starr
and her friend, Sandy, the Japanese-American nurse, the girl in
the cotton mill. These women are, if not sexually free, at least
unafraid of their sexuality.

This blaming of the ills of modern society on women, and the
seeming division of women into castrators and good-hearted
whores, may have been at least slightly inadvertent on Kesey's
part. He does have McMurphy state that ball-cutters can be
"young and old, men and women"; the girl in the cotton mill is
as much a victim of the Combine as Chief Bromden;
McMurphy points out that Dale Harding treats his wife fully as
badly as she treats him. In these portions of the book we can
see possibilities of sexual equality the rest of Cuckoo's Nest
seems to deny.

13. The patients in Nurse Ratched's ward have entered the
hospital after suffering a variety of failures in the outside
world: Harding's bitter marriage, Billy's domination by his
mother, the Chiefs years of mistreatment as an Indian. And
they suffer a variety of symptoms: Billy's stuttering, the Chief's
apparent deaf-muteness, Harding's uncontrollable hands.

Yet in Kesey's view-which is that of a novelist, not a
psychiatrist-the men are not so much victims of mental illness
as of fear instilled in them by society. Unlike McMurphy, they
are unable to accept themselves as they are, with all their flaws,
all their contradictions, and this makes them easy prey for
Nurse Ratched and her allies. As the Chief says when he looks
at himself in the mirror, "It don't seem like I ever have been
me." Harding puts it even more openly. He came to the
hospital, he says, out of "Guilt. Shame. Fear. Self-
belittlement.... I indulged in certain practices that our society
regards as shameful. And I got sick. It wasn't the practices, I
don't think, it was the feeling that the great, deadly pointing
forefinger of society was pointing at me-and the great voice of
millions chanting, 'Shame. Shame. Shame.'"

Only by ignoring that voice, Kesey seems to be saying, can
men enjoy the laughter and the free sexuality that is their
birthright; only by fighting fear can they remain sane.

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - Barron's Booknotes

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