This is the second time that I have read “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. The first time, I really was interested in Chief Bromden and McMurphy but the second time reading the text, Nurse Ratched gained more of my attention. Numerous times, the novel states that Nurse Ratched was an army nurse. As far as I know, it doesn’t state when she was a nurse, so I decided to look into women serving in the Armed Forces during the 1950s. According to the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation, the 1950s was a rough time for women who served in the military. In 1948, President Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act. This act established a permanent place for women in the armed forces. However, due to the cultural norms of the time, the military had difficulty with the new law. The military need (hu)manpower since the Korean War was about to begin but the viewpoint of the time stated that women weren’t supposed to be soldiers, they were supposed to be wives and mothers. Women who served during the 1950s had “pink collar” jobs. They held positions in personnel and administration and their basic training consisted of classes that focused on makeup and etiquette. Overall, women in the military had it hard during the 1950s. Women weren’t supposed to be soldiers but their country needed them. Women could serve but they couldn’t have certain careers. Nursing was a fine career to have because it is considered a “pink collar” job. So, Nurse Ratched had a job that was considered to be a feminine job but at the end of the day, she still lived in a man’s world and she needed to survive. In the novel, Kesey writes, “Army nurses, trying to run an Army hospital. They are a little sick themselves”. Nurse Ratched was an army nurse! The military is a man’s world and in order for Nurse Ratched to survive in that hyper-masculine world, she needed to act like a man. Nurse Ratched is considered to be cold and heartless, which she is, but she needed to be cold and heartless in order for her to do her job as an army nurse. The Nurse saw injured and dead men on a daily basis and this had to have a great impact on her. As the saying goes, emotions can cloud one’s vision and when the vision is to heal men who were harmed in war, your vision can’t be clouded. On top of that, both the military and society saw emotions as weakness. If the nurse’s emotions impacted her job (a very important job), then she would be considered weak. It is not proper for one to be weak if they are in the military. If Nurse Ratched wanted to do her job correctly and survive in the military, she needed to be a cold and heartless women.
Nurse Ratched had an important job in the military and she had an important job outside of the military. The military taught Nurse Ratched to be cold and heartless and those ideas stuck with her. The novel takes place in 1962 and the second wave of feminism was just emerging. Women weren’t supposed to be the boss, but especially not the boss of men. Nurse Ratched was in a position of power and the only way that she could gain power was by being a cold and harsh women( Side Note: I don’t know how she could be taken seriously by the men, if she wasn’t cold and heartless. How else could she have had that powerful of a position in a society that saw women just as wives and mothers? Maybe that’s a good question for class). The military institution harmed Nurse Ratched, just as the psychiatry institution harmed the men.
Another Side Note: While writing this, I was reminded of a “Humans of New York” post. You may or may not like Hillary Clinton, but I think the article is relevant to the text.
“1950s.” History and Collections: Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation, Inc., George Mason University, chnm.gmu.edu/courses/rr/s01/cw/students/leeann/historyandcollections/history/lrnmre1950s.html. Accessed 29 Oct. 2016.