Grit, Analysis 4

When I was concluding my reading of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I found myself wondering about the process of diagnosing mental illness and how that can relate to social and cultural norms which could impact our view of people who contradict those “norms”. I was first drawn to this idea when reading through the section when McMurphy is returned to the ward as is described saying “The ward door opened, and the black boys wheeled in this Gurney with a chart at the bottom that said in heavy black letters, McMurphy, Randle P. Post-Operative. And below this was written in ink, Lobotomy” (278). After all of his time rebelling against the system Nurse Ratched developed in the hospital, he lashed out and in a sense took the power away from Nurse Ratched for a moment and that led him to be lobotomized. In fact, all of the “treatments” received by the patients follow acts of rebellion against the psychiatric system they are all trapped in. This led me to consider that perhaps they are receiving these treatments merely because they are not adhering to the system and their non-conformity is considered the stem of their mental illness.

The concept seemed intriguing to me and I considered if perhaps our diagnosis of what we perceive as mental illness could be considered a mere reluctance to adhere to the social standards and regulations of society. Harding is a prime example of misdiagnosis in the novel because he is not, in fact, mentally ill, but merely does not adhere to the societal norms of the time because of his homosexuality and is therefore institutionalized for being different. When I decided to look further into this concept outside of the novel I found an article entitled “Defining Normal: Constructions of Race and Gender in the DSM-IV Casebook” in which this idea is described stating

“Social constructionists contend that the discourse

on mental illness that guides psychological theory and practice, and thus

the diagnostic categories presented in the DSM-IV, are shaped by 1) definitions

of ‘normal’ that stem from a partial and elite perspective, and 2) stereotypical

notions of gender, race/ethnicity and sexuality.” (2).

Social constructionist theories apply easily to the novel as it is clearly portrayed that those who are not identified as “normal” in society are institutionalized and labeled as mentally ill. When McMurphy challenged the rules of society in the institution, it became attributed to his “mental illness” and consequently he was given “treatments” which to the patients are viewed as punishment for not following the rules.

Billy is another excellent example of misdiagnosis as he is institutionalized due to his immature nature and stutter which can both be attributed to an inability to conform to gender norms at the time. Viewing his diagnosis from a social constructionist point of view, Billy was institutionalized due to his lack of masculinity which is expected of men, just as Harding is institutionalized for his sexuality. Both characters do not conform to the gender norms and sexual norms of society and therefore are considered mentally ill.

Cermele, Jill A., Sharon Daniels, and Kristin L. Anderson. Defining Normal: Constructions of Race and Gender in the DSM-IV Casebook. , 2001. Accessed 31 Oct. 2016.


2 thoughts on “Grit, Analysis 4

  1. Trevor Sundelius

    I, too pondered this question myself, and very much agree with your stance about why McMurphy was inevitably lobotomized. Nurse Ratched was finally feeling like she was out of control and McMurphy at the time was the symbol of her loss of control that she directly and indirectly loved so much. And so at this point in time, as I have written about in my earlier blog post, lobotomies did not hold water very long and even at the introduction of the surgery. The surgery was Nurse Ratched’s way of foiling the other patient’s rebellion of sorts, and who better to go after than the leader for your power back. No one would very much question it, considering even though it was always a controversial procedure it was still a recognized surgery. Nurse Ratched, in my opinion, had to have known this and used it as her ultimate trump card, which she could use theoretically on any of the other patients who may have been on the brink of attempting to recreate the same atmosphere as McMurphy or anyone else who even questioned her authority. She, from that moment on, ruled by fear as opposed to the illusion of true power and authority in which McMurphy challenged.

    However to your point of diagnosing those of whom are “mentally ill,” I would like to add our narrator, Chief Bromden. While yes, he was in fact pretending to be deaf and dumb, he was in fact arguable very advanced in his way of thinking, albeit those ways being kind of eccentric. His underlying messages were definitely cohesive and at times very precise, and even after spending quite some time in the institution he was never found out to have not been deaf nor dumb. Through this he actually makes a very fine narrator because he himself does not directly do things to become noticed by nurse Ratched, which was McMurphy’s downfall. However, by doing this, our narrator “drew in between the lines” and did not have any real reason in the nurse’s eyes and those of her staff to need to be treated in such a way.

    Even a famous actor, Warner Baxter, had a lobotomy that was ill-advised in order to attempt to cure his nagging arthritis. The surgery went as expected, however Baxter later died of pneumonia shortly after his procedure. These surgeries were like a fad in this time, with many americans willingly opting for it a couple decades before this book was made, ending very shortly after its publication. The idea that arthritis and mental illness could both be cured by the same surgery is very interesting considering this fad was only a few decades ago, during the time in which my parents were born, Perhaps it is easier to judge this surgery now in hindsight, however I am still a firm believer that Nurse Ratched was intentionally trying to quell the rebellion that McMurphy was spreading, knowing that the lobotomy would more than likely take away his motor abilities and his ability to speak and influence his fellow patients with his words.



  2. schillererica

    I find the discussion of conformity as it relates to this novel to be a very interesting concept, as well. Certainly it could be argued–and, indeed, I would argue–that the underlying theme of the novel is conformity. On paper, all those in the asylum have become its patients for a variety of reasons stated on paper, but ultimately their true crime is their failure to follow “proper” social protocol.

    There are multiple allusions to this notion of conformity, some of which are discussed outright, and some of which are implied in the subtext of the story. Chief Bromden’s obsession with the ever-present Combine, which exists only to exert its influence over and maintain order within society at large, is repeatedly discussed and emphasized. The doctors and nurses, including Nurse Ratched herself, seem singularly focused on the idea of returning their patients to some semblance of what they consider to be normalcy–or, rather, on the idea that these men are all flawed in a way that must either be corrected or isolated from the “Outside World.” Perhaps it could be argued that Chief Bromden, our narrator, has a special obsession with what is “normal,” but I think that the selection of the Chief as our narrator is not a coincidence in this regard. His uniquely physical manifestation of the pressures of society in the presence of the Combine and its mechanical parts makes an excellent narrative device; the analogy allows Kesey to make the social pressures of different situations obvious, simply by having the Chief mention the presence of his whirring machines.

    Nurse Ratched herself is another puzzle in conformity. She seems to be the hard fist of truth, the personification of society’s influence on the inmates, and takes it upon herself to teach them order and how to be “normal.” Going off your point of gender roles, however, and how many of the inmates seem to be in the asylum for their failure to adhere to conventional gender norms, I find it interesting that Nurse Ratchet also fails to adhere to expected societal roles. She is supposed to be this fist of neurotypicality, and yet like her patients she defies what is “normal” in her deviance from traditional gender roles. She holds authority over not only the patients, but over the entire male staff of the hospital, and goes out of her way to de-emphasize her feminine aspects while deriding her patients for doing the same with their masculine aspects. She is a strange and unconventional woman, despite how far she goes in her attempts to ensure adherence to what she believes is “correct.”



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