Category Archives: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Week 9 Review

Last night, we finished our discussion of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962).   We started with a short clip on what seemed like a related topic: Major League Baseball’s Daniel Norris, the counterculture pitcher who lives out of his 1978 Volkswagon van, despite making millions on the mound.  We watched this video about Norris, and in Writing Response 7,
we tried to connect his live to the novel.  This was mostly for kicks, but I do like the responses.  Here is the complete set:


My point was mostly that MLB is a hyper-capitalistic enterprise, in which the right commodity (like Norris) can be worth millions and millions of dollars.  Norris appears “crazy” for resisting the materialism that accompanies giant salaries, so like in “Bartleby,” we can see a connection between a socioeconomic system (capitalism) and neurotypicality.  I think Norris is a bit like Chief Bromden, who represents both the anti-capitalistic counterculture of the 1960s (the land his tribe lives on is purchased by the government or a corporation) and a kind of counter-cultural viewpoint (schizophrenia).

From here, we watched four clips from the 1975 film version of the novel–one that Ken Kesey apparently disliked.  The clips were as follows: the World Series vote; the fishing trip; the party, and the finale.  Before viewing these, we talked through some common cinematic elements (handout).  We had two main goals in viewing these clips–we wanted to find:

  •  A significant cinematic element in each clip
  • A significant difference from the novel
  • If the two of these connect, even better

After viewing the clips, we had an in-depth, far-ranging discussion (teachers take note: film v. novel comparisons almost always work!).  We noted a few things about Milos Forman’s cinematic techniques:

  • extreme closeups for psychological insights
  • natural lighting throughout
  • ambient sound
  • camera angles to emphasize Nurse Ratched’s power (and her weakness in the strangling scene)
  • soft lighting on Nurse Ratched

We also discussed significant differences between the film and the book.  First, the film decenters Chief Bromden, removing him from narrative duties in favor of a narrative perspective that often seems close to McMurphy himself.  We were not sure how a schizophrenic viewpoint would work, but removing all of the “fog” from the narrative perspective made the movie much less about what was real v. what was imagined by the Chief.  Another point in our conversation focused on the comedic effect of the “gang of crazies,” who are sometimes engaged in slapstick comedy (on the boat; during the party).

But by far the most significant question of the night was that of misogyny: I asserted that novel was misogynistic while the film was not.  This led to insights about the nature of being a woman in the 1960s and in the here and now.  My argument was based on the lack of “good” female characters in the book, (Ratched, Harding’s wife, Billy’s mother, the prostitutes), and especially on the invulnerable depiction of Nurse Ratched.  Many of you came to her defense, however, citing the difficulty of being a female nurse in a ward that housed rapists (including McMurphy) and outlining the stereotypical roles that women in power have to occupy (vixen, nurturer).  That Kesey never lets us see any vulnerabity, any sense that Ratched falls apart when she gets home, might make the case for a misogyny all the stronger.

Great class.  The summary doesn’t do it justice.





Marriage, Analysis Four: Gender According to Kesey

While reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest I was struck by the novel’s overall messages about gender, and as I am a Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies major I decided to conduct an analysis of the novel from a feminist perspective. In my research I found a number of sources to support my theory that the novel is very much a product of its time in its reinforcement of traditional gender roles.

The year 1962, in which the novel was released, was during the very beginnings of Second Wave feminism. Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique – widely credited with sparking the movement – was yet to be published. As such, women at this time remained ‘limited in almost every respect’ (Tavaana). Those who did not conform to societal expectations faced consequences such as mockery and ostracisation. Ken Kesey may have been projecting his own traditional views of gender in his portrayal of Nurse Ratched. The Nurse subverts gender roles by being in a position of power, but this is represented in a negative light due to her abuse of authority. The implication is that women must not be granted influence within society. In the novel’s climactic scene, McMurphy tears open Nurse Ratched’s shirt, revealing her breasts and thereby undermining her authority. The Nurse is unable to maintain her control after it is ‘exposed’ that she is in fact a woman, which elucidates the sexism of the era.

If Nurse Ratched is the overbearing matriarchal authority, McMurphy is the embodiment of patriarchal values sent to restore the ‘natural order’ and thus hailed as a hero. The reader is encouraged to feel empathetic towards McMurphy, despite the fact that he is a rapist. McMurphy uses his brand of aggressive masculinity to influence the other men of the ward to rebel. They consistently refer to the Nurse’s apparently ‘masculine’ appearance and attitudes, calling her ‘a bitch and a buzzard and a ball-cutter’ (Kesey 54). Kesey depicts McMurphy’s hypermasculinity as a positive influence that enables the other characters to break free from Ratched’s rule and assert their dominance as men. Part of this revolt involves the objectification of women, illustrated when McMurphy hires prostitutes Candy and Sandy to entertain the men. These women are the embodiment of female subservience and ‘[dedication] to pleasuring men’ (CliffsNotes). The men’s interaction with the prostitutes enforces that sexual drive is a natural aspect of masculinity. McMurphy’s characterisation and his influence on the other patients promotes aggression as a desired and appropriate expression of masculinity.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest conveys popular ideas of the early 1960s era in regards to gender. Nurse Ratched is depicted negatively in her nonconforming appearance and personality, while McMurphy is a promoter of supposed ‘positive’ masculinity. McMurphy’s attempts to overthrow Nurse Ratched can be read as a message about the ‘rightful’ place of masculinity within society.


CliffsNotes 2016, Critical Essays: The Role of Women in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Available from: [29 October 2016].

Kesey, K 1962, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Viking Press, New York.

Tavaana 2016, The 1960s-70s American Feminist Movement: Breaking Down Barriers for Women. Available from: [29 October 2016].


Fricke, Analysis 4

“’Come a long way,’” says fat-faced Public Relation. They’ve made life look very pleasant with paint and decorations and chrome bathroom fixtures. ‘A man that would want to run away from a place as nice as this,’ says fat-faced Public Relation, “why, there’d be something wrong with him“(99). 



After finishing the second half of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I was initially left feeling as though I’d been on an emotional roller-coaster.  I felt angry at McMurphy’s lobotomy, distraught at Billy’s death, bitter about Nurse Ratched, and joyful that the Chief finally escaped and found his voice. I thought about what aspect of the book I wanted to examine further in this blog post. A few things came to mind; I found the depictions of the black characters unsettling, I thought that perhaps Kesey was a bit misogynistic in the way that he portrayed women, and I also considered talking about the possible Freudian symbolism at work–and quickly threw that idea out because I am admittedly biased quite heavily against Freudian theories. I settled on examining the pathology within One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and how this pathologizing of symptoms relates to society today, and hopefully how it relates to the purposes of this class.


Mental illness is real and valid, and often requires individuals to seek out help from the medical community. The increasing awareness and (hopefully) de-stigmatization of mental illness and neurodivergency has opened up doors for people to get the help they need, especially as it concerns insurance companies.  However, the increase in diagnoses comes with a potential for pathologizing symptoms that would otherwise be considered normal, or perhaps strictly medical and not psychological. This is seen in what the characers in  One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest are institutionalized for–Harding, in for homosexual tendencies; Billy, in for the stutter he was born with; Sefelt and Frederickson whom are both in for epilepsy. McMurphy sees the fact that many of them aren’t ‘crazy’ and becomes frustrated after the patients compare themselves to helpless rabbits: “With a loud hissing o breath McMurphy turns from Harding to the rest of the Acutes standing around. ‘“Here; all you guys. What the hell is the matter with you? You ain’t as crazy as all this, thinking you’re some animal”‘ (52). It is clear that Nurse Ratched and the rest of the hospital serve to add to their helplessness in order to keep them there longer. It is later revealed that many of them, almost all of them, were there voluntarily, and though the hated it they were made to believe that they could not survive the real world.


I looked into this pathologizing, which is a real problem today. I found that “examples of mental health professionals pathologizing may include treating noncompliance with recommendations as evidence of a psychiatric disorder” ( Is this ringing any bells? Remember that Nurse Ratched counts noncompliance against the patients and uses it as evidence for harsher forms of ‘therapy’, such as electrotherapy and lobotomy. And while those specific risks are virtually a non-issue today, some other risks of over-diagnosing exist:

While some people’s behavior may indeed evidence a medical or mental health condition, no single condition or disorder can affect every single behavior or thought a person has, and pathologizing tends to negate the feelings, needs, and thoughts of people with mental health diagnoses. Pathologizing can also, paradoxically, cause mental health issues to be treated less seriously (



How does this relate to our class? We’ve been encountering characters within our readings that either intentionally or unintentionally exhibit characteristics of neurodivergency. It is worth asking ourselves if we at times pathologize these characters, and in doing so unintentionally adding to the problem of stigmatizing behaviors that are beyond the ‘norm.’ I guess what I’m trying to say is that just because something is different, it doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be treated.



Kesey, Ken. One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest: A Novel. New York: Viking, 1962. Print.

Fowler- Analysis 4

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, Accessed 29 Oct. 2016.

Week 8 Review

Last night, we dove into the most challenging text of the course so far: Ken Kesey’s counter-culture classic, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  We began by generating discussion questions on the text, which are included in their entirety below:


With many of the questions focusing on the narrator Chief Bromden, we spent quite a bit of time examining his role in the book.  We considered why Kesey might use a neurodivergent narrator (Bromden is often diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic).  Some of our answers included the idea that a ND perspective helps the reader blur the line between the insane and the sane, which is one of the major objectives of the text.  After all, if we like and believe Bromden, we are intellectually and emotionally cozying up to a schizophrenic mind–one that sees hallucinations and has grand conspiracy theories about the Combine, an imagined mechanical system that Bromden believes controls all of the residents of the hospital through surveillance and other means.  If we are close to this type of narrator, we might also believe that other residents in the hospital are more sane than insane, including the closeted homosexual Harding and the sexually repressed Billy.

By his own admission, Bromden is more interested in the truth than in facts, and this is another reason for him being an ideal narrator: there may not be a literal fog that roles in, but the mind of Bromden conjures the perfect metaphor for the kind of haze that many of the residents must experience–the fogginess created by prescription drugs, the mental fog that accompanies many mental disorders (especially  dementia), or even the fog of lies that Nurse Ratched and her aides perpetuate.  Bromden’s paranoid delusions about the Combine also point to a larger truth–that the neurodivergents in the hospital are completely under the control of the staff–and more broadly, that society itself is systematically purging its ranks of the mentally unsound. We can see that Bromden has internalized this system by adopting the classification system of “Acutes” and “Chronics,” and labeling himself a “Chronic,” or someone thrown away by society.

After the break, we continued our discussion of the novel, using three quotations by Michel Foucault, Bruno Bettleheim, and Freud (via Lois Tyson) to deepen our analysis of the text.  Roughly a contemporary of Kesey, Foucault argues in Madness and Civilization that asylums begin to have a therapeutic function starting in the late nineteenth century.  Instead of merely confining the mentally unstable to prison-like environment, the new asylums begin a moralizing and socializing rehabilitation.  The problem, for Foucault, is that the moralizing impulse of the institution results in the mentally unsound being considered morally degenerate–sinners who need to be righted through therapy and treatment.  We can see this kind of moralizing in Cuckoo’s Nest in the figure of Nurse Ratched, who uses surveillance and judgment (two important ideas to Foucault) to confess the men of their own guilt.

The second quotation came from Bettleheim, and in it, he advances the idea that institutions are places where autistic individuals can unlearn their “autistic response” to their emotionally distant mothers.  Bettleheim suggests that children need to be broken down, unlearn their previous behaviors, and then relearn more appropriate responses within the safe environment of the school/clinic.  In discussion, we discovered some key connections to Cuckoo’s Nest: the men are stripped down, literally and figuratively, as they enter the hospital.  Their training is social in nature: they are supposed to learn ways of acting in social settings.  Of course, under the sadistic Ratched, they mostly learn how to destroy each other.  One key question that was raised: do we lose “autistic culture” by trying to erase typically autistic behaviors, such as stimming, in a home or in an institutional environment?

Finally, it was on to Freud, and a brief summary of his tripartite model of the mind: superego, id, and ego.  Group members here suggested Freudian symbolic reading of the text, with McMurphy representing the id (fucking and fighting) and Nurse Ratched representing the superego (the embodiment of social conventions).  Could our narrator serve as the intermediary ego, negotiating the demands of the hospital with those of his newfound friend McMurphy?  Perhaps.  We ended by considering whether this symbolic a reading really fits what we know about Kesey: if he was skeptical of much of what he saw in the mental hospital where he worked, would he advance such an allegorically Freudian cast of characters?  Still, Kesey does seem influenced by Freudian thought: his male characters talk about their castration anxiety in no uncertain terms (Nurse Ratched is a “ball-cutter”), and their are hints that other characters may be understood from a Freudian perspective: Billy, for example, seems to have some kind of Oedipal complex occurring with his dominant mother.

Overall, a good, free-flowing discussion of an interesting, provocative book.  See you next time.

Sundelius, Analysis 3

This week’s reading really sparked an intrigue for me to think deeper and more critically of why mental health institutions then and even in minor remnants today chose to attempt to continue “curing” their patients through the method that if most civilians acted such ways, would be considered attempted murder, if the perpetrator was lucky.

file_000This was also prompted by a post I had seen (see left) on social media which from an anonymous author reads: “A child with autism is not ignoring you. They are waiting for you to enter their world.” Which I feel has implications in this text, as well. Not only with Chief Bromden’s pretending of being deaf and dumb to try and go unnoticed despite being 6’7 but also with how most of the patients were treated by the wicked Nurse Ratched. They were put into two metaphorical baskets; chronics who were un-curable and acutes whom they believed could still be cured.

The neurodivergent in general are sometimes just waiting to connect with others in a specific way to be because their view on the world could vary greatly from the neurotypical. The idea this can all of a sudden change by means of electroconvulsive (ETC) therapy is not all so bad, after some research into the therapy. I had been under the impression, like many, that this procedure even today was done under little or no anesthesia and the patient was in excruciating pain and that it had little positive benefits. This isn’t true by today’s standards based on information provided by the Mayo Clinic. In fact, quite the opposite is true today, however, with more research, this hasn’t always been the case. Back in the days when this book is set, ECT was still a therapy that was out-dated in terms of how it was being used at the time. Those days, the treatments were much more like that in which I described.

The second method of curing the patients that tickled my curiosity was the now-debunked concept of lobotomy, or literally removing parts of the brain, specifically the prefrontal lobe, that are seen as causes of the mental illness, as seen with McMurphy. He was paralyzed and essential in a “vegetable state,” and was suffocated by Chief Bromden in order to end the protagonist’s misery in the conclusion of his back-and-forth denial of Nurse Ratched’s reign in the institution whom also represented the conformity and societal stereotype that Bromden called the Combine. The curiosity of mine peaks most from it being only used to treat mental illness, and no other conditions, and then I found out the horrific way in which the procedure was performed through An ice pick looking object is inserted into the patient’s brain via the forehead though pulled-back skin after sawing two holes inside of their skill, an extremely inhumane way of conducting such a surgery even considering the technological and medical limitations of the past.

This, combined with the imagery of patients being bound with wrist cuffs with connectors on their heads to receive unnecessarily high levels of electric shocks was disturbing for me, and then I realized this was all a very brute show of strength by the staff considering even in the time this book is placed, they had already been aware that ECT and lobotomies were not as effective as they had originally thought when the treatments were introduced into the scientific world. It was Nurse Ratched and her aide’s way of maintaining their version of order and squashing the attempted and on occasion brilliantly successful rebellion of McMurphy and his fellow patients. A cruel, torturous power against those who needed special attention is a frightening idea, and luckily enough we have made progress in that area and continue that trend today.

Sources Cited:

Schweda, analysis 4: Bromden, reliable or nah?

“I been silent so long now it’s gonna roar out of me like floodwaters and you think the guy telling this is ranting and raving my God; you think this is too horrible to have really happened, this is too awful to be the truth! But, please. It’s still hard for me to have a clear mind thinking on it.  But it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen.” –Chief Bromden, page 8

I think one of the most important parts of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest is deciding on if you can trust a neuro-diverse narrator.  Chief Bromden is a Columbia Indian who suffers from schizophrenia.  While this is completely different than autism, Chief is still different than the nuerotypical people that work in the asylum. By pretending to be both deaf and mute, Chief appears powerless to the general public.  However, through his narration Chief reveals his power is his knowledge.  People talk freely around him, assuming he can’t reiterate what he hears when in reality, he understands and recalls everything. He defines himself as a “Chronic” or somebody who is in the hospital not to get fixed, but rather to stay off the street. I think this is important because it shows that Chief isn’t trying to fit the mold of the neurotypical.  He’s figured out the “combine” and has no interest in joining that world. However, Chief’s illness is real.  He suffers with schizophrenia which weakens his credibility.  The Brain and Behavior Foundation defines schizophrenia as the following:

“Schizophrenia is a severe, chronic, and generally disabling brain and behavior disorder.  Positive symptoms may include delusions, thought disorders, and hallucinations. People with schizophrenia may hear voices other people don’t hear, or believe other people are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts, or plotting to harm them. Negative symptoms may include avolition (a lack of desire or motivation to accomplish goals), lack of desire to form social relationships, and blunted affect and emotion. Cognitive symptoms involve problems with attention and memory, especially in planning and organization to achieve a goal. Cognitive deficits are the most disabling for patients trying to lead a normal life.”

Despite the diagnosis of schizophrenia, I think Chief Bromden is a perfect example of a reliable mentally ill narrator. He clearly has some hallucinations but overall, he’s a smart man who uses his mental illness to his advantage (like pretending to be deaf and mute to learn secrets).  He has an understanding of the hospital and the world in general that the reader can figure out using context clues. I really think that the reader can trust what Chief tells them as long as they can sort through the occasional hallucination. I think it’s a safe assumption that it would be a lot harder to trust the narrator if somebody like Murphey was telling the story rather than Chief.