In life. Through the conflict between Nurse

In Ken Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the author refers to the many struggles people individually face in life. Through the conflict between Nurse Ratched and McMurphy, the novel explores the themes of individuality and rebellion against conformity. With these themes, Kesey makes various points which help us understand which situations of repression can lead an individual to insanity. These points include: the effects of sexual repression, woman as castrators, and the pressures we face from society to conform.

Through these points, Kesey encourages the reader to consider that people react differently in the face of repression, and makes the reader realize the value of alternative states of perception, rather than simply writing them off as “crazy.” In the novel, Kesey suggests that a healthy expression of sexuality is a key component of sanity and that repression of sexuality leads directly to insanity. For example; by treating him like an infant and not allowing him to develop sexually, Billy Bibbet’s mother causes him to lose his sanity.

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Missing from the halls of the mental hospital are healthy, natural expression of sexuality between two people. Perverted sexual expressions are said to take place in the ward; for example; Bromden describes the aides as “black boys in white suites committing sex acts in the hall” (p.9). The aides engage in illicit “sex acts” that nobody witnesses, and on several occasions it is suggested that they rape the patients, such as Taber.

Nurse Ratched implicitly permits this to happen, symbolized by the jar of Vaseline she leaves the aides. This shows how she condones the sexual violation of the patients, because she gains control from their oppression. McMurphy’s sanity is symbolized by his bold and open insertion of sexuality which gives him great confidence and individuality. This stands in contrast to what Kesey implies, ironically and tragically, represents the institution.

One of the most controversial points McMurphy makes in the novel is fear of woman as castrators. The women in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest are uniformly described as threatening and terrifying figures. Most of the male patients have been damaged by relationships with overpowering women. For example; Bromden’s mother is portrayed as a castrating woman; her husband took her last name, and she turned a big strong chief into a small, weak alcoholic. According to Bromden, she “got twice his size; she made him too little to fight anymore and he gave up” (p.

187). By constantly putting him down, she built herself up emotionally, becoming bigger than her husband. The hospital, run by women, treats only male patients. Through nurse Ratched’s strict regime, we see how women have the ability to emasculate even the most masculine of men. An example of this can be seen when a patient named Rawler commits suicide by cutting off his own testicles. Brombden remarks that “all the guy had to do was wait,” (p.

57) implying that the women running institution itself would have castrated him in the long run. More images and references to castration appear later in the novel. When Nurse Ratched suggests taking more drastic measures on McMurphy with “an operation,” he jokes about castration despite knowing full well that she is referring to a lobotomy. Both operations remove a man’s individuality, freedom, and ability for sexual expression. Kesey portrays the two operations as symbolically the same to make this point. The hospital, just like society, suppresses the individuality of the patients by gaining control of their lives and forcing them to conform. In the novel, the mental hospital is a metaphor for the oppression Kesey sees in modern society. Through Brombden’s narration, we see how his way of interpreting the world emphasizes the oppressive.

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