One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest | Study Guide

Ken Kesey

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Course Hero, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Study Guide," July 28, 2016, accessed September 21, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/One-Flew-Over-the-Cuckoos-Nest/.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest | Part 1, Chapter 5 | Summary

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Summary

During the daily therapy meeting, Nurse Ratched attempts to return to the previous day's topic of Dale Harding's relationship with his wife, but McMurphy sidelines the conversation. Unamused, Nurse Ratched details McMurphy's own history for Dr. Spivey, erroneously referring to him as "Mr. McMurry." McMurphy defends himself, bypassing Nurse Ratched and speaking only to Dr. Spivey, who is enormously entertained by his new patient. After a brief explanation of the meeting rules and Dr. Spivey's theory of the Therapeutic Community, the group goes back to discussing Harding and his wife.

McMurphy confronts Harding after the meeting, insisting that Harding was just subjected to "a peckin' party," or an event where the presence of blood leads chickens to peck one another to death, led by none other than Nurse Ratched. Harding vehemently defends the head nurse before confessing that all of the men realize how awful Nurse Ratched is—they're just terrified to say it out loud. They are scared little rabbits, and Nurse Ratched is the wolf. Harding explains that it's the natural law of the world that the strong survive by "devouring the weak."

McMurphy doesn't buy it. Harding points out that the only way a man can control a woman is through sex, and even McMurphy wouldn't get close to the nurse with a 10-foot pole. Yet McMurphy is certain that he can beat the nurse at her own game. He bets the men that he can "get her goat" by the week's end without getting himself sent to the so-called Disturbed ward (the area of the facility where the most serious treatments are administered) or the Shock Shop. Harding and the rest of the men eagerly accept his offer.

Analysis

Chapter 5 is all about power—who has it, who wants it, and how it is acquired. McMurphy's admittance has put Nurse Ratched's authority into question. When she brings up his sordid history, he defends himself to Dr. Spivey, not to her. McMurphy automatically and incorrectly assumes that the man in the room is the person in charge. In fact, the only time he speaks directly to the nurse is to threaten her when she continues to call him by the name of McMurry. Dr. Spivey, however, knows his place in the ward; he, too, is afraid to laugh at McMurphy's antics in front of the head nurse.

Nurse Ratched uses emasculation to control the men on her ward, something McMurphy picks up on immediately. He tells Harding that she is pecking at the source of male virility, the testicles.

While Kesey connects a man's power to his sexuality, a woman's power comes from being sexless. The only way to show a woman "who's king of the mountain" is through sex, meaning there is no way to control a woman if men do not find her desirable. Nurse Ratched knows this, which is why she has gone to great lengths to hide every aspect of her femininity. All that remains visible of her womanhood are her large breasts, but even they are not enough to attract McMurphy to a "ball-cutter." Unless McMurphy can find another way to control Nurse Ratched, she has already won.

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