Gender Rolls in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
The 1950s was a decade characterized by traditional gender roles of women as homemakers regulated to the domestic aspect and men as providers. In the 1960s however, stereotypical gender roles were being pushed as American society was swept up in the “drug culture, the civil rights movement, and wave of feminism”. While American society underwent a variety of social transformations, American authors, such as Ken Kesey, responded to the changing gender roles. By demonizing powerful women and uplifting once-powerful men, Ken Kesey’s “One FLew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” promotes sexism and ultimately holds the misogynistic stance that powerful women need to be subjugated.
In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, powerful female characters are demonized as “ball cutters” (Kesey 54) as they do not adjust to traditional female roles and they emasculate the men. Bromden, the half Native- American narrator, has a mother who constantly dominates her husband and even takes her last name for the family instead of the husband’s last name. His father feels weak and helpless because of the dominance his wife holds. Billy babbitt commits suicide when the nurse Ratched threatened to tell his mom about his first sexual encounter. He said that he would rather die than be disapproved by his mom. Through such negative portrayals, Kesey argues overpowering women are a destructive force that drives normal men into insanity.
Secondly, Kesey conveys women to be evil and malicious through conversations between the patients. Kesey flips gender roles and shows a smaller “society” when ran by powerful women. On page 54 in the book “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” Mcmurphy tells harding that the session weakend harding because everyone attacked him where it hurts worse, in his vitals. The Big Nurse “pecks” at all the patients and the women are hurting them to make them more powerful. “Anointest my head with conduct. Do I get a crown of thorns?’ (Kesey 270). The patients are given electric shock therapy from the nurses and it hurts them and they still do it showing their power over the men. The patients and Mcmurphy mostly stubbornly refuse to submit to female power throughout the book.
Throughout the book, Kesey builds up tension between Mcmurphy and Nurse Ratched to set up the book’s climax, a sexist illustration that powerful women need to be dominated. At first, Mcmurphys final attack on nurse ratched appeared to be a physical outburst, but according to Vitkus “Mcmurphys attack on the big nurse is not merely an attempt to kill her- it is in fact rape, only the sexual violation of the big nurse can guarantee a conclusive victory for the men of the ward” (Kesey 82). Before choking Nurse ratched, mcmurphy tears off her uniform to reveal her large breasts which signifies her femininity, a thing to which she tried to conceal. Kesey’s “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” acually condones the “rape” of the big nurse with the remark of bromden saying the attack was “a hard duty that finally just had to be done, like it or not” (kesey 275). With the book condoning the attack, it moves past sexism to misogyny, representing a “dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women” (oxford dictionary).
The book focuses on Mcmurphy a lot due to his constant challenging of Nurse Ratched by refusing to listen to her commands and correcting her when she calls him the wrong name. This is used to remind the male patients what a man is supposed to look like when he is not belittled.
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