Gender Issues in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest

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A.P. English A

Reoccurring Gender issues in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
One of the major themes expressed in Ken Kesey's One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest is gender role reversal. Stereotypically speaking males are hardened authoritarians and women are passive non-aggressors. In One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest these roles are inverted, showing the inhumane, chaotic world of a mental institution. Nurse Ratched, Mrs. Bibbit, and Vera Harding, are the three main power figures of the novel that demonstrate how this is accomplished.

Nurse Ratched is the head nurse of her ward. Unlike the other head nurses of the mental hospital Nurse Ratched thrives off the power that she holds, and demands control of every aspect of her patients lives. She also is able to control her superiors, such as Dr. Spivey, head of the metal hospital, through shear intimidation. By many patients, especially by Randle Patrick McMurphy, the protagonist of the novel, Nurse Ratched is referred to in blatant sexual terms. This is because of her rather large breasts, which seem to be out of place on such a cold woman, that are a symbol for the sexuality that she tries to hide. This fact in itself is significant because it compares to how men try to hide emotion. Chief Bromden, a schizophrenic and narrator of the novel brings attention to this when he says that "A mistake was made somehow in manufacturing, putting those big, womanly breasts on what otherwise would have been a perfect work, and you can see how bitter she is about it" (Kesey 11). While most women are comfortable with their sexuality Nurse Ratched tries to hide her sexuality just as a stereotypical man tries to hide signs of emotion. This is good example of how gender roles are reversed in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest.
Billy Bibbit, a patient of Nurse Ratched's ward in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, has always lived in the shadow his mother's control. Billy has an uncontrollable problem that causes...