Nurse Ratched

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History will show that women who procured stature and power in society have always struggled to keep their position, and those who tried to topple these women from their lofty perch were, more than likely, always men.  It is the same in Ken Kesey’s novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, in which the character, Nurse Ratched, struggles to keep her self-constructed domain together after an opposing enemy, named McMurphy, fights to pull power from her by causing a revolt.  In the end, Nurse Ratched wins the battle between her and McMurphy by having him lobotomized, but does she really win the age-old battle of male versus female by suppressing him? Another question is: Why do readers see Nurse Ratched as an evil and conniving woman for trying to save her own self-constructed domain?  Feminist critics point out that Kesey’s portrayal of Nurse Ratched is degrading because they truly believe she represents the negative personification of the female struggle for power.  However, there is a need to look at Nurse Ratched from a different point of view and reveal the positive qualities that Kesey is trying to portray in women through Nurse Ratched.  If we analyze the sexist language used to describe Nurse Ratched from a positive female perspective, we would notice that the control and power she uses is to maintain order in a chaotic environment that the men have created in her self-constructed domain.  Though the men on the ward see her as a dominating dictator, as readers, we need to take a leap of faith in order to understand that her dominating attitude is a calculated move to maintain order, which in turn, can be considered a positive character trait. Our goal is to look at Nurse Ratched from a female perspective but examine her in a positive light, while interpreting Kesey’s intentions as to why he uses sexist stereotypes to characterize a woman’s struggle to keep her domain.                 When Kesey released his novel in 1962, America was in the midst of a civil uprising that marked the beginning of a movement towards a national identity. At that time, we were a young nation, trying to define ourselves as we struggled with our diversity. One of the struggles prevalent during that period was the Women’s Liberation movement, which was “petitioning for equal opportunities and rewards for women” (Porter 5). Though the National Organization for Women did not begin operation until 1966, women in the early 1960s were struggling to make headway in a male-dominated society. Jobs for women in the workforce were limited to nurse, schoolteacher, retail salesperson, cleaning attendant, or waitress. When women rose to power in their field of work, men often watched them closely. It was common at the time for the men to make the daily decisions and then funnel them down to the women. However, when Kesey wrote his novel, he used an unconventional approach by putting a woman in charge of a mental asylum’s male ward. This, of course, would spark the most basic conflict setting in a plot: a woman in a position of power over men. In order to understand Nurse Ratched, we will need to analyze who she is as a person in order to formulate her existence in the story. This, in turn, will give us a better understanding of her actions. Nurse Ratched is described by the men on the ward as a “veritable angel of mercy” who is “unselfish” and “toils thanklessly for the good of all, day after day, five long days a week.” She “further serves mankind on her weekends off by doing generous volunteer work about town.” She also helps a young couple that is having a difficult time financially. She “sends them money for – scouring powder” and helps the “young bride” out by offering her “twenty dollars” to go “buy a decent dress” (59). Several years earlier Nurse Ratched’s colleague and best friend of 30 years offered her a position to run a ward at the asylum. They “were Army nurses together in the thirties,” and her friend believed she would be the best person...
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