The Role of Men and Women in Ken Kesey's One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest

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In a perfect world, men and women would live as equals, sharing power in all aspects of life. While this may be an appealing notion, it is nonexistent in society. Strong men are seen by women as abusive and dominating, while strong women are seen by men as castrating and emasculating. The text of Ken Kesey’s novel, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, in many ways, conforms to the structure of conventional male myth and asks the reader to accept that myth as a heroic pattern. From a masculinist perspective, it offers a charismatic hero in Randle Patrick McMurphy, a figure of spiritual strength and sexual energy, whose laughter restores the patients of the mental institution to life and confounds the combine’s “machines,” or authoritarians. However, the struggle between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched, the austere authority of the mental institution, revolves around a construction of gender that many critics see as crudely misogynistic. The text celebrates a natural maleness, which is placed in opposition to a domineering, emasculating representation of the feminine. The fact that the female role in the novel is one of power causes the reader to side with the male patients who are portrayed as desexualized and taken advantage of. The misogynistic nature of the text rejects female authority because it creates a dichotomy between the male patients and the female leaders.

The text takes an extremely misogynistic approach from the beginning. The reader is taught to hate Nurse Ratched and, therefore, authority. As Laura Quinn points out in her article titled “Moby Dick vs. Big Nurse: A Feminist Defense of a Misogynist Text: One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest,” the novel describes “strong women as evil and emasculating” (Quinn 401). The only women depicted as kind are the prostitutes McMurphy brings into the combine and the tiny Japanese nurse in the disturbed ward. Specifically, this demeans the motherly figure and accepts only the females who question her power. The...
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