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Themes

Nurse Ratched, the novel’s antagonist, maintains her power on the ward by manipulating the men’s fears and desires. She uses shame to keep them submissive. She manipulates her staff through insinuation and by carefully stroking their hatred. When she is unable to get the protagonist, McMurphy, under control, she tries to manipulate the other patients to turn against him by suggesting that he is manipulative himself and has never helped the men without getting something (like money) in return.

Questions About Manipulation

  1. Which character(s) manipulate other characters in this novel? How do they do it?
  2. Is manipulation in the novel always a bad thing? Why or why not?
  3. How does McMurphy respond to manipulation? How do the other patients respond to manipulation? How does Nurse Ratched respond to manipulation?
  4. In what way does manipulation contribute to each character’s sense of power or powerlessness?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Even though Nurse Ratched is a master manipulator, she fails to convince the men that McMurphy himself is manipulating them for his own benefit.

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