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One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest


by Ken Kesey

Analysis: Steaminess Rating

Exactly how steamy is this story?


Although this is a book about a bunch of men locked up together in a mental ward, the men do get a little action with a couple of prostitutes who visit. First, McMurphy enjoys Candy’s company when they’re on the boat fishing in the ocean. Then he arranges for her to visit the ward in secret one night so that Billy Bibbit can get his chance to prove, once and for all, that he’s got what it takes to be with a woman. We can joke around and say that Billy proved he was a man—a common thing to say about men and sex—but in this case, the joke is not funny. Billy Bibbit, like all the men, feels like Nurse Ratched has castrated him. The patients feel like she’s taken their manhood away, like she’s cut off their balls off. Rawler, in fact, literally cuts his balls off in the bathroom one day and bleeds to death—a symbolic gesture of what’s happening to him in the ward.

As the men discuss Nurse Ratched and what she does to them, they all agree that the solution is to expose her as a woman. What they think she wants and needs is sex—but ultimately, she doesn’t even need that much. When McMurphy tears her blouse off, it reveals her enormous breasts—and shows that she is a woman, and, thus, weaker than the patients are, despite the fact that she maintains the power. It is a moment that some critics have suggested is misogynistic; in order for the men to regain their power, they have to expose Nurse Ratched as a woman. It is her femaleness, her sex, which is her weakness. So in one sense, a lot of the book is about sex, even though sex only happens twice in the book and it happens off-stage.

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