Study Guide

Nurse Ratched (Big Nurse) in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

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Nurse Ratched (Big Nurse)

Nurse Ratched desires order, and she wants complete power, so she manipulates her patients and the staff to fulfill her desires. As the head nurse and as a woman with many connections both inside and outside of the hospital, she is able to maneuver things so that most situations fit her expectations. If she needs to, she uses the force of her hatred to get things done. Though she smiles a lot and talks sweetly, she’s definitely not a kind or charming woman. She is, however, a woman with a strong will and a fanaticism for control. She pursues power with intensity and is very successful at getting people to do what she wants.

Although Nurse Ratched is an antagonist of the worst kind in this book, even Chief knows that she’s simply the human face of the Combine—the machine that Chief imagines is society. In other words, according to Chief, the system is larger than Nurse Ratched; she is only part of the system. She happens to be the patients’ direct link to the mechanical system, but she is not the system itself. This puts Nurse Ratched and her power into perspective. However, even with her little amount of power, she is destructive. In the short time frame of the book, she destroys three mentwo commit suicide and one is lobotomized. She gets what she wants and feels no guilt about how it’s accomplished.

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