Study Guide

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Power

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Nurse Ratched, the antagonist, is drunk with her power until McMurphy arrives and upsets it. Much of her power lies in her ability to emasculate the male patients and maintain a sexless façade. When she is revealed as a woman (McMurphy rips her uniform off, exposing her ample bosom), she loses much of her power.

Questions About Power

  1. Which character is the most powerful in this novel? Which character is the most powerless? How do characters react to being powerful or powerless?
  2. How is power gained in this novel? How is it lost? What are the consequences for gaining or losing power?
  3. Are the characters in the novel inherently powerful (or powerless), or is power the result of a person’s position in life (such as being a nurse versus being a patient)?
  4. Does Kesey really argue that women are less powerful than men? Why is it that Nurse Ratched loses her power when McMurphy reveals her breasts?

Chew on This

Although men gain power through sex, according to McMurphy’s view of the world, women lose their power through sex. By denying a man sex, a female can symbolically castrate him; by having sex with a woman, a man can weaken her. Power is thus intimately connected with gender in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

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