The Character of Nurse Ratched in "One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest".
One flew over the cuckoo’s nest - Nurse Ratched Essay
A novel which has a character who can be described as a villain is “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey. The villain of the play is Nurse Ratched, the head nurse in a psychiatric ward. The writer portrays the nurse as a villain through his use of imagery and description and this is highly effective in depicting the nurse as an evil character.
Nurse Ratched desires control, and she wants complete power, so she manipulates the patients and the staff in order to fulfil her needs. In the novel the Nurse is often known as the:
In this novel, size symbolises power and this is particularly relevant when describing the nurse as she is ultimately one of the two most powerful characters in this story. The name also has connotations to George Orwell’s novel, “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, in which the “Big Brother” has total surveillance of all the people and they are constantly reminded of the phrase “Big Brother is watching you”. The Nurse also has a similar power in the ward as she has total control of the patients actions and she watches their every move. The power struggle between the Nurse and McMurphy is also prevalent as although the Nurse wants to be in total control, she is often defeated by McMurphy who is also a very powerful character. This desire to control and manipulate contributes to the Nurse’s image as a villain and emphasises her malevolent nature.
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Another way in which Kesey emphasises the Nurses image as a villain is through her physical description. Chief Bromden, a patient in the ward, describes Ratched as being like a machine, and her behaviour fits this description:
“Her face is smooth... like an expensive baby doll, skin like flesh coloured enamel and baby blue eyes... everything working together except the size of her bosom.”
All of the Nurse’s features are almost inhuman apart from her “big womanly breasts”. She tries to maintain an androgynous and asexual exterior yet her bosom prevents her from doing so. The nurse tries to oppress her own sexuality and femininity as well as that of the patients. The name Ratched is also a pun of "ratchet," which further emphasises the machine imagery. Nurse Ratched is described as a machine from the beginning of the novel where she is described as carrying a bag filled with "wheels and gears". Also, her power is emphasised at this stage where she is described to have "hit the lock" with the key. This shows that she carries herself in a very mechanical way and she is very precise and machine-like. The Nurse forces the men to feel embarrasses about their own sexuality, especially in Harding’s case in which she criticises him for being homosexual. This oppressing behaviour adds to her image as a villain and shows her obsession with control.
Kesey portrays women in a very negative was in this novel and divides them into two very extreme categories the “ball-cutters” and the prostitutes. The men are ultimately in the control of women and this is emphasised throughout the story:
“We are victims of matriarchy here.”
Women who are “ball-cutters”, such as the Nurse and Harding’s wife, are intent on controlling and dominating men by emasculating them. The other types of women are the prostitutes Candy and Sandy who are dedicated to pleasuring men and obeying orders from the men. Harding acknowledges to McMurphy that the men are in total control of women and he says that they cannot challenge authority as they cannot do anything or say anything against the women simply because they are female. This makes the Nurse seem villainous as we can clearly see that she is in total control of the men and she can manipulate their actions.
Chief Bromden frequently refers to a greater power known as “the combine” which is describing the machine-like nature of authority:
“It’s the whole combine that’s the really big force, and the Nurse is just a high-ranking official for them.”
This is Chief’s word to describe the machine-like nature of the asylum system. But it’s not just the asylum that’s governed by this machine it is also society. This make the ward a microcosm of society and Nurse Ratched represents the authority of the Combine as she is an example of the inhumane system. The ward is part of a wider problem in which an individual has no power and no say on how they live their own lives and the machine-like Combine tries to make machines out of everything, including humans. People who have been “processed” by society have conformed to society’s rules. Similarly, in the ward the Nurse forces the patients to conform to strict rules and regulations and this relates to the nurses image as a villain.
The downfall of Nurse Ratched and her powerful position in the ward is brought about by one key scene in the novel. After one of the patient’s deaths the Nurse blames McMurphy for the patient’s suicide and he reacts violently:
“Terror forever ruining any other look she might ever use again... he grabbed for her and ripped her uniform all the way down the front.”
McMurphy rips open the Nurse’s uniform exposing her breasts. The Nurse always tries to cover up her breasts as they are her most womanly feature yet here she is totally vulnerable as her most private area has been exposed and so has her femininity. McMurphy symbolically exposes her hypocrisy and deceit, and she is never able to regain power again. Even though Ratched tries to give McMurphy a fate worse than death by having him lobotomized, Bromden dignifies McMurphy by killing him, assuring that McMurphy will always be a symbol of resistance instead of a fearful ending for future patients on Ratched’s ward.
Overall Ken Kesey’s portrayal of Nurse Ratched as a villain in “One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is very effective and contributes to the overall message of the play. The reader can comprehend that the Big Nurse caused much of the mental illness in the institution from her desire to control everything and everyone and she ruined many people's minds and strayed away from her job of helping others. I think the Nurse is an ideal portrayal of a villain as she is both cruel and sadistic and has the typical characteristics of a villain in a novel.