Peoples’ ability to use power to control and manipulate situations and people is a skill not many people have. Unfortunately, this skill can lead to conflict as it did in Ken Kesey’s novel, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, when McMurphy and Nurse Ratched meet each other. McMurphy has been after Nurse Ratched’s power right from the beginning. After the first group meeting, he pointed out that the meeting was like a “pecking party”.

The Nurse starts it by pointing out something wrong with someone and then the men join in with their criticism. Her book was the same idea. The men would listen to each other and when one said something that they shouldn’t have they write it down so it can be brought up for “therapeutic reasons”, but when McMurphy came all that changed. That made the nurse furious, that was her way of keeping perfect control and power over the patients. McMurphy had complete power over the patients from when he first came in. Nobody like him had ever been in the ward before.

He came in singing and laughing, something that no one had heard in a long time. He walked around the room shaking hands, introducing himself to everyone, even the chronics. He taught the acutes how to play cards and he taught them to gamble. His very first bet thought was that he could get the best of nurse Ratched within the week, and he did.

She wasn’t going to back down though. To try and stop all the gambling going on she rationed the cigarettes, so they no longer had anything to bet, but that never stopped them, they used the money instead. The patients admired McMurphy because no one had ever stood up to her before, and he would do things for them such as arranging basketball games.

He was also the one who enabled the patients to use the tub room for card games, and so they could get away from that horrifying music that the nurse always played. The tub room is also significant in the power struggle because it was the doctor who helped McMurphy obtain it.

The Dr. was the one who came up with all the solutions for the problems that the nurse would bring up to try and stop the men from using it. McMurphy and the Doctor even went to the same high school and the nurse caught them reminiscing about old times, laughing, yelling and having a great time. The doctor, the one who is supposed to help the nurse, helped McMurphy in taking the men on a fishing trip that the nurse clearly didn’t approve of.

She did her best to try and persuade the men to stay. She cut out articles of people dying, crashing in shipwrecks, and how terrible the weather was and put them on the bulletin board to scare the men so they wouldn’t go. It almost worked. McMurphy needed one more person, after he signed up the Chief he made a deal with George that if he came he could be captain of the ship, so George came. But then McMurphy had two girls that were supposed to come with cars, but only one showed up. The nurse thought that she had won, and she had until the doctor offered his car and services if he could come to even when the nurse told him not to.

The nurse did have her two moments of glory. She points out to the men that McMurphy always seems to get something out of doing things for the men. He got money and most of their cigarettes from gambling, and he was even making a profit from taking them on the fishing trip. That makes all of them stop and think. But as Harding says, they don’t mind him getting some money, it is worth it for them. But they do mind. Her second moment is when McMurphy realizes that he is one of the only people committed and he gives up.   

McMurphy does do stupid, little things to keep the power such as, punching through the glass twice, and breaking it again with the basketball. He makes comments to her about her breasts, and he rips her front open as a final victory and to show the others her feminine side. Towards the end though he does things for others instead of himself.

He arranged for Candy to come for Billy, although the consequences weren’t good the intentions were. He got the Chief to realize that he was a huge man and that he was capable of doing lots of things, even lifting the control panel. And most importantly he helps George out in the shower when the black boys were trying to scrub him down, which leads to severe punishment from Nurse Ratched.

He got the men to stand up for themselves and each other. He got them doing things they may have never done in their whole life, and they loved him for that.

author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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