One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Women in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey portrays women as overwhelmingly negative, either dominating or submissive. Nurse Ratched, Vera Harding, and Billy’s mother are controlling women who use fear to reign over men and mask their feminine qualities. Candy Starr and Sandy Gilfilliam, on the other hand, are prostitutes who submit to objectification by men. Nurse Ratched masks her feminine qualities while the other women emphasize their sexual availability. Aside from one balanced female, the unnamed Japanese nurse from the Disturbed ward, Kesey’s women are extreme and negative characters.

Nurse Ratched defeminizes herself and subdues the men’s masculinity. Her attempts to defeat the men are ironic because she herself tries to embody masculine characteristics. Illustrating her effect on the men is McMurphy’s observation: “No, the nurse ain’t some kinda monster chicken, buddy, what she is is a ball-cutter” (57). Symbolic language like “ball-cutter” is a metaphor because men know the degree of pain that is associated with groin injuries. Though the nurse does not physically harm the men; her actions damage their mentality. This destruction is shown by Harding’s comment: “She’s unselfish as the wind, toiling thanklessly for...

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