Summary: the Themes of Masculinity and Sexuality in the One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

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In the novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest the themes of masculinity and sexuality are the most important. The psych ward is run by mostly women and the patients are all men, which dictates how the story is going to be played. Women are the ones who dictate and enforce the rules. While the men have to follow without questioning. For example, “We are victims of a matriarchy here, my friend, and the doctor is just as helpless against it as we are.”  In the quote above Harding talks about how women are the ones ruling the ward.

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The theme of sexuality begins with Nurse Ratched, who is an attractive woman with big breasts. At the beginning of the novel, she is described as such, “ Precise, automatic gesture. Her face is smooth, calculated, and precision-made, like an expensive baby doll, skin like flesh-colored enamel, blend of white and cream and baby-blue eyes, small nose, pink little nostrils - everything working together except the color on her lips and fingernails, and the size of her bosom.” The quote above is a description given by Chief Bromden, which also proves how he views Nurse Ratched. As a result, she has to hide her femininity to strip the men of the ward of their masculinity, for example, “Man has but one truly effective weapon against the juggernaut of modern matriarchy, but it certainly is not laughter. One weapon, and with every passing year in this hip, motivationally researched society, more and more people are discovering how to render that weapon useless and conquer those who have hitherto been the conquerors.” The quote above supports the statement that Nurse Ratched wears the “cold attire” to repulse men from the feeling they could potentially have towards her.

The theme of masculinity begins when McMurphy arrives at the ward. He is Nurse Ratched’s enemy since he constantly tries to gain back the other patients’ masculinity, for example, McMurphy calls Nurse Ratched a “ball-breaker” during one of the group sessions. The theme is played the same way during the entire novel, McMurphy representing masculinity, and Nurse Ratched as the emasculating force. For example, “I come out of the dorm into the hall just as McMurphy comes out of the latrine. He’s got his cap on and not much else, just a towel grabbed around his hips.”The quote above represents one of the times McMurphy is fighting for the patients and his masculinity, by wearing just a towel. McMurphy is constantly fighting for everyone’s masculinity, which is also portrayed in other ways, such as when he pinches Nurse Ratched’s bottom and when he tears her shirt open to reveal her breasts are all examples of McMurphy’s attempts to fight for masculinity.

McMurphy is able to achieve his goal to get everyone’s masculinity back. For example, “You got to swallow your pride sometimes and keep an eye out for old Number One.” The quote above shows McMurphy giving up on his plan to annoy Nurse Ratched when he finds out she can keep him in the ward past his original sentence. But changes his mind once he notices the men are gaining back their masculinity. 

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