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The Theme of Manipulation in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

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‘They don’t bother not talking out loud about their hate secrets when I’m nearby because they think I’m deaf and dumb. Everybody thinks so. I’m cagey enough to fool them that much. If my being half Indian ever helped me in any way in this dirty life, it helped me being cagey, helped me all these years.” (Kesey 4) How does this quote support the theme or connect to the school of criticism or theory?

This quote gave us the readers a preceding insight on Bromden’s “deafness”. We learn that he isn’t actually deaf, but he has manipulated the entire ward into thinking so by being closed off and quiet. This information is critical to the entire book since Bromden, the character speaking, is the narrator. Since he’s “deaf” characters feel comfortable saying the deepest and darkest things while in reality he hears all of it. In a way, Bromden is the biggest manipulator of it all. With his profound observations and colloquial intuition, he attains self-preservation by fooling his peers, and the Big Nurse. “Sometimes a manipulator’s own ends are simply the actual disruption of the ward for the sake of disruption. There are such people in our society. A manipulator can influence the other patients and disrupt them to such an extent that it may take months to get everything running smooth once more.” (Kesey 21)

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Kesey gave us the readers a standard of what a manipulator is and how their role can affect the setting of the patients at the ward. He suggests that in this case, McMurphy is the manipulator who is causing discord at the ward. This was crucial because it gave us an idea of how Big Nurse and the staff felt about McMurphy’s arrival. Nurse feared for the outcome of McMurphy’s presence because he seemed to take “over”. This is important because it explains the animosity that Nurse has towards McMurphy over the course of the book. This quote gives us the basis of what manipulation means in the book. “What she dreams of there in the center of those wires is a world of precision efficiency and tidiness like a pocket watch with a glass back, a place where the schedule is unbreakable and all the patients who aren’t Outside, obedient under her beam, are wheelchair Chronics with catheter tubes run direct from every pantleg to the sewer under the floor.” (Kesey 22)

In this quote, Kesey gave an expectation of Nurse Ratched and how she aspired to have control over every nook and cranny of each patient who resides in the ward. He makes it seem like the motivation of everything she does, is to have the utmost control possible. Kesey includes this piece to embody how important authority is to Nurse Ratched. It’s important for us to know this because later, when McMurphy tries to stand against her leadership, he’ll face consequences. This quote relates to manipulation perfectly. In this instance, the manipulator is Nurse Ratched. She is very persistent in obtaining whatever it is that she wants, especially control over the entire ward. She is perceived as a source of terror and fear that is rooted inside the narrator, Chief Bromden.

“The flock gets sight of a spot of blood on some chicken and they all go to peckin’ at it, see, till they rip the chicken to shreds, blood and bones and feathers. But usually a couple of the flock gets spotted in the fracas, then it’s their turn. And a few more gets spots and gets pecked to death, and more and more. Oh, a peckin’ party can wipe out the whole flock in a matter of a few hours, buddy, I seen it. A mighty awesome sight. The only way to prevent it – with chickens – is to clip blinders on them. So’s they can’t see.” (Kesey 44)

It is obvious that the patients in the ward have been voided with the plague of shame due to their illnesses. They are so blinded by feeling sorry for themselves and holding themselves to low standards that they are oblivious to Nurse Ratched’s character and her actual reasoning for the things she does to them. She manipulates them so easily because the patients feel as though they don’t have the means to advocate for better conditions. This quote is important because it depicts the standards at which the patients are so easily manipulated without effort. “But she didn’t lose control again, or even act at all like she might. She would get after him about the toilets, using that same terrible, slow, patient pressure she used on everybody, as he stood there in front of her, looking like a little kid getting a bawling out, hanging his head, and the toe of one boot on top of the other, saying, “I try and try, ma’am, but I’m afraid I’ll never make my mark as head man of the crappers.” (Kesey 123)

During part two of The One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, there’s a slight battle for control between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched. McMurphy makes many attempts to get Nurse Ratched out of character, which would be a very big gain for him. They both fiend for the manipulation of the other, but don’t submit to neither persons attempt to control the other. This elaborated on the relationship McMurphy and Nurse Ratched share. Both of them are bold, dominant manipulative people who only care about getting what they want. To an extent of personality, ironically, McMurphy and Nurse Ratched are complimentary to one another and somehow find a way to coexist. “I lay in bed the night before the fishing trip and thought it over, about my being deaf, about the years of not letting on I heard what was said, and I wondered if I could ever act any other way again. But I remembered one thing: it wasn’t me that started acting deaf; it was people that first started acting like I was too dumb to hear or see or say anything at all.” (Kesey 161)

This quote gave us a different perspective of the reasons Bromden acts deaf. It lead to a background account that shed light on the reasons behind his actions. The author suggests due to people drawing conclusions on Bromden being deaf and dumb, he never made the effort to fight the presumptions. In a way, based on the treatment from others, Bromden was manipulated into acting deaf for all these years. The manipulation made Bromden lose his true identity and adopt one: an identity of a deaf man.

“Never before did I realize that mental illness could have the aspect of power, power. Think of it: perhaps the more insane a man is, the more powerful he could become. Hitler an example. Fair makes the old brain reel, doesn’t it? Food for thought there.” (Kesey 184) Kesey sparked up the realization of the power people who face insanity have. Society, for some reason, fears people who are different or who derive from the norm. This fear can be used to manipulate others. This quote universally recognized the actual capability of those who face mental illnesses. He suggested that the fear instilled in others by the insane is the main component of achieving manipulation from those around them. Harding, the character speaking, seemed to have come to a eureka when he realized the amount of power he and his friends could have if they weren’t so afraid of prevailing. This idea is important because it challenges the homocentric idea that people with mental illnesses are inferior or incapable of getting well enough to return to the city away from the living necropolis they call the ward. This quote embodied the potential stature of manipulation the patients could achieve.

“Mother, I’m th-th-thirty-one years old!” She laughed and twiddled his ear with the weed. “Sweetheart, do I look like the mother of a middle-aged man?” (Kesey 227) This quote showed how overprotective Billy’s mother is over him. She has manipulated him by making him powerless in the real world. By nurturing him too much, she made him to dependent on her even though he’s thirty years old. She raised him into a powerless, inferior man who waits on his mother’s beck and call because he doesn’t know better. Having this control over him is obviously manipulation. It can be inferred that Billy’s mother needs to feel this sense of authority over her son, like Nurse Ratched. Billy’s mother makes Billy feel miniscule and incompetent which administers him to be a submissive patient in the ward.


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