The Power Of Manipulation In One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
By definition, the act of manipulation involves using certain aspects such as dominance and influence to rule a person or situation unfairly, dexterously, and unscrupulously. Manipulation can be used for various different reasons, but is most commonly used for personal gain or growth. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a novel which was written by Ken Kesey, has become iconically known as a striking novel that clearly illustrates the recurring motif of manipulation. The narrative divulges the truth behind institutional practices and humanistic principles. Through this, we come to know two masters of manipulation; Nurse Ratched and Randle McMurphy. By analyzing the text, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, it will be proven that the authority of Nurse Ratched and Randle McMurphy is abused in order to control and manipulate other patients into conforming for their personal gain.
Nurse Ratched, who is known as one of the most villainous characters in literature, is the tyrant of the mental ward. She presents herself as an uncompromising leader and shows no clemency toward patients. During obligatory group therapy, Nurse Ratched encourages the Acutes to strike each other where most vulnerable, which ultimately pins them against each other and forces them into submission. If a patient dare rebel Nurse Ratched’s regulations, they are sent to receive electroshock treatments or on occasion, a lobotomy, despite the fact that both practices have fallen out of favour with the medical community. “‘Must we go over past history?’ That triggered something. The Acutes stiffened. Their mouths opened in unison. It was better than she dreamed.” During group therapy, Nurse Ratched instilled fear into the patients in order to be given the information she had been longing for; their secrets. By doing this, she reveals her sadistic ways by intimidating these men into throwing away their own manhood. She emasculates them, scaring them into never questioning her authority. Part of her strategy is to put them against one another essentially leading to their own shame and humiliation.
With manipulation being used as Nurse Ratched’s primary tool, she has developed various strategies to deceive the patients into her devious act. Insinuating is just another one of these clever tactics. When a patient approaches with their defenses down, Nurse Ratched can’t help but attack. Their vulnerability gives her a door to subtly imply or indicate their flaws until her victim confesses to an act they weren’t accountable for. “She’ll [Nurse Ratched] will call a man to the Nurses’ Station and stand there and ask him about a Kleenex found under his bed. No more, just ask. And he’ll feel like he’s lying to her, whatever answer he gives. She has a genius for insinuation.” As shown in this quote, Nurse Ratched is “someone who often controls with a smile and through manipulation, not with the use of physical intimidation.” She offers her best sickening grin before tugging people into her trap. She doesn’t need to be aggressive or ill-mannered, she can get what she wants just by indication.
Not only have the patient’s fallen victim to Nurse Ratched’s conniving ways, but so has the staff. It is clear that she is not the most significant employee at the ward, yet she’s managed to manipulate her way into having her own exemplary ran ward staff. “Year by year she [Nurse Ratched] accumulates her ideal staffuntil they retreat with unnatural chills. The doctors last three weeks. Gets them one at a time over a number of years, weaving them into her plan.” Over her several years spent at the ward, Nurse Ratched has slowly Lutz 3 maneuvered her way to the top. By doing this, she has succeeded in her goal of dominating all of those surrounding her. She has a sickening desire for control, and it is evident she will do anything for a taste.
Randle McMurphy, who is checked into the ward for diagnosis and possible treatment, is one of the first patients who didn’t become subject to Nurse Ratched’s deceiving charm. Although McMurphy isn’t given much power or reverence at the mental institution, he easily wins over the patients through manipulation. No wonder, considering his personality screams for attention through his assertiveness and innate nature. When attending routine group therapy, it is recommended by himself that the schedule be altered for his own personal entertainment; he wished to watch the World Series game. It is decided, by Nurse Ratched, that there will be a vote, and when that very vote is lost, McMurphy shows nothing but his selfish rage. “After the meeting McMurphy won’t say a word to any of them, he’s so mad and disgusted. They’re [patients] scared to go any deeper.” While shamelessly flaunting his anger, McMurphy humiliates the other patients into changing their original vote. Therefore, he manipulated the group into getting what he originally wanted. This only proves him to be more egocentric than previously assumed. As the novel progresses, Randle McMurphy begins to make some debatable, perilous decisions. He schemes a fishing field trip for himself and the patients, where they come across an agog man on a bicycle. This man, with no hesitation, questions the unfamiliar uniforms. He had speculated they had related back to some type of club, but McMurphy didn’t hesitate to put him in his place. “No, my friend. We are lunatics from the hospital up the highway. Ah, he’s gone. Pity. Never did I realize that mental illness could have the aspect of power, power.”
Once explaining that the group came from the local mental institution, the Lutz 4 man speeds off as far as possible. It becomes evident through this quote that McMurphy has used his own, and the others, illness’ as an advantage. He manipulates the man into thinking the group may be harmful or aggressive for the pure intention of being left alone with the other patients. Although Randle McMurphy refused to fall victim to Nurse Ratched, after he boldly defended another patient in the institution, he found himself becoming a casualty of Nurse Ratched’s electroshock therapy treatments. “They gave McMurphy three more treatments that week. He insisted it wasn’t hurting him. But every time that loudspeaker called for him, his whole face drained of colour, looking thin and scared.” By constantly protesting that he wasn’t being injured, McMurphy was manipulating the other patients to think that there wasn’t anything inappropriate about the electroshock therapy. When in reality, he was slowly being torn apart by the pressures Nurse Ratched had put him under. He wanted the patients, who had become his own followers, to believe he was resilient enough to remain their leader. He didn’t want his place to be stolen by somebody else, therefore, his instinct kicked in and used his skills to manipulate them.
In Ken Kesey’s novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the most tenacious and pertinent concept is manipulation, especially in the pair of devious characters, Nurse Ratched and Randle McMurphy. Although they seem to be two very dissimilar characters, it soon becomes evident that they, shockingly, have something in common; deception. Despite being viewed as just two arrogant characters, they are both extremely skillful, and somewhat pathological, in the art of exploitation. After all, the true manipulator never has a reputation for manipulating.
- Kesey, Ken. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Toronto: The Penguin Group, 1963. Print.
- Partnow, Elaine. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Great Quotes for All Occasions. New York: The Penguin Group, 2008. Print.
- Willis, George. Reflections from the Heart of Educational Inquiry. New York: State University of New York Press, 1991. Print.