One Flew Essay Research Paper one flew

One Flew Essay, Research Paper

one flew over

Someone by the name of Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “A man can be destroyed

but not defeated.” There is indeed much to be said for this statement, as it can be taken to

mean many things. Initial impressions are that Hemingway is speaking of personal honor,

and how no man can have his honor taken away from him forcefully. No matter how great

the suffering, or how undignified the death, the very nature of honor is that it is something

that can only be lost through fault of the man. On that account the quote says, you can

“destroy” a man, but you cannot defeat his spirit. The quote can also be taken to suggest

eternal glory; while the man himself may be dead, his cause and influence lives on in the

hearts and minds of others. Lastly, the quote could be taken as describing someone who

was defiant and true until the end, never relenting, even in the face of death or worse. All

of these things can be said, in varying degrees, about the character of McMurphy in Ken

Kesey?s One Flew Over The Cuckoo?s Nest. He?s the gladiator who defends his pride

against the villain by the name of Nurse Ratched.

The initial impression the reader gets of McMurphy is that of a dishonest, liberal,

free spirited, street wise, non-conformist and rather outgoing man – we immediately feel

he is going to be a thorn in Nurse Ratched?s side. The nararrator, Bromdon, explains the

nature of the Nurse clearly by saying, “I’ve watched her get more skillful over the years.

Practice has steadied and strengthened her until she wields a sure power that extends in all

directions on hair-like wires, too small for anybody’s eye but mine; I see her sit in the

center of this web of wires like a watchful robot…”. The Big Nurse is the order and

control, and in her eyes McMurphy could potentially be the outrider of mayhem and

disorder in her ward. He threats that which she works so hard to maintain. Nurse Ratched

seems only mildly concerned however, as she too recognizes McMurphy for what he is

after observing him briefly with the other patients and the effect he has on them. Some of

the patiens become excited, and even emboldened by McMurphy?s presence, while others

appear frightened after recognizing the threat he poses to the stability they take refuge in.

Nurse Ratched seems as if she has encountered his kind before, citing the term

“manipulator” in reference to McMurphy and others like him. We can only assume she has

conquered such patients before, as she seems very confident she will conquer this one.

As McMurphy settles into the ward, things begin to change. His influence over the other

patients is interesting, and rather heartwarming to behold. Emboldened by McMurphy?s

influence, they begin to assert themselves in certain ways, such as standing up to the Big

Nurse, or even making demands. Of course, Cheswick had always done this, but it was

never taken seriously by anyone, least of all Nurse Ratched. McMurphy encourages

freedom of speech and thought, a concept Nurse Ratched perceives as unstable and

dangerous elements to be introduced to a mental ward. As this continues, cracks in Nurse

Ratched?s iron-tight control over the patients begin to show. McMurphy seems to

blissfully disgregard Nurse Ratched?s position of authority, and being unacustomed to this,

she gradually starts to show the strain in subtle, but no less noticeable ways. Hemingway?s

quote comes to mind when studying McMurphy?s numerous “victories” over Nurse

Ratched; although McMurphy often does not get his way with the nurse, he never shows

defeat in any way, nor even acknlowledge that there was a contest of sorts. This is what

distresses Nurse Ratched the most – she can never truly win over McMurphy, as nothing

she does seems to so much as dent his spirit.

Nurse Ratched?s inability to ever truly win over McMurphy, no matter what the

circumstances, is arguably no better examplified in the incident involving McMurphy

wanting to watch the World Series on television. Although Nurse Ratched has turned the

television off, McMurphy sits and watches anyway, as if it didn?t matter whether it was on

or off. As the other patients grow braver, they too follow McMurphy?s example and

infuriate the Big Nurse by doing as McMurphy does – simply sit and watch the television.

This tactic is very effective, as it is the only part in the book where we see such a display

of anger from the Nurse. The fact that they never got to watch a minute of baseball is


Nurse Ratched knows that if she can?t beat McMurphy directly, then she can get to him

by quelling any support he has among the other patients. She devises a number of

strategies to do this, among them are trying to convince the patients that McMurphy is

only using them for monetary gain. As an self-confessed gambler, McMurphy has won a

lot of money from just about everyone in the ward, and Nurse Ratched partially succeeds

in convincing the patients that when McMurphy has what he wants from them he will

leave them all for dry. This is a hard and bitter possibility for the patients to accept, as

McMurphy has become somewhat of a hero to them. The Nurse?s plan is soon foiled

however, as McMurphy time and time again prooves his is true to the patients by putting

himself on the line for them, even in situations where he stands to gain nothing. Nurse

Ratched cannot legally stop McMurphy?s fishing trip, but she does her best to stop it from

happening by once again using what can only be considered as a form of propaganda to

discourage the other patients from signing up for the trip. Her news clippings and bad

weather reports distress most of the patients, but not enough to warrant cancelling the


As punishment for “unspeakable behaviour concerning house duties”, Nurse Ratched

decides it best to remove one of the priviledges enjoyed by the patients. She takes away

the patients right to use the tub room, set up by McMurphy, for their card games.

Everyone expects this to be the Big Nurse?s final victory over McMurphy, as there is

nothing he can do about it. McMurphy then proceeds to smash the Nurse Station window,

claiming he was reaching for a pack of cigarettes and didn?t notice the glass, clean as it

was. Once again this is the typical kind of tactic McMurphy uses thoughout the book to

win his differences against Nurse Ratched. While McMurphy?s actions often do not

change the issue at hand, and can even make things worse, it is still acknowledged by

everyone that is is the ultimate victor over Nurse Ratched. Once again, this relates to the

Hemingway quote.

Perhaps the most literal example of Hemingway?s words in One Flew Over The Cuckoo?s

Nest is when McMurphy is lobotomized, following a physical assault on Nurse Ratched.

While she did truly destroy him this time, he was never defeated. His legacy lived on in the

lives he touched, and changed. Many of the Acutes left soon after the party or when

McMurphy was lobotomized. McMurphy had given them what no doctor, nurse, or

psychologist could – he had given them the taste of a normal life. He had made them feel

like real people, not waste products of society. This is what gave them the courage and the

inspiration to finally face the outside world, and carry on with a normal life. Kesey portays

this brilliantly, and as readers we feel as inspired as the paitents themselves. While

McMurphy may have been destroyed, his victory was of a grand scale indeed.

?She?s got the fog machine switched on?and the more I think about how nothing can be

helped, the faster the fog rolls in,? (Kesey 101?And then off down the slope I see them,

other hands coming up out of

the fog. It?s like?that big red hand of McMurphy?s is reaching into the

fog and dropping down and dragging the men up by their hands, dragging

them blinking into the open,? (124).?His relaxed, good-natured voice dolled out his life

for us to live, a rollicking past?for all of us to dream ourselves into,? (218). “I’ve

watched her get more skillful over the years. Practice has steadied and strengthened her

until she wields a sure power that extends in all directions on hair-like wires, too small

for anybody’s eye but mine; I see her sit in the center of this web of wires like a watchful

robot, tend her network with mechanical skill, know every second which wire runs where

and just what current to send up to get the results she wants”

“First Charles Cheswick and now William Bibbit! I hope you’re finally satisfied. Playing

with human lives-gambling with human lives-as if you thought yourself to be God!”

“No one’s ever dared to come out and say it before, but there’s not a man among us that

doesn’t think it. That doesn’t feel just as you do about her and the whole business-feel it

somewhere down deep in his scared little soul.”

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