In One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest, author Ken Kesey tells the story of patients who live in an asylum and who are considered rebels against society (The Combine). The male patients are confined in a ward where their emotions and actions are controlled by one person in particular, namely, the head Army Nurse, Miss Ratched, the machine-like leader of the Combine, who treats her patients like vegetables or the imbeciles they are suppose to be. These men are manipulated, and controlled to the point where they lose all confidence within themselves. They are viewed as victims of matriarchy (54). Depicted by his characters, Ken Kesey generally feels that women should be feminine and vulnerable, not overpowering and controlling. The author portrays women as controlling and who destroy the confidence of men. Vera Harding is one of those women. She controls both her husband Hardings emotions and actions. She destroys her husbands self-confidence by showing off her voluptuous assets and poking fun at her husbands inadequate masculinity. Harding has suffered for many years from her ignorant jokes, making him deeply insecure about himself. Harding does not like it when someone looks at his wife in a sexual manner. Vera takes advantage of her looks. She also makes fun of Hardings masculinity by poking fun at his mousy little squeak (152) and dainty hands. Because of his girly hands, Harding hides them and doesnt gesticulate when talking. This is an example of a woman controlling a mans emotions and actions through manipulation.
In the beginning of the book, Miss Ratched is holding a group meeting where the patients in the asylum tell secrets about another patient. McMurphy pointed out, that the group meeting is simply a bunch of chickens at a pecking party (47). One man is ganged up on by many of his comrades, while Miss Ratched sits there and enjoys the power she has over them. In this therapeutic session Miss Ratched states that Harding has also stated that his wifes ample bosom at times gives him a feeling of inferiority. (37) She then asks the group to elaborate on his wife Vera , which Harding finds humiliating and McMurphy sensing the control Ms. Ratched has over these me. Nurse Ratched, Bromdens mother, and Mrs.Bibbit are other examples of controlling women. Candy, a prostitute, whom McMurphy brought to the asylum for a party, is the exact opposite of the women mentioned. She is carefree and vulnerable, laughs at jokes and doesnt manipulate McMurphy. She also gives the men a sense of empowerment and masculinity. Unlike Miss Ratcheds army nurse outfit, Candy wears a white t-shirt, white tennis shoes and Levi pants snipped off above her knees to give her feet circulation (195). This outfit exemplifies the comparison between the two ladies, that in contrast to Miss Ratcheds machine-like, stiff, army Nurse outfit, Candys is more human and feminine. Furthermore, when McMurphy brought Candy to the hospital one night, he set Candy and Billy up for a sexual and fun night together. The next morning, Miss Ratched finds Billy and Candy. They were blinking up from that mattress on the floor like two owls from a nest (267) For a moment there, Billy felt like a man who had stood up to Miss Ratched. He even had the nerve to say Good morning, Miss Ratched, (267). He had gained that masculine confidence from having sex with Candy. Miss Ratched, on the other hand, quickly shot down his confidence by talking about his mother. Mrs. Babbitts
always been so proud of your discretion. I know she has. This is going to disturb her terribly (268). If it wasnt for the Big Nurse, Billy wouldve been able to regain his confidence through his relationship with Candy, but unfortunately, the Big Nurse did not allow that to happen. It seems to be that every man in the hospital has been affected by manipulation and overpowering women. The only person who deals with the women straightforwardly and logically is McMurphy. Yet, in the conclusion of the book, theres a final showdown between male gender verses female domination, with McMurphy losing out physically, winding up with a lobotomy. Nevertheless, ultimately successful in that he manages to give his friends the confidence to stand up to the women in their lives, instilling laughter and showing them how to relax. He gives Harding the confidence to feel masculine again, Bromden the ability to feel big and strong resulting in his escape from the asylum. Overall, Vera Harding, Nurse Ratched, Mrs. Bibbit, Bromdens mother, and others, no longer having that control.