Control In Cuckoos Ken Kesey’s masterpiece novel One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest uses many themes, symbols, and imagery to illustrate the reality of the lives of a group of mental patients. The element of control is a central, arguably the largest, and the most important theme in the novel. The element of control revolves around the two main characters of the novel, Randle P. McMurphy, and Nurse Ratched. These two characters are the exact antithesis of each other, and they both seek to get their own way. They both realize that in order to get their own way, they must gain control over their rival and the ward.
McMurphy and Nurse Ratched have different methods of attaining and using what control they have. They have different motives for seeking control over others. They also have different perceptions of the amount of control they possess. Throughout the novel, these two characters engulf themselves in an epic struggle for the most control. This struggle for control proves to be futile for both characters as they watch what control they thought had collapse like a house of cards.
The element of control in Cuckoo’s Nest contains a certain definition. Control as it applies to the characters in Cuckoo’s Nest means that one character has substantial influence over the actions of another character. This control can influence another character’s attitudes, emotions, reactions, or even how they live their day-to-day life. The character of Chief Bromden provides an excellent example of how strong an influence control has over a character in Cuckoo’s Nest. The Chief has multiple delusions in which he imagines society as a dreadful machine he calls ‘The Combine’.
The Chief believes The Combine uses several machines (Nurse Ratched being one of the most powerful) to make people conform to its idea of order. One machine that The Chief mentions frequently is the ‘Fog Machine’, which creates fog that confuses and controls his perception of reality. The Chief does not mind this fog all the time, because it provides him with an escape from interaction with other people, particularly those who would make life worse for him. Sometimes, the Chief actually welcomes the thick fog. “And I’m glad when it gets thick enough you’re lost in it and can let go, and be safe again.” (Kesey, 101) By welcoming the fog, The Chief is allowing The Combine to control his conception of safety and security.
Randle Patrick McMurphy Characters with the ability to influence others through control in Cuckoo’s Nest do not always abuse their control for undignified reasons like Nurse Ratched. There are characters that use their ability to control for noble purposes, which sometimes provide a great deal of benefit to other characters. Randle Patrick McMurphy, the rebellious main character of Cuckoo’s Nest, provides the best example of a character using his control for noble purposes. R.P. McMurphy is one of the most memorable and heroic characters in modern fiction. The most basic description of him is a rebellious and noble con man.
His goals during his stay at the mental ward are to serve out his time while making a little money on the side. His quest for control begins on his first day in the ward. His initial motive for his desire of control is quite selfish. He recognizes Nurse Ratched’s control by observing how she influences all of the Acutes to work against each other during a group meeting. He remarks to the other patients, “Is this the usual pro-cedure for these group ther’py shindigs? Bunch a chickens at a peckin’ party?” (Kesey, 55) Afterwards, McMurphy places a bet with some of the Acutes that he can “get her (Nurse Ratched’s) goat” which is an allegory for aggravating her and they by controlling how she handles her temper. He feels that if he can control Nurse Ratched, he can also influence (control) other patients to gamble with him.
McMurphy then begins his epic battle with Nurse Ratched. He defies ward polices by taking an early morning shower and brushing his teeth before Nurse Ratched arrives at the ward. When she does arrive, she is angered with him, but does not let it show to anyone. Nurse Ratched even keeps her cool when McMurphy deliberately tries to set her off when he removes his towel only to reveal his flashy boxer shorts. “She can’t have them (the patients) see her face like this, white and warped with fury. She uses all the power of control that’s in her, and gradually the lips gather together again under her little white nose.” (Kesey, 90) McMurphy continues his relentless pursuit of control over Nurse Ratched. He manages to influence Dr.
Spivey, into opening the tub room for the patients during the daytime. McMurphy influencing Spivey, who is regularly under The Big Nurses’ control, sparks her temper again but again she regains herself before she expresses anger. The dam finally breaks when and McMurphy gains control over Nurse Ratched’s temper, when he rebels against ward policy of watching the World Series. He narrowly falls one vote shy of changing the policy, and he responds to the vote by sitting down and pretending to watch the World Series when he is actually watching a blank screen. When other patients join in on McMurphy’s rebellion, Nurse Ratched explodes in anger. She tries to use her control over the other patients to get them to stop ‘watching’ the game, but it does not work because the patients ignore her.
Her temper detonates: “You’re committed, you realize. You are under the jurisdiction of me .. the staff. Under jurisdiction and control – ” (Kesey, 128) McMurphy clearly wins the control battle over Nurse Ratched. His influence and control over the patients is stronger than hers, thus believes that he has control of the ward.
McMurphy realizes soon after the incident that his victory and control over Nurse Ratched are an illusion. McMurphy discovers that he is committed to the ward and his release is dependent on when only Nurse Ratched decides to release him. McMurphy then begins to fall in line with the others. He does not speak up at any more meetings and does not cause any more problems for Nurse Ratched, who has regained her control. She realized that she is once again the main influence in the patient’s life.
She tries to make use of her regained control, by shutting down the tub room as a punishment for the World Series incident. McMurphy has an epiphany after he hears this. He realizes that he must regain control over the nurse. He realizes he must do this not just to spite her, but because no one else ever has stood up to her, because they are too afraid of her. He sees that if does not stand up for the other patients, they will never stand up for themselves and as a result, they will live the rest of their lives under Nurse Ratched’s control.
McMurphy’s motive for taking control changes from self-benefit to self and group benefit. His first act after his epiphany renews the intense war for control between Nurse Ratched and himself. McMurphy takes a stand for the rights of the patients while risking the possibility of his release from the institution. McMurphy, much to the astonishment of the Big Nurse, rejuvenates their battle by smashing the window to the Nurses’ Station to retrieve his confiscated cigarettes. He sarcastically justifies his actions by saying that the glass was so clean that he completely forgot it was there. McMurphy’s conclusion that the patients never have stood up for themselves because they are terribly frightened of the Big Nurse is correct.
Nurse Ratched’s control over the patients is so strong that she tears down the manhood of all of the men, puts fear in them, and totally controls their lives. Through his strength, McMurphy single handedly makes the men realize that they are not too weak to take control over their lives and to stand up to Nurse Ratched. “He reminds the lost souls of their humanity and restores their belief in the possession of joy.” (Buchanan and Hofman, 2000) McMurphy inspires the men to the point where they can take control back in their lives. He starts to recover their control by influencing more of the patients to take part in his rebellion. He uses his control over the men to give them back control over their lives. His actions influence others to do the same.
A couple of the patients break the new window in the Nurse’s Station with a basketball. McMurphy creates a basketball team, and before Nurse Ratched can dissolve the team, Dr. Spivey acts to keep the team. McMurphy organizes a fishing trip for the patients. Nurse Ratched again tries to influence the patients so that they will reverse decision, but again she fails to win the small battles of control.
McMurphy even throws an after hours party for the patients. During the party, McMurphy and Candy Starr make a break through with Billy who discovers that he is in control of his own life. Through all these events, McMurphy reminds the patients that the people on the outside world are free of Nurse Ratched’s control and they all could be free of her control as well. McMurphy does not teach the patients to take a stand for purely unselfish reasons. He has other ulterior motives, such as making a profit out the fishing trip, but these other motives do not outweigh his main motive of helping the other patients. This is the reason he does not make his escape during …