One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Research Proposal

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¶ … Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

"I'm a goddamn marvel of modern science."


One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest is a modern classic novel that weaves the story of how one man was led in his journey of rediscovering himself by another moan's daunting spirit to defy authority and conformity. Narrated from the point-of-view of a seemingly marginal character in the story, it is the story of Randle Patric McMurphy, of how he unwittingly "liberated" mentally ill men from the shackles of the repressive and oppressive Nurse Ratched, also known as the Big Nurse, who holds sway over their life and limb inside the mental facility. The seemingly quiet control that the Big Nurse was disputed with the arrival of McMurphy who deliberately submitted himself to the mental institution to escape the wretchedness of the work-farm prison where he is serving his term for statutory rape.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Research Proposal on One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Assignment

From the first time McMurphy set foot on the facility, he gave every inkling that he would be a respectful patient but did not conceal his defiance against authority and conformity. His boisterous grand entrance astonished even the most subdued among the patients indicating that the silence has inadvertently been broken. Thus began the power struggle between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched; one to undermine the tyrannical power that forces those rendered mentally and emotionally powerless to yield only to themselves to undermine while the other silently and subtly exerting and asserting her power. In the case of those who have been physiologically incapacitated, the hope to break free is nil. Amidst the hustle and bustle of this power struggle is the silent narration of Chief Bromden who unconsciously took relative control of his life in a deranged environment by pretending to be deaf and dumb. This gave him the benefit of seeing and hearing while posing as no threat to both patients and hospital authorities with his silence. The key themes of individuality and rebellion against authority and conformity in both book and film resonate the socially turbulent times of the 1960s when the cultural fabric of America was undergoing a revolution. Coming out of the comforts of post-War America is the newfound resistance against the system and the diminishing respect for authority (Goodwin and Bradley). Written and published in an era of mass protests and social upheaval, the story condemns the system that literally and figuratively lobotomizes whatever is left of the mental faculty of people who are supposedly needing society's guardianship. The story is an indictment of the dehumanizing practice of psychiatric drug and electroshock treatments, which was slowly gaining criticism in the early 1960s (Faggen ix). While the story has strong anti-psychiatry narrative, it nonetheless depicts the different ways society deals with people with mental dysfunction: the repressive and controlling system represented by Nurse Ratched and her aides, the arms-length treatment (sometimes condescending) ways of Dr. Spivery, and the attempts at normalcy of both Candy and Sandy. Overall, though, emphasis was on the repressive and oppressive relations that Nurse Ratched has with her wards. Viewed to be a critique of the system, Nurse Ratched aptly personifies the unfeeling practice of psychiatry, which was slowly gaining criticism when the book was first published. Among the critiques of the psychiatric practice was psychoanalyst Dr. Thomas S. Szasz who, in a recent publication defines psychiatry as "the theory and practice of coercion, rationalized as the diagnosis of mental illness and justified as medical treatment aimed at protecting the patient from himself and society from the patient" (Szasz). In the same article he questions the moral justness of incarcerating patients who have been diagnosed to have mental disorders (Szasz). The moral justness of diminishing the value of people who are "mentally sick" is plainly shown in both film and novel with Nurse Ratched exercising total power and control over patients and, in certain instances, she feigns concern for what is blatantly a disregard for the overall welfare of her wards. Nurse Ratched's control within the walls of the hospital is expressed in varied ways in both the novel and the film adaptation: the rigid schedule she subjects the patients, pitting her wards against one another by encouraging them to display each other's dirty laundry in a public space such as the logbook, having the switch for the television and radio to regulate their use, among many other forms. By encouraging the patients to put each other's "dirty laundry" in the logbook, Nurse Ratched exercises her power over the patients with her divide-and-conquer mindset by shamelessly pitting the inmates against each other. Her obsession with control is seen with her unflinching commitment to a routine that only McMurphy had the courage to challenge with his insistence to watch the World Series. Her control over the facility is further enhanced by the submissiveness of her assistants and the ruthlessness of her two aides, William and Washington. Her manipulative ways makes that control all the more oppressive, as it disguises as concern for the patients' well-being.

McMurphy's admission in the institution, however, challenged the tyrannical hold of Nurse Ratched on the patients, after which a series of power struggles emerged. One of the many instances of this power struggle between the two main characters was McMurphy's deliberate attempt to ruffling Nurse Ratched's feathers when he came out of the bathroom in a towel. This sparked the nurse's indignation, an instance when McMurphy has claimed a small victory over her when it was eventually revealed that he had purposefully intended to embarrass her as a means of undermining her authority and control. The total disgust elicited by McMurphy's stunts on Nurse Ratched indicates the latter's view that the former did not have any business challenging her authority, especially not in front of the patients whom she exercised control over before McMurphy arrived. As McMurphy revels in his newfound role as the instigator of rebellion against Nurse Ratched's authority, he misunderstood and underestimated how Nurse Ratched can exert such dominance over the patients. And there lies the true power behind Nurse Ratched's dominance-having the instruments that makes the inmates cower into submission. Such total control reveals society's complicity to the inhumane treatment of patients with mental disorder. The mere existence of facilities for electroshock treatments and surgical operations convicts the state and its institutions, and reveals its view that people with mental cases are justified to be put under brutal intervention. As the story shows, patients are not only forced into submission but they are predisposed to becoming worthless members of society, as portrayed by the Wheelers or the Vegetables, to be subject to medical treatments that will suppress any non-conforming behavior as determined by Nurse Ratched. Man, as Chief Bromden narrates, is likened to a machine with parts that can be deemed reparable, categorized under the Acutes, or irreparable, the Chronics who are further categorized as Walkers and Wheelers or Vegetables. While institution authorities have this view of the inmates, McMurphy represents those that view even mentally sick people as having the capacity to exercise their mental faculties even in a limited sense. This view of McMurphy, however, is challenged by Nurse Ratched with the particularly poignant scene in the film when he elicits their votes to watch the World Series on television, which the Big Nurse does not allow. In a seemingly smart move to undermine Nurse Ratched once again, he lures the others to join him in his imaginary World Series.

Reading the text and viewing the movie from the perspective of control, one is confronted with the question of who determines what makes a person sane or insane. Who determines whether one falls into one category and not in the other? According to Leifer, "[a]dult psychiatric patients ... can be defined as mentally ill, involuntarily committed to a psychiatric institution, and forced to submit to drugging and electroshock" (1). While one may be arbitrarily diagnosed as needing mental treatments, this makes him/her susceptible to being a subject of medical-psychiatric treatments. Leifer succinctly points out in that "[d]iagnosing" persons as mentally ill who complain of or display certain forms of undesired and undesirable thought, mood, and behavior renders them vulnerable to being managed by a ubiquitous mental health system. Involuntary confinement and forced drugging can be seen as means of social control" (2). He strongly contends that & #8230; "psychiatry violates the principle of rule of law which prohibits depriving a person of freedom without an accusatory indictment and a trial by jury governed by rules of evidence which gives a verdict of guilt for violating a specific law. This critique of psychiatry is based on the ethical and political respect for individual freedom under law which is the political foundations of this republic. Medical-coercive psychiatry violates these fundamental values" (Leifer 2). On the other hand, one can deliberately inspire his/her admission to a mental facility as the case of McMurphy. Szasz aptly describes such calculated choice of McMurphy as a means of assuming the role of a mental patient sans the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.  (2009, April 29).  Retrieved May 31, 2020, from

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"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."  29 April 2009.  Web.  31 May 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."  April 29, 2009.  Accessed May 31, 2020.