Peoples' ability to use power to control and manipulate situations and
people is a skill not many people have. Unfortunately this skill can lead to conflict
as it did in Ken Kesely's novel One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest when McMurphy
and Nurse Ratched meet each other.
McMurphy has been after Nurse Ratched's power right from the beginning.
After the first group meeting he pointed out that the meeting was like a "pecking
party". The Nurse starts it with pointing out something wrong with someone and
then the men join in with their criticism. Her book was the same idea. The men
would listen to each other and when one said something that they shouldn't have
they write it down so it can be brought up for "therapeutic reasons", but when
McMurphy came all that changed. That made the nurse furious, that was her way
of keeping perfect control and power over the patients.
McMurphy had complete power over the patients from when he first came
in. Nobody like him had ever been in the ward before. He came in singing and
laughing, something that no one had heard in a long time. He walked around the
room shaking hands, introducing himself to everyone, even the chronics. He
taught the acutes how to play cards and he taught them to gamble. His very first
bet though was that he could get the best of nurse Ratched within the week, and
he did. She wasn't going to back down though. To try and stop all the gambling
going on she rationed the cigarettes, so they no longer had anything to bet, but
that never stopped them, they used money instead.
The patients admired McMurphy because no one had ever stood up to her
before, and he would do things for them such as arranging basketball games. He
was also the one who enabled the patients to use the tub room for card games, and
so they could get away from that horrifying music that the nurse always played.
The tub room is also significant in the power struggle because it was the doctor
who helped McMurphy obtain it. The Dr. was the one who came up with all the
solutions for the problems that the nurse would bring up to try and stop the men
from using it. McMurphy and the Doctor even went to the same high school and
the nurse caught them reminiscing about old times, laughing, yelling and having a
The doctor, the one who is suppose to help the nurse, helped McMurphy in
taking the men on a fishing trip that the nurse clearly didn't approve of. She did
her best to try and persuade the men to stay. She cut out articles of people dying,
crashing in ship wrecks and how terrible the weather was and put them on the
bulletin board to scare the men so they wouldn't go. It almost worked.
McMurphy needed one more person, after he signed up the Chief he made a deal
with George that if he came he could be captain of the ship, so George came. But
then McMurphy had two girls that were suppose to come with cars, but only one
showed up. The nurse thought that she had won, and she had, until the doctor
offered his car and services if he could come to even when the nurse told him not
The nurse did have her two moments of glory. She points out to the men
that McMurphy always seems to get something out of doing things for the men.
He got money and most of their cigarettes from gambling, and he was even
making a profit from taking them on the fishing trip. That makes all of them stop
and think. But as Harding says, they don't mind him getting some money, it is
worth it for them.
But they do mind. Her second moment is when McMurphy realizes that he is one
of the only people committed and he gives up.
McMurphy does do stupid, little things to keep the power such as, punching
through the glass twice, and breaking it again with the basketball. He makes
comments to her about her breasts, and he rips her front open as a final victory
and to show the others her feminine side.
Towards the end though he does things for others instead of himself. He
arranged for Candy to come for Billy, although the consequences weren't good the
intentions were. He got the Chief to realize that he was a huge man and that he
was capable of doing lots of things, even lifting the control panel. And most
importantly he helps George out in the shower when the black boys were trying to
scrub him down, which leads to severe punishment from Nurse Ratched.
He got the men to stand up for themselves and each other. He got them
doing things they may have never done in their whole life, and they loved him for
that. If it wasn't for McMurphy I believe that they would have stayed in that
hospital maybe until they died, because all the nurse seemed to do was bring
down their self-esteem, probably to make herself look better and feel better.