5 Ways “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” is an Anti-Government Metaphor
By Joe Jarvis
– April 21, 2017 Can you imagine being stuck in an insane asylum, when you aren’t really crazy?That is sometimes what society feels like, living life in this government controlled nut house.One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a great source of parallels between the abusive nature of government power, and the treatment of those living in an insane asylum.The book was written by Ken Kesey after he worked in a sanitarium. This post is based mostly off of the play version I saw, which may vary from the movie with Jack Nicholson which I haven’t seen in years, or the book which I read last year.
There are spoilers.In case you don’t know what One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is about, Randle McMurphy had a 5-month prison sentence, but decided to feign insanity in order to spend his time in an asylum instead of prison. The asylum was run by a sadistic nurse named Nurse Ratched.1. The Administration. Although Nurse Ratched runs the insane asylum, she is not really in charge. Technically, the doctor must sign off on requests, and have the final word in therapy, including shock therapy, and lobotomy. The Doc in charge is actually a pretty nice guy; he connects with McMurphy, signs off on his slutty visitor, and even endorses his idea for a “carnival” in the ward.But the doctor has an ulcer, 200 patients, and is getting old. He is probably making good money, and only a few years away from comfy retirement. Sure, he might support McMurphy in rhetoric, or at the weekly meetings, but he really can’t be bothered to stick his head on the chopping block for anyone. In the end, he agrees a lobotomy could be allowed on McMurphy if he exhibits violence for a second time, even though the doctor knows full well the first episode of violence was instigated by Ratched and the orderlies.
The orderlies are the enforcers. Ratched may suggest the lobotomy, and the Doctor must approve it, but the people who will grab either arm and tie McMurphy down on the operating table are the orderlies. And they hate Nurse Ratched too! But they are also sadistic themselves and draw joy from their power to abuse the patients without retaliation. They are able to be bribed at one point to help McMurphy throw a party but quickly revert to supporting Nurse Ratched as soon as they are caught.
These are the guys who are just following orders and have their job security to think about.The one who seeks the most power gets it. Nurse Ratched is a middle management bureaucrat. She has power over the enforcers but still has to appeal to her superiors. Her minions will follow every order, no matter how much they hate it, and her superiors can’t be bothered by the hassle.
So really, the shots are not called by the doctor (our elected officials), nor the orderlies (enforcers like police and tax agents), but by the Nurse Ratcheds–think regulators and Directors of government agencies.2. The Inmates.
After the first therapy session, McMurphy can’t believe how Nurse Ratched treats the patients. Of course, she claims everything she does is strictly for therapeutic purposes, but McMurphy can see through her thinly veiled sadism. Ratched brings up the educated inmate Dale’s young wife with big boobs and asks why he was never able to satisfy her. Another inmate chimes in to ask why Dale doesn’t just admit he’s gay.
McMurphy intervenes and the meeting is disrupted enough to disperse.McMurphy then asks Dale why he would take that from her and the others. Dale begins by launching into an energetic defense of Nurse Ratched claiming that everything she does is to help, that she is like a mother, cares deeply for all her patients, and only seeks to transition them into the outside world as fully functioning, normal members of society… “That bitch”. Dale can’t help but realize at the end of his defensive speech that Nurse Ratched really is horrible.
What therapeutic benefit could be derived from making a man feel worthless and impotent while talking sexually about his young wife?And we should never assume that what the government does is for our, or anyone else’s benefit. They don’t care about the poor who they exploit by keeping them in poverty to get votes when they toss them scraps in the form of welfare.
The bureaucrats get to control the money, some of which will make it to their friends. Politicians also do favors for political donors, which sometimes amounts to them being put in a Nurse Ratched type position of power. These people are out for themselves and will use any excuse to get more power, and more control. For example the drug war: we aren’t locking non-violent offenders up for their own benefit, it keeps the prison-industrial-complex rich, and the Nurse Ratcheds will make sure of that.
Nurse Ratched goes to work every day and gets a sick pleasure from psychologically torturing the inmates, yet everyone on the outside, and even most on the inside believe that what she is doing is for…….