McMurphy is larger than life, a man destined to change the asylum forever. Whether he’s a psychopath or not, we’ll never know. Regardless, he sure is smart and he sure is likable and he sure does give the patients the ability to seize back the power that Nurse Ratched has stolen from them with her petty little rules and her many small cruelties. Though McMurphy has the opportunity to conform to the rules and save himself, he ultimately chooses to fight for the men on the ward. He recognizes the power that Nurse Ratched wields but doesn’t seem to understand the danger she represents to him until somebody points it out.
For a while, McMurphy does conform in order to save himself. However, after Cheswick commits suicide, McMurphy realizes that Nurse Ratched’s control is a life-and-death matter. At that point he steps up his rebellion. Punishment with electroshock therapy only serves to strengthen his will and preserve his spirit from Nurse Ratched’s manipulation. His strength in the face of electroshock therapy makes him an even more powerful symbol to the men on the ward. Though the patients are afraid for him and know that Nurse Ratched will do everything she can to get the better of McMurphy, he again doesn’t recognize the danger he’s in. He wants to stick around until he can help Billy overcome his fear of women. This is partly ignorance on McMurphy’s part and also partly self-sacrifice. By this time, he has a better understanding of the potential danger to himself but he’s still confident that he can beat the game.
Although he seems to be winning for a time, Nurse Ratched has the upper-hand. He loses it when Billy Bibbit commits suicide and he tries to strangle Nurse Ratched to death. When McMurphy is sent to the hospital after attempting to strangle Nurse Ratched, he returns a different man—part of his brain and all of his spirit are gone.Randle McMurphy's Timeline
One powerful, one small, this is the base of the biblical story David and Goliath. The story, in which a not so strong hero takes down a strong and powerful leader, is much like McMurphy and Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The match up between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched is a raging and intense one. Through out the novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, McMurphy and Nurse Ratched have always had conflict, as well as a sense of never-ending hatred and disagreement towards each other; which as the novel continues, grows stronger and stronger. Undoubtedly, despite the chaos and tension between them, McMurphy gets the better of the match up, thanks to his ability to manipulate people, his bravery, and his popularity.
McMurphy’s strong ability of manipulation helps him overcome conflict and in many occasions over power Nurse Ratched. McMurphy’s ability to get others to agree with him and manipulate them gives him the extra advantage against Nurse Ratched. In the novel McMurphy attempts to manipulate the other patients about watching the World Series game. He states, “This is where you get the edge, don’t you see that? We have to do this – or we’re whipped” (126) to try to convince and encourage the patients to vote against the Nurse Ratched to watch the game, but it was a failed attempt because the voting came out even (20-20). This event shows how McMurphy has a sense of control over the patients, as if he were their president or leader, and how McMurphy having all this power, usually leads him to manipulate for personal gain.
Another case that shows McMurphy’s great ability of manipulation is when McMurphy manipulates Chief Bromden to lift the control panel, “And that arm! That’s the arm of an ex-football-playing Indian if I ever saw one. You know what I think? I think you oughta give this here panel a leetlle heft, just to test how you’re comin’.”(225). After this McMurphy takes bets from the Acutes that it can’t be done. McMurphy, of course, had already hedged his bet by having Chief display his ability to lift the panel previously. This event shows how McMurphy tricks and influences people and patients wheatear it is for the good of the whole or for personal gain. McMurphy’s power to effect people’s decisions and manipulate them gives him a special ability that allows him to, many times, control the people around Nurse Ratched, and consequentially have more power over her.
McMurphy, as well as being manipulative, also has another special quality that helps him have the upper hand against Nurse Ratched. This quality is his bravery. McMurphy’s deep bravery allows him to do what others wont, as a result leading to change, whether good or bad. When McMurphy is denied a companion pass with Candy (prostitute) he responds by putting his hand through the glass of the nurses’ station, which he knows is not allowed. This shows how McMurphy is daring and brave enough to so directly challenge and disobey Nurse Ratched. As the plot continues McMurphy starts to “attack” Nurse Ratched by breaking Washington’s nose, disobeying the rules, and flirting with the student nurses.
His frequent “hits” towards Nurse Ratched is an indirect implementation of McMurphy showing Nurse Ratched that he is not scared nor is he going to give in. Another example of McMurphy’s bravery is when Billy dies and Nurse Ratched blames him for his death, “First Charles Cheswick and now William Bibbit! I hope you’re finally satisfied. Playing with human lives-gambling with human lives-as if you though yourself to be a God!” In retaliation for her lies and Billy’s death, he tears open her uniform, exposing her breasts to all the ptients.
Her sexuality, which is her one weak point, has been exposed; as a result, she is rendered defenseless in front of all the patients. This exposing of her weakness has helped in completing the path that McMurphy has forged, loosening her hold on the patients. She is no longer in complete control of them. This, “last act of bravery”, demonstrates McMurphy’s ability to face and deal with danger (nurse’s punishments). His bravery encouraged many of the other patients to step up as well. McMurphy’s bravery makes Nurse Ratched’s ultimate power, fear, negligible; thus giving McMurphy an advantage.
* Kesey, Ken. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. published 1962: Signet edition 1986, New York.