The significance of the book in American literature is that it is a metaphor for society – the dehumanizing force of administrative and medical power is likened to mechanical “Combine” which is a huge machinery of oppression. Normal human behaviours are suppressed and the machinery of power is challenged by the tragic hero McMurphy. In the end he is lobotomized and finally killed by the narrator. It sounds like a horror story and it has very serious themes, but there is a lot of humor in the dialogue and in the quirky character of McMurphy.
This book contains a short but fascinating discussion of the character of Nurse Ratched, the Big Nurse. Using Freudian and Jungian psychological concepts, Aguiar shows how McMurphy sets himself up to fight a huge battle with a typical “ball-cutter”, which reveals his fear of the castrating female. This is then described as an archetypal mother hatred scenario, and Aguiar suggests that all of the male patients in the asylum see Nurse Ratched as a mother figure, and they apparently masochistically project their fear of their own mothers onto her. The target of McMurphy’s rebellion is not just the authority that Nurse Ratched holds, but also her actual femininity, and this is made clear when McMurphy attacks her and exposes her large breasts. Aguiar explores a Jungian analysis of this act in terms of the Oedipus complex, but somehow this analysis is unconvincing. After all Nurse Ratched triumphs over McMurphy in the end, and it could be argued that she is as much a victim of the oppressive system as he is. This book pursues a very strong feminist line, but in Kesey’s novel it finds more questions than answers, throwing up a number of intriguing theories, none of which address the mixed male/female/machine persona that is Nurse Ratched, or the decidedly positive view that the young McMurphy formed of women and heterosexual love.
This book examines issues around the religious nature of the