“But, when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security” (U.S. 1776), a quote from the Declaration of Independence. This quote basically means that when men find themselves being governed by a cruel leader who uses strict rules or laws on them, those men have a right to fight that leader because of his or her unjust rules or laws. These rules generally do not benefit these men in any way but serve only to control them and prevent them from growing and developing. This quote can easily be related to a theme in Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which is a story about a man named Randle McMurphy who fights an over controlling Nurse Ratched, a ward nurse who uses strict rules to control her patients in a mental hospital. Her rules are absurd, unjust, and they give her too much power. In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey explores the theme that some rules should be bent and broken in order for people and society to grow, develop, and prosper. There is a fine difference between rules made to control society in a positive way and rules made to keep society in complete control. When a governing party gets together to make a law or rule, that party usually intends for that rule or law to be beneficial for that society. However, when there are rules that harm the people in any way, then there is a problem with those rules. In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Nurse Ratched uses an extensive system of rules and regulations to keep the patients under control. Many of these rules take away the patients’ freedom, and range greatly in importance. For example, there are rules that control the patients’ schedule each day:
Efficiency locks the ward like a watchman’s clock. Everything the guys think and say and do is all worked out months in advance... At the beginning of each day... lights flash on at six thirty... acutes [patients] up out of bed as the black boys can prod them out... six forty-five the shavers buzz and acutes line up in alphabetical order... seven o’clock the mess hall opens... seven-thirty back to the day room. (Kesey 31-33).
Nurse Ratched has complete control of what the patients do throughout the day, which takes away much of their free will. In addition, she severely restricts the number of entertainment options for the patients in the day room. They are only allowed to play approved board games such as monopoly and card games, which after a while can both become mind numbingly boring. There are also smaller, more subtle rules, such as music constantly playing in the day room and toothpaste being locked away. None of these rules mentioned have any positive effects on the patients. They only serve to completely control the patients’ lives. As a result of these rules, the patients of the asylum are abused and corrupted in many different ways. Rules should never have a negative effect on the people who follow them. In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Nurse Ratched’s rules abuse the patients physically, psychologically, and mentally. She physically abuses them by letting the black boys, her followers, manhandle the patients constantly. Everyday the black boys forcefully push and drag the patients around the ward so they can follow their tasks. In many ways this is degrading to the patients’ free will. An example would be the fact that the black boys shave the patients everyday. Taking a man’s right to shave himself is incredibly demeaning. In addition to that, the black boys sometimes force feed the patients and wash them in shower rooms. However, the most humiliating act that the black boys do to the patients is sexually abuse them. As mentioned earlier, Nurse Ratched also exploits the patients mentally and psychologically. The nurse does this by prescribing