Disability and Gender in Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest


  • Caroline Leach
  • Stuart Murray University of Leeds




This essay explores the themes of disability and gender in Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The novel's portrayal of mental disability is found to be impressive in its avoidance of stereotypes through the representation of its characters as individuals, rather than merely characterizing symptoms of mental disorders. In exploring the novel's investment in individual characters, however, it becomes clear that within the novel, disability and emasculation are intrinsically linked. This creates something of a patriarchal undercurrent to the text: Nurse Ratched's control is a direct result of her continual emasculation and her de-feminized domination of the all-male patients. In contrast, McMurphy, the infamous anti-hero of the text, is celebrated as a liberator despite having been committed for rape. These portrayals of the main characters seem ultimately representative of a troubling message in the novel: that a matriarchy abolished can be a satisfactory conclusion to the plot, and further, is seen as a cure for the patients' mental illnesses.






Special Topic: Disability Studies in the Undergraduate Classroom, Pt. 6: Intersections with Gender and Sexuality