One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

by: Ken Kesey

Important Quotations Explained

3. So you see my friend, it is somewhat as you stated: man has but one truly effective weapon against the juggernaut of modern matriarchy, but it certainly is not laughter. One weapon, and with every passing year in this hip, motivationally researched society, more and more people are discovering how to render that weapon useless and conquer those who have hitherto been conquerors. . . .

This passage occurs later in the same discussion that followed McMurphy’s first Group Meeting in Part I. Here, Kesey begins to develop his misogynistic theory about modern society. Harding is talking to McMurphy, explaining that men’s one weapon against women is the penis, and that if men are unable to use rape effectively, they have no chance to regain power in society. Kesey believes that women have learned this, and they now know how to render men’s one weapon useless—in other words, they are all ball-cutters. Where rape is the male means to power, castration is the female way to domination.

These crude ideas are given substance throughout the novel. Kesey uses McMurphy’s fearless sexuality as a sign that he is sane. McMurphy goads Ratched sexually by wearing just a towel, pinching her rear, remarking on her breasts, and eventually tearing her shirt open. Most of the male patients have stories about damaging relationships with women, such as Bromden’s mother, Billy Bibbit’s mother and onetime girlfriend, and Harding’s wife. When McMurphy notices Bromden’s erection, a sign that he is “getting bigger already,” it signifies that Bromden is becoming more powerful and saner. Similarly, through sex with Candy, Billy briefly regains his confidence and his manhood, until Ratched takes it away and he commits suicide. Moreover, Ratched and the hospital supervisor, also a woman, wield all the power in the hospital: “We are victims of a matriarchy here,” says Harding.