We have now seen the film of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and many of you commented on how Nurse Ratched did not look as you expected. Did you feel that she was different in any other ways?
As a character Nurse Ratched does not change throughout the novel. She is scheming and manipulative from the beginning to the end. She asserts arbitrary control simply because she can.
Nurse Ratched’s character is reflected in her name. McMurphy pronounces it as “Rat-shed” in an early part of the book. She is somewhat rodent like as she works quietly and quickly and certainly at the expense of the patients. Ratched is able to infect the hospital staff and patients with her irrational desire for order.
As we have discussed in class Ratched is also a pun of ratchet – a device that uses a twisting motion to tighten bolts into place. The ratchet according to critic Ronald Wallace is also “like a ratchet wrench she keeps her patients adjusted but like a ratchet, a gear in the Combine, she is herself mechanically enmeshed.” Other critics see her name as a pun on the word “wretched.”
According to Chief Bromden, Ratched “tends to get real put out if something keeps her outfit from running like a smooth, accurate, precision-made machine. The slightest thing messy or out of kilter or in the way ties her into a little white knot of tight-smiled fury.” Bromden describes her as resembling a doll on the outside, but mechanised and steel underneath. Her expressions are always “calculated and mechanical.”
At one point in the novel the Public Relations man describes Nurse Ratched as “just like a mother,” and if you compare her with the Chief’s mother and Billy’s mother she probably does. Like the former she is emasculating as she forces the men on the ward to behave like little boys. Ratched makes the patients tell their secrets and she won’t let them challenge her authority. However, it is interesting to note that she tries to hide her gender from everyone by obscuring her large womanly breasts behind her starched and sterile uniform.