Power and control are the central ideas of Ken Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. There are examples of physical, authoritative and mechanical power in the novel, as well as cases of self-control, and control over others. Nurse Ratched is the ultimate example of authoritative power and control over others but R.P. McMurphy refuses to acknowledge the Nurse’s power, and encourages others to challenge the status quo. The other patients begin powerless, but with McMurphy’s help, learn to control their own lives. Many symbols are also used to represent power and control in the book, such as the ‘Combine’, ‘fog’, and the imagery of machines.
Arthur Miller develops themes of power ...view middle of the document...
The Big Nurse has great self-control; she is not easily flustered and never lets others see what she is feeling. Rather than accusing the men of anything, she ‘insinuates’. Although she isn’t physically larger than the ‘small’ nurses, The Chief describes Nurse Ratched as ‘Big’ because of the power she holds – this presentation of size is used for many characters.
Once McMurphy attacks the nurse and exposes her breasts and thus her sexuality – which she has always tried hard to conceal – she loses control over the ward and ultimately loses the ongoing battle between herself and McMurphy.
In The Crucible, Miller too created a character that would stand against authority; John Proctor. When Proctor is questioned as to why he has not been to church in so long, he admits that he has ill feelings towards Parris and the way that Parris gives sermons. Proctor does not like authority, and since Parris talks as though he is an authority figure, Proctor has an issue with this. Proctor is very critical over representatives of authority. Proctor changes from a timid character held in bondage by his sin, to a strong, righteous man who will die for the truth. This drastic change in his character is the basis of his significance to the outcome of the play. When faced with the prospect of either confessing to something he didn’t do, or dying, he tells judge Danforth that he cannot have his confession and name nailed to the church door because it would betray his friends who have already died for the truth. When Danforth refutes this, John says, “Beguile me not! I blacken all of them when this is nailed to the church the very day they hang for silence!” (143). Proctor seizes the power back from those who are misusing it, simply by refusing to be a part of the false confessions. The unyielding faith of Proctor’s wife, the influence of the people who share his beliefs and his triumph over an inner struggle help him make a decision that he believes will finally set him free from his past.
Kesey’s character against power is Randle Patrick McMurphy. He is a loud-mouthed, defiant and unpredictable man. He has power simply because of these characteristics. He rejects authority and ‘keeps them on their toes’. The Chief sees McMurphy, like the Big Nurse, as ‘big’. McMurphy teaches the men to gain control over themselves by questioning their compliance and apathy towards their own lives.
Miller created Danforth to be similar to what Big Nurse is in Cuckoo’s Nest. Danforth is strict in terms of his authority in the court. And not only is he adamant about his own personal authority, he acts the same way about the authority of the institution of the court system. He thinks that the court is the highest authority in the land, and because he presides over it, he will not stand for people questioning the way he runs it. When anyone tries to speak out against how the court and Danforth are handling the witch-hunt, they find themselves accused of witchcraft.