Illustration of Nurse Ratched

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

by Ken Kesey
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Compare and contrast Nurse Ratched's treatments of one of the men with McMurphy's interactions with the same men in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest?

One can compare and contrast Nurse Ratched's treatment of Billy Bibbit with how McMurphy interacts with him in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Whereas Nurse Ratched treats Billy like a child, McMurphy interacts with him as a fellow human being, not as a mental patient. McMurphy's interactions with Billy give him the confidence to challenge Nurse Ratched's authority.

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At no point does Nurse Ratched treat Billy like a fully-grown man. Right throughout the book, she treats him with the same degree of officiousness and condescension as the other inmates. Nurse Ratched dominates and controls Billy, making him feel incredibly nervous in her presence. Whenever she talks to him,...

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At no point does Nurse Ratched treat Billy like a fully-grown man. Right throughout the book, she treats him with the same degree of officiousness and condescension as the other inmates. Nurse Ratched dominates and controls Billy, making him feel incredibly nervous in her presence. Whenever she talks to him, Billy always entwines his arms and legs, a nervous gesture which shows just how intimidated he is by her.

When Billy meets McMurphy for the first time he acts in a similarly nervous way. But it isn't very long before Billy comes out of his shell and starts becoming more confident and self-assured. This is because McMurphy treats him like an adult, making him realize that there's a big old world out there beyond the confines of the institute—that instead of being cooped-up in a psych ward, treated like a child by the controlling Nurse Ratched, he should be out there having fun, driving cars and chasing girls.

Thanks to McMurphy Billy realizes he's much stronger than he thought he was. It's notable that when Nurse Ratched confronts him after she discovers him in bed with Candy, Billy is able to speak to her without stuttering for the first time. This is entirely due to the influence of McMurphy, who, by treating Billy as a human being, has given him the strength to come out from underneath Nurse Ratched's thumb.

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