How is Nurse Ratched’s strategy of silence at the staff meetings establish her power over the others?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Nurse Ratched's driving force of control is what compels her to use silence at the staff meetings.  The use of silence is deliberate.  Discourse, discussion, and disagreement are loud and talkative means of validating voice.  For Nurse Ratched, silence ensures compliance, adherence to her expectations, and a guarantee that there will be no competition for her power.  In his assessment of her, Chief recognizes how Nurse Ratched is able to use silence as a way to ensure her continued control over everyone and everything:

So after the nurse gets her staff, efficiency locks the ward like a watchman's clock. Everything the guys think and say and do is all worked out months in advance, based on the little notes the nurse makes during the day. This is typed and fed into the machine I hear humming behind the steel door in the rear of the Nurses' Station.

The silence that Nurse Ratched uses includes "efficiency" and the extreme planning to ensure that nothing else is heard but the "humming" of the machine that ensures her control is absolute.  For Nurse Ratched, this silence is used to divide people from solidarity and to shame others into submission.  This silence is what enables her to get her way, as Nurse Ratched uses silence as almost a tool that dissuades others from pursuing any path but hers.  It is for this reason that McMurphy, who talks and continually seeks to break through the silence, becomes the ultimate threat for Nurse Ratched.  

Read the study guide:
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

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