Illustration of Nurse Ratched

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

by Ken Kesey

Start Free Trial

What does it mean to comment on a character's masculinity in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest?

My english teacher recently assigned my class an essay prompt regarding the character Chief in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. It asks us to 'comment on Chief's masculinity and how it may have been compromised' using pages 210-214 (Chief's flashback to the day he encounter three white people who wanted to construct a dam), but I don't know whether I should identify who makes Chief lose his masculinity, find some important characteristic of Chief's masculinity, state why he loses his masculinity, or just explain how it happened. From the prompt it's clear that the essay has to have an argument, but none of the ideas I've listed above seem to be provable or arguable. Does the prompt really just want any argument about Chief's masculinity, or is there more too it that I don't understand? How do you respond to such a prompt, and how can you write anything valid that you can demonstrate? It seems to me that the only thing even remotely provable would be some type of characteristic about Chief's masculinity (he becomes overtly masculine in response to..., he always represses his masculinity when he encounters...) but there doesn't seem to be any evidence for any of these traits within 210-214. I can reference other parts of the book, but the prompt tells me to focus on these pages, and my teacher told me it would actually be possible to write a good essay on these five pages alone. I don't know if should try and use the whole book, or just follow my teacher's advice.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This is a fairly challenging element.  Part of the reason why it is challenging is because you have many ideas floating around that are interestingly compelling in thought, but have difficulty being executed on their own.  In the final analysis, the decision is going to have to be yours with some input from your instructor as to how to progress with the paper.  Without actually seeing the assignment, I think that part of what has to be done with it is to investigate how the incident with the White men at the dam impacts the notion of masculinity that Chief possesses.  Part of what might be effective is for you to comment on how this particular scene fits into the masculine notion of construction of one's identity in the novel.  Chief's primary purpose is to indicate that part of what defines one state of being in the novel is being able to exercise autonomy in the construction of self.  Chief is unable or unwilling to do this until he befriends McMurphy, and through this, he is able to move through "the fog" that is both in the hospital.  Perhaps, linking the incident at the dam with both "the fog" as well as his being able to clear it would help to explore the notion of masculinity that is presented throughout the novel.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial