Illustration of Nurse Ratched

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

by Ken Kesey

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Describe the doctor and the three black orderlies in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Why does the Nurse find them qualified?

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Doctor Spivey, ostensibly Nurse Ratched's supervisor, acts for most of the novel like a spineless subordinate, whom Nurse Ratched routinely ignores "like she was above him," and whom one of the patients, Dale Harding, describes as "an ineffectual little rabbit." The story implies he has a drug addiction, which has necessitated him being placed under Nurse Ratched's care. The nurse repeatedly uses this allegation to intimidate Doc Spivey, because he knows she could have him fired. Consider how the doctor changes at the end of the novel. Why does he make this change?

The four orderlies — Williams, Warren, Washington, and Geever — are the human instruments of Nurse Ratched's hostility toward the patients, and they are portrayed as gleefully abusive and malicious. The narrator of the story, Chief Bromden, speculates that Nurse Ratched auditions orderlies, firing the ones who "don't hate enough." In the chief's view, Nurse Ratched and the orderlies operate in lock step, as though the nurse could telepathically communicate her evil orders, and then the "black boys" carry them out. The nurse apparently feels that there is a correlation between the darkness of skin and cleanliness of the hospital ward, thus she hires only black people to work in this capacity.

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The doctor is supposed to be the Nurse's superior, but he sure doesn't act like it.  The Nurse controls him in every way possible.  This is because the doctor is weak and easily manipulated.  It's easy to see he lacks confidence and has a low self-esteem.  This is perfect for the Nurse because she can run the ward the way she wants without having to answer to the doctor.

The three orderlies, the Black Boys, are all angry, violent people.  They are the Nurse's assistants and are more than happy to carry out her ruthless, mean spirited, and often violent orders.  They are ideal for the job because they enjoy flexing their power over the patienets, just like the Nurse.

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