Madness in the Eye of the Beholder
Psychiatry can have its sticky situations. Doctors have a tough time dealing with patients who possess psychiatric problems, and patients have a tough time recovering from these psychiatric diseases. The medical world has made vast improvements over the years.
In the 1950s and 60s, a person could find the psych ward as an interesting place. As one can see in the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the workers and caretakers viewed the patients as crazy and therefore treated as such, yet they were not necessarily the crazy ones. Their head caretaker, Nurse Ratched, loved to assert her power over the patients and control them. She had an obsessive need to do so. Through her obsessive need to assert her power and control over the mentally ill, Nurse Ratched is more mentally unstable than the patients she cares for.
Chief Bromden, one of the patients on the ward, tells the story from his point of view. He acts deaf and mute, and viewed as unable to get well. Instead of trying to help him, the Nurse just makes him worse, by sticking him with needles and sending him to receive electric shock therapy when she does not like his behavior, as if to remind everyone she rules the ward. When he slips up and raises his hand in the meeting to vote in favor of watching the World Series games, she instantly has suspicions instead of pleasure and satisfaction that he might be making some sort of improvement. She lets me slip through the door and stabs me again with both eyes as I go past her…and pivots and glares at me some more…she’s clear-headed and wondering just how did Mr. Bromden hear that Acute McMurphy asking him to raise his hand on that vote?.
..She’s wondering if it isn’t time we did some checking on our Mr. Bromden. (Kesey 63) Instead of looking at the positive side of the fact that Bromden raised his hand and basically showed signs of life, she feels annoyed that he sided with McMurphy against what she wanted and grows suspicious of him.
Nurse Ratched also likes to discuss the problems of the patients. She has the patients talk about problems of their personal lives during group meetings, as a subtle way to remind them that she controls what happens; “…we were discussing Mr. Harding’s problem…concerning his young wife. He had stated that his wife was extremely well endowed in the bosom and that this made him uneasy because she drew stares from men on the street…his wife’s ample bosom at times gives him feelings of inferiority. So. Does anyone care to touch upon this subject further?” (Kesey 39).
She even has them write down notes about each other to discuss in the meeting. By talking about their problems openly this way, she makes them feel inferior and timid, which keeps them from acting out and allows her to remind them that she controls them. After the meeting in which the men voted to watch the World Series games, the staff believes that they need to send McMurphy to the Disturbed ward. Nurse Ratched, to everyone’s surprise, disagrees. In regards to McMurphy, she says, “‘If we just wait for a while, our hero will…give up his bit? Yes?’… ‘We have weeks, or months, or even years…the length of time he spends in the hospital is entirely up to us…'” (Kesey 137). Further proving her insanity, she wants to keep McMurphy on the ward so she can break him and reassert her power.
After the incident with the prostitutes and the drinking in the ward one night, Nurse Ratched tries to blame McMurphy for yet another suicide, this time Billy Bibbit’s. She feels such a need to control these men that she blames a supposedly mentally ill person for the death of others, which could do nothing but make him feel worse about himself. For McMurphy, it finally makes him snap. He attacks the Nurse, rips open her shirt, and tries to strangle her. Although he took highly inappropriate and unnecessary actions, what the Nurse did next was even worse. “The ward door opened, and the black boys wheeled in this Gurney with a chart at the bottom that said in heavy black letters, MCMUPRHY, RANDLE P.
POST OPERATIVE. And below this was written in ink, LOBOTOMY” (Kesey 277). After his surgery, McMuprhy became a vegetable, and essentially lifeless. Although Bromden suffocates him in the end, the Nurse essentially killed him, all because she needed to show she had control. The person who supposedly cares for the patients not only makes them feel worse and inferior, but ends up killing them as well.
Insanity can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. In a psychiatric ward, it usually comes in the form of its patients. However, one can conclude that through her obsessive need to control the patients and assert her power over them, which essentially ended up killing at least one of them, Nurse Ratched has more mental instability than the patients she supposedly cares for. Through her obsessive need to assert her power and control over the mentally ill, Nurse Ratched is more mentally unstable than the patients she cares for. Any person who feels the need to have control over the mentally ill, or who thrives in this position, truly has sickness themselves.