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The Power of Rebellion
Rebellion is the only power against tyranny in this world. Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest addresses the power of rebellion against a tyrannical force through the relationship between protagonist R.P. McMurphy and antagonist Nurse Ratched. Through the use of diction, figurative language and symbolism, Kesey illuminates rebellion kindled by McMurphy as a force that degrades the power of Nurse Ratched.
The use of diction in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a key component to revealing the influence of McMurphy’s rebellion. The use of diction can be seen as Nurse Ratched’s “remote patience” begins to diminish following the destruction of the glass pane in front of her nurses’ station (Kesey 207). In this instance, Nurse Ratched’s forced patience with McMurphy is wearing down due to his repeated defiant acts. The word “remote” to describe Nurse Ratched’s patience, a patience she forces in order to maintain her calm, collected façade, reveals the influence of McMurphy’s rebellious actions. No longer is Nurse Ratched able to adequately mask her intolerance with the patients, which in turn demonstrates the breakdown of her control over said patients. Diction once again exposes Nurse Ratched’s loss of power as she “jerk[s] the adhesive as tight as she [can]” on McMurphy’s bandage (207). This rough physical movement indicates that Nurse Ratched is not pleased to be bandaging the hand of the man who shattered glass just to test her patience. The physical “jerk” of Nurse Ratched’s hand is a manifestation of her inner struggle to maintain a collected exterior and remain in control. Nurse Ratched’s response is demonstrative, once again, of the ability of McMurphy’s defiance to weaken her dominance. Another key example of diction occurs as the patients play a basketball game against Nurse Ratched’s black orderlies. Despite the fact that the orderlies defeat the patients rather dramatically, the game is “a kind of victory” for the patients (207). The “victory” is the fact that the patients have formed a unified group aimed at accomplishing a certain task. This new group mentality is a clear achievement on McMurphy’s part, as it blatantly defies Nurse Ratched’s aim to keep patients divided in order to easily exert her authority. Thus, Kesey’s implementation of diction proves powerful in exemplifying McMurphy’s power to break down Nurse Ratched’s tyrannical rule.
Figurative language is another device employed that characterizes McMurphy’s rebellion as a powerful force. Figurative language is utilized when Nurse Ratched is described “[b]ehind that square of cardboard she was like a picture turned to the wall” (206). Here, Nurse Ratched is confined to her nurses’ station unable to see the patients because of the cardboard in place of the glass window the patients broke. Nurse Ratched’s description as being “like a picture turned to the wall” is reflective of how isolated she is in this instance because she can no longer see her patients (206). Although McMurphy was not responsible for the glass breaking, the push for his fellow patients to stand up for themselves led another patient to break the glass as an act of defiance. Nurse Ratched’s inability to physically oversee her patients subsequently weakens her control over them, in turn strengthening McMurphy’s rebellious influence. Figurative language again reveals Nurse Ratched’s power struggle as “the expression on her face was calm and blank as enamel” while she jerks McMurphy’s bandages in frustration (207). The “calm”, “blank” look on Nurse Ratched’s face is her maintaining her collected façade in order to preserve her authority. Despite appearing “calm and blank as enamel”, under the surface Nurse Ratched is barely able to control her malice towards McMurphy, but has to in order to maintain her authority (207). Once again, McMurphy’s defiant acts are the cause of the degradation of Nurse Ratched’s power. Figurative language is again implemented in the description of the basketball game between the black orderlies and the patients. Upon being struck in the face with a basketball, a black orderly had “red pouring out of his big nose and down his chin like paint splashed on a blackboard” (207). The physical strike the orderly experiences is the fault of a patient, a patient who is being led by McMurphy. The blood appearing “like paint splashed on a blackboard” embodies the passion and disorder that has been instilled in McMurphy’s fellow patients, which is a blatant attack on Nurse Ratched’s power, albeit through actions directed at her orderlies (207). Furthermore, the implementation of figurative language is a key component in unveiling the breakdown of Nurse Ratched’s power. Symbolism is yet another element used to demonstrate the power of McMurphy’s rebellious acts. Symbolism appears in the form of pieces of “broken glass” that are the remnants of the nurses’ station window (208). The pane of glass is literally the window through which Nurse Ratched constantly looks out from the station onto her patients in order to maintain control over them. The glass breaking is symbolic of the shattering of Nurse Ratched’s power and growing inability to control her patients the way she so desperately desires. Another symbol is McMurphy’s “white-whale shorts” that he wears against Nurse Ratched’s will (206). Not only does McMurphy’s incessant need to wear the shorts despite Nurse Ratched’s wishes signify an act of rebellion, the shorts themselves have symbolic meaning. The whales on the shorts represent power and sheer brute force, which are the characteristics of McMurphy that have the greatest influence in stripping Nurse Ratched of her power. Symbolism appears again in the form of a piece of “cardboard in the frame over [Nurse Ratched’s] desk” there to replace the pane of broken glass (206). The “cardboard” is a literal barrier between Ratched and her patients, as it takes away her ability to see her patients and the activity on the ward. It also acts as a figurative barrier between her influence and the rebellious actions of her patients she can no longer see. This barrier signifies a shift in power in the ward away from Nurse Ratched and towards the patients. Moreover, symbolism acts as another literary medium through which Nurse Ratched’s loss of power can be seen.
McMurphy’s ability to strip Nurse Ratched of her power is a novel achievement. His capacity for leadership is reflected in the formation of a group rebellion amongst his fellow patients, which affirms his monumental strength of character and instills confidence in his peers.

Works Cited
Kesey, Ken. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, New York: Signet Books, 1962.

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