One Flew Over The Cuckoo's White Whale Analysis

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When saying something is a “white whale,” one is describing something that they are obsessed about. However, the saying also means that no matter how hard one tries, that thing will never be obtained. In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey’s first use of white whale imagery is an allusion to the novel Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. In Moby Dick, a seafaring captain fiercely attempts and fails to kill an elusive and mysterious white whale. Consequently, one could argue that the whale in Moby-Dick represents anything unattainable and sought-out in life. In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Kesey uses imagery of white whales and fish to signify the patients’ struggle to become free and empowered men. When Kesey first utilizes the imagery …show more content…
To keep McMurphy and the other patients weak and powerless, Nurse Ratched emasculates them. McMurphy points this out to the other patients when he declares that Nurse Ratched is a “ball-cutter [...] who [tries] to make you weak” (60). Nurse Ratched constantly attempts to strip the patients of their manhood and of their pride. To counteract this, McMurphy uses sexuality to gain respect from the other patients and to bolster the patients’ power over the nurse. When the narrator first notices McMurphy’s boxer shorts, McMurphy mentions that he got them from a “co-ed at Oregon State [...] a literary major” (84). McMurphy is implying that he had sex with the literary major. Therefore, the white whales that are on McMurphy’s shorts are representative of his overt sexuality, something that the other patients have been stripped of. The detail of the woman being a literary major indicates a reference to the novel often analyzed by literary students, Moby-Dick. Ultimately, the white whales on McMurphy’s boxer shorts are representing masculinity and pride, indicating that …show more content…
When McMurphy pitches his idea of going on a deep sea fishing trip, Nurse Ratched discourages the other patients from joining him by warning them about the dangers of the ocean. Nurse Ratched wants control over the patients; letting them leave on a fishing trip would leave her without any authority over them. As a result, she points out the dangers of the ocean to argue against the trip. Similar to how white whales can be hunted for in oceans, the patients’ power and freedom from the ward could be realized by going out to sea. McMurphy finally convinces enough patients to come on the fishing trip when George, a former fisherman, resists Nurse Ratched’s efforts to scare the patients: “you think I let her scare me about that ocean?” (229). Finally, the patients have built up enough courage to leave the ward behind and seek out freedom and masculinity. In addition to the ocean symbolizing freedom for the patients, McMurphy brings a prostitute along for the trip, further bolstering their sexuality and their pride. The prostitute gives the patients power. When the narrator is asked to sweep the floors of the ward, he thinks to himself: “a man going fishing with two whores [...] don’t have to take that crap” (225). Essentially, the fishing trip and the prostitutes have given the patients newfound assurance in their manliness, while also liberating them from the strict rule of Nurse

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