In the course of human history there have been several kinds of rulers of the states and several kinds of political systems as it is suggested by literary sources on politics. There are four basic types of political systems, and totalitarianism is among them. In the course of the development of human society there were counties that could be characterized by totalitarian regime, such as the rule of Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, etc. These examples of historical personalities are well-known and will not surprise anyone. However, a striking fact is that the main principles of totalitarian system can be traced in the spheres that have little in common with politics. What is more, the reflections of totalitarianism can be traced in literary sources, such as “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” by Ken Kesey. The totalitarian ruler is the Nurse Ratched who manages to implement all characteristic features of totalitarian society in her realm of the mental asylum.
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First, it is necessary to consider the personality of Nurse Ratched as a typical model of tyrannical ruler of totalitarian regime. The significant fact was that in her past, the woman had been an army nurse and she established and maintained the strict military disciple in her ward as well (Kesey xviii). Her nickname, “the Big Nurse”, like in the quotation: “The Big Nurse watches this through her window” (Kesey 37), is the evident proof of her tyrannical behavior and unshakable authority in the asylum. She possesses total control over herself, first of all, and over the medical staff of the asylum, let alone the patients. It seems that she is not even perceived as a woman, though she works in all-male asylum, and this makes her even more similar to such real personalities as Hitler or Stalin. The scene in the last part of the book, where McMurphy attacks the tyrant and reveals her breast to everyone is very symbolic since it shows her female nature and it is the proof of her failure as a tyrant along with her trauma of vocal cords done by McMurphy as well.
However, before the downfall of the “totalitarian ward” in the last part of the book, a lot of characteristic features of totalitarian regime could be found in the book. Such is, for instance, total control of and regulation of all aspects of public and private behavior that constitutes the essence of totalitarian regime (Girling 85). In fact, Nurse Ratched possessed total control over everyone who entered the asylum: the staff and the patients included. What is more, nurse’s “victims” did not even realize the control established over them that proved the talent of the tyrant and maintained he cult, one more necessary characteristic of a totalitarian society.
Besides, such totalitarian features as surveillance in complex with the tactics of terror can be found in Ratched’s behavior. The fact that the patient could “receive some shock therapy – unless he realizes his mistakes” (Kesey 242) is the evident example of the application of the tactics of terror. Lobotomy, which brings McMurphy to the state of a vegetable, is the example of the application of the tactics. Speaking about surveillance, it is exercised by the medical staff: Geever, the “black boys” (Kesey 5). The staff of the asylum also performs the role of the secret police, the inevitable part of totalitarian regime (Girling 82).
One more significant feature of the political system that is present in the ward is the acceptance of the regime by oppressed population. Doctor Spivey is a weak personality; the staff obeys the Nurse completely. The patients are also submissive until McMurphy appears to struggle against totalitarianism. The fact that “the Acutes” (Kesey 17) are institutionalized by their own free will speaks for itself.
Drawing a conclusion, it is necessary to state that the mental asylum can be used as the model of totalitarian system. It possesses the main characteristic features of totalitarian state. It has a tyrant that rules the state, submissive citizens that are totally controlled, oppressed, and watched. It is maintained due to the cult of personality and the support of secret police.
Girling, John. Myth and Politics in Western Societies: Evaluating the Crisis of Modernity in the United States, Germany, and Great Britain. USA: Transaction Publishers, 1993.
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Kesey, Ken. One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. NY: Penguin Classics, 2002.