The setting of the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest has a metaphorical meaning: it symbolizes a surveillance state and the destiny of people who do not fit the system – prostitutes, criminals, invalids, etc. – all the marginalized and discriminated groups that, from the author’s point of view, need understanding and protection. Among them are those men who do not conform to the society’s vision of masculinity and, in particular, homosexuals represented in the novel by Dale Harding. He is depicted by the writer as an intelligent but weak-willed man, constantly discriminated by society and, in particular, by women who demonstrate power by suppressing the patients’ masculinity.

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At the beginning of the novel, Harding is described as an intelligent and educated man and a leader for all the other patients of the hospital. In contrast to Mc Murphy, who is rude, aggressive, and masculine, Harding’s life, thoughts, and actions are completely controlled by his mind and the generally accepted social norms. His education and moral values prevent him from revealing his real nature and his biggest secret – his untraditional sexual orientation. Harding’s dissatisfaction with the form of his hands, serious problems in the sexual life with his wife, and an obsessional feeling of shame for his difference – it is the price the man has to pay for being a homosexual. Even telling the other patients about his wife, he calls her “the sexiest woman in the world (Kesey 20)” and blames himself that “she can’t get enough of him nights (Kesey 20).” Portraying the character as a man with highly developed intellectual faculties, the author may imply that, in the 1950s in America, there existed a popular bias that most homosexuals were either people of art or those with a high level of education while ordinary people were less exposed to such an “illness.”

Moreover, most male characters of the novel are portrayed as very weak-willed people unable to resist social pressure. For example, one of the main reasons for Harding to stay in the hospital voluntarily is his unwillingness to become a part of society again since, in the outer world, it would be difficult for him to suppress his desires, and the world of the 1950s, especially in America was extremely critical and aggressive towards homosexuals. For a long time, nontraditional sexual orientation was considered to be a mental disorder, and homosexuality was illegal. Choosing between a perspective of being imprisoned or becoming a patient of a psychiatric hospital, many homosexuals, including the character of the book, prefer the second variant. Moreover, in case, Harding returns home, he will be forced to fit into the role of a family man and to suffer from moral pressure caused by his inability to please his wife.

Therefore, he prefers to hide from the real world in the hospital where all that is needed for one to feel comfortable is to follow the rules strictly. In his talk with McMurphy, Harding says, “We are rabbits – we’d be rabbits wherever we are – we’re all on here because we can’t adjust to our rabbithood (Kesey 64).” This comparison implies that it does not matter for what reason a person tries to hide from the real world, the main factor that induces such a decision is their inability to tell the world who they are and to fight for their interests.

Finally, in the book, Kesey emphasizes that individuals who do not fit into the traditional image of a man are most effectively suppressed by fear and shame, since these are the most powerful tools of manipulation used by women. Generally, the motif of emasculation is one of the key ones in the book, demonstrating the ruining and overwhelming power of matriarchy. Almost all female characters of the novel demonstrate superiority over men by suppressing their sexuality by means of figurative castration, depriving them of a possibility to have sex with women, putting them to shame for their sexual debility, and implementing male rape as a method of punishment. For instance, to establish control over Harding, his wife accuses him of sexual impotence, and, in such a way, she justifies her adulteries. And even Miss Ratched, so hated by all the patients, is considered by him to be “unselfish as the wind, toiling thanklessly for the good of all, day after day, five long days a week (Kesey 61).” Such attitude towards women demonstrated by the character is one of the results of social pressure he experiences and is just another attempt to conceal his emasculation by pretending he adores women – just like all men do.

The only person who manages to help all the patients of the hospital to regain their masculinity is McMurphy. He is, actually, the example of “a real man” in the novel: he is rude, brutal, self-confident, and, what is more important, fearless. In contrast to Harding, McMurphy does not perceive women as superior and claims that the main source of men’s power over women is sexuality and freedom to express it. As a result, the patients of the hospital regain their self-confidence and inner power only after the main female suppressor – Miss Ratched – is briefly beaten, after almost being chocked to death by McMurphy. Only then they are the patients ready to get back to the real world, to fight for their place in society and therefore for who they are.

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” touches upon a set of important social problems. Among them are the problems of emasculation and homosexuality, and the attitude of the oppressing and controlling society to them. Dale Harding, being a man who does not conform to the generally accepted vision of masculinity, tries to conceal this fact from society being unable to resist social pressure. Representing all homosexuals, the character is portrayed by the author as a highly intelligent man whose education and dependence on social opinion make him suppress his desires. Moreover, he is described as a person whose willpower has been destroyed by the constant social pressure and fear to be exposed.

The author also emphasizes that those who do not fit into the image of “a real man” are especially discriminated by women who manipulate them by suppressing their sexual power. All these factors contributed to the situation that, in the twentieth century, most homosexuals, even those living in developed countries, had to conceal their orientation from the public. They were often forced either to pretend that they were “normal” and to make families with women suffering from constant psychological pressure or to lead an abstentious life and avoid romantic relationships.