Life and death – eros and thanatos

I’m continuing on the analysis of this fascinating story, book and film, as it reaches its existential crescento ..

The most characteristic example of the nurse’s cold rage and deadly envy[1] was expressed when she discovered Billy sleeping naked with a woman McMurphy had snuck in the ward. The Big Nurse’s words to Billy were harsh and burnt like acid. She told him she had no choice but to tell his mother – a mother Billy regarded as omnipotent and lethal. His unforgiving super-ego, his rejecting internalised Mother, created unbearable pain, guilt and shame. It obliterated a sense of reality and self, left no space for Eros and his Thanatos took over. For Billy, his tragic suicide seemed the only way out.

McMurphy was deeply touched and his powerful reaction seemed also energised by the other patients. As Chief Bromden said in the book: ‘…we couldn’t stop him because we were the ones making him do it.’ (p. 214). He identified with their passionate projections and felt stronger as part of the collective spirit. He sensed the anger and rage running through his veins, energising his muscles and big hands. He smashed through the glass door, grabbed the screaming Big Nurse and ripping her uniform off, exposing her tightly corseted womanhood: her oversized breasts. Her dark and repressed sexuality was symbolically forced into light. He desired her death; all the in-patients watching desired her death and McMurphy’s big hands were around her neck suffocating the unforgiving prosecutor.

He was held back and confined. Their conflict escalated to a degree that only one could survive; McMurphy was soon after turned into a vegetable by being lobotomised. As Harding said, ‘[If Ratched] can’t cut below the belt she’ll do it above the eye’ (p. 94) and so he was mentally ‘castrated’, a tragic obliteration of his manhood and self. But nothing was the same in the ward anymore and the Big Nurse was not in total control; some individuals started to think for themselves. Chief Bromden ‘liberated’ his hero by suffocating him with a pillow and then broke away and free from the ward. Other patients followed their examples and discharged themselves from the living-death of the cuckoo’s nest.