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One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest takes place in a mental institution in the Pacific Northwest. The narrator of the novel is Chief Bromden, also known as Chief Broom, a catatonic half-Indian man whom everybody thinks is deaf and dumb. He often suffers from hallucinations in which he feels that the room is filled with fog. The institution is dominated by Nurse Ratched (Big Nurse), a cold, precise woman with calculated gestures and a calm, mechanical manner. When the story begins, a new patient, Randall Patrick McMurphy, arrives at the ward. He is a self-professed 'gambling fool' who has just come from a work farm at Pendleton. He introduces himself to the other men on the ward, including Dale Harding, the president of the patient's council, and Billy Bibbit, a thirty-year old man who stutters and appears very young. Nurse Ratched immediately pegs McMurphy as a manipulator.

During the first therapy meeting that McMurphy attends, Nurse Ratched begins by examining Harding's difficulties with his wife. McMurphy tells that he was arrested for statutory rape, although he thought that the girl was of legal age, and Dr. Spivey, the main doctor for the ward, questions whether McMurphy is feigning insanity to get out of doing hard labor at the work farm. After the meeting, McMurphy confronts Harding on the way that the meetings are run. He compares it to a 'pecking-party' in which each of the patients turn on each other. Harding pretends to defend Nurse Ratched, but then admits that all of the patients and even Dr. Spivey are afraid of Nurse Ratched. He tells McMurphy that the patients are rabbits who cannot adjust to their rabbithood and need Nurse Ratched to show them their place. McMurphy then bets him that he can get Nurse Ratched to crack within a week.

McMurphy awakes early the next morning to take a shower. He complains to one of the black boys who work in the institution that the patients are only allowed to brush their teeth at certain times. When Nurse Ratched arrives, McMurphy stands in front of her in a towel, claiming that his clothes were taken, and even threatens to drop his towel (he has shorts on the entire time). Nurse Ratched screams at one of the black boys to get McMurphy a new set of clothes.

When McMurphy complains to Nurse Ratched about the loud music that constantly plays on the ward, she refuses to turn it down, for it is the only consolation for the older patients who can barely hear. He suggests as an alternative opening the tub room as a game room, but she turns him down. At the next group meeting, Dr. Spivey says that he was talking to McMurphy, who manipulated Dr. Spivey into opening the tub room by using Nurse Ratched's arguments for the loud music. Nurse Ratched's hands begin to shake at the meeting, her first significant sign of weakness.

McMurphy then pushes for a schedule change so that the patients can watch the World Series during the day and do their work at night. He attempts to motivate the patients to push for this, and becomes angry at them for acting too 'chicken-shit' and refusing to oppose Nurse Ratched. Billy Bibbit tells McMurphy that nothing he can do will be of any use in the long run, but McMurphy boasts that he will break out of the institution by lifting up the control panel in the tub room and throwing it through the window.

The patients gradually grow more assertive with regards to the black boys and Nurse Ratched. During another group meeting, after Billy Bibbit discusses how his stutter came about and how he proposed to a woman his mother disliked, McMurphy brings up the World Series once more. Nurse Ratched allows a vote. Although all twenty Acute patients vote for him, Nurse Ratched declares it a defeat, for none of the Chronics vote at all. McMurphy finally motivates Chief Bromden to vote for him, but once he does Nurse Ratched has declared the vote over. As a protest, McMurphy refuses to work and sits down in front of the television when the World Series is on. The other patients join him in this mutiny.

During a staff meeting, the doctors discuss McMurphy with Nurse Ratched. They believe that he is no ordinary man, and in fact might be dangerous. Nurse Ratched, however, claims that McMurphy is not an extraordinary man and is subject to all the fears and timidity of the other men. Nurse Ratched is confident that she can break McMurphy, for he is committed to the hospital and they can decide when he will be released.

McMurphy continues to behave aggressively, but Nurse Ratched does not respond. The other patients resume longstanding gripes against Nurse Ratched, such as the rationing of cigarettes and the tight control over their schedules. When the men make their weekly trip to the pool, McMurphy learns that he will only be released when Nurse Ratched and the doctors decide he is ready. At the next group meeting, Cheswick complains about the rationing of cigarettes, and two black boys are forced to drag him away to the Disturbed Ward. When he returns, presumably after having shock treatment, Cheswick drowns when he gets his fingers stuck in the grate at the bottom of the pool.

Nurse Ratched reassumes her control over the ward after McMurphy gives up his struggle against her, knowing that she controls whether or not he leaves. At the ward's trip to the library, Harding introduces McMurphy to his visiting wife, Vera. Harding and Vera are rude to one another, and she implies that he's a closeted homosexual, then suddenly leaves. When Harding asks McMurphy his opinion of Vera, McMurphy snaps back that he won't say how awful Vera is, even if that is what Vera wants to hear. McMurphy claims that he has worries of his own, and shouldn't have to deal with others' problems.

When getting chest X-rays to check for TB in another part of the hospital, McMurphy learns about the 'shock shop,' where patients get electroshock therapy, and also learns about lobotomies. He confronts Harding and the other patients about why they didn't tell him that Nurse Ratched controls whether or not he leaves, but they claim that they forgot he was committed; with a few exceptions, all of them entered the hospital voluntary. McMurphy cannot conceive that these men would choose to live in the hospital, but Billy tells him that they are too weak to leave.

Nurse Ratched closes the tub room that the patients had been using for several weeks on the grounds that the men did not apologize for their behavior during the World Series debacle. McMurphy responds to this by punching the glass at the Nurses' Station. Nurse Ratched does little


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