||nach dem gleichnamigen Roman
Ken Kesey: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1961)
Aus der Zusammenfassung des Romans (Zusammenfassung siehe danach):
Sefelt and Frederickson - Epileptic patients. Sefelt hates to take his medications because they make his teeth fall out, so he gives them to Frederickson, who likes to take Sefelt’s dose in addition to his own. Although Sefelt and Frederickson require more medical care than some of the other nonmedicated patients, they still do not receive much care or attention by the staff, who are much more concerned with making the disorderly patients orderly."
aus der Zusammenfassung des Romans (siehe unten)
"Sefelt has an epileptic fit while in line for lunch. As the orderlies and Nurse Ratched get him under control, Nurse Ratched smilingly points out that Sefelt has been claiming that he had no more need for medication.
Frederickson, another patient, gets upset and accuses Big Nurse of trying to crucify Sefelt.
Nurse Ratched merely says that Sefelt hasn’t been swallowing his Dilantin (medicine), but everybody knows – including Nurse Ratched – that he holds his capsules in his mouth and gives them to Frederickson later. Frederickson is also epileptic and likes to have a double dose, while Sefelt prefers to take no medicine.
Nurse Ratched asks Frederickson if taking his medication isn’t better than what Sefelt has just suffered?
Chief describes Sefelt’s jerking around as similar to the way men jerk around when they’ve been subjected to electroshock therapy in the Shock Shop.
When she leaves, Frederickson shivers and says he’s not sure why he got so mad at Nurse Ratched.
McMurphy asks what’s the big deal about taking the medicine if it prevents seizures?
Frederickson pulls his mouth open and shows how the Dilantin causes a person’s gums rot.
Scanlon, another patient, walks away, saying, "Damned if you do and damned if you don’t."
McMurphy looks at Sefelt and says, "Yeah, I see what you mean."
aus: Der Spiegel, 10/95
"Der Patient war rebellisch und wiegelte seine Leidensgenossen im Irrenhaus auf. Gutes Zureden half nicht. Da verpaßten die Ärzte dem Aufsässigen einen Elektroschock - ein schauriger Anblick.
Pfleger packten und knebelten den sich sträubenden Mann. Als der Strom sein Gehirn durchpulste, würgte und spuckte er, sein Körper wand sich in heftigen Krämpfen.
Ein künstlich ausgelöster epileptischer Krampfanfall zur Heilung - oder eher als folterähnliche Strafmaßnahme? Der Kinofilm "Einer flog über das Kuckucksnest" gibt eine eindeutige Antwort: Die Elektroschock-Behandlung dient der Disziplinierung unbotmäßiger Patienten.
Von diesem Film, vor allem aber von der Schauspielkunst des Hauptdarstellers Jack Nicholson, wird die öffentliche Diskussion über die Elektrokrampf-Therapie (EKT) bis heute beeinflußt. Gegner sprechen laut von Folter, Befürworter der EKT reden, möglichst leise, von einer brauchbaren Seelentherapie, die wegen verbreiteter Vorurteile vielen Patienten vorenthalten werde." _(* Aus einer Fernsehdokumentation des NDR ) _(von 1980. )
siehe weitere interessante Informationen zur Elektroschocktherapie in diesem Artikel
Auf den Forman-Film verweisen verschiedene Artikel, die das Wiederaufleben dieser Therapie thematisieren. siehe: https://www.google.com/search?q=einer%20flog%20%C3%BCbers%20kuckucksnest&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:de:official&client=firefox-a&source=hp&channel=np#hl=de&client=firefox-a&hs=Gst&rls=org.mozilla:de%3Aofficial&channel=np&sclient=psy-ab&q=einer+flog+%C3%BCbers+kuckucksnest+epilepsie&oq=einer+flog+%C3%BCbers+kuckucksnest+epilepsie&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&gs_sm=12&gs_upl=304l3924l0l6812l12l11l1l0l0l1l1472l6569l4-22.214.171.124l8l0&gs_l=serp.12...304l3924l0l6812l12l11l1l0l0l1l1472l6569l4-1j0j4j2l8l0.frgbld.&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.,cf.osb&fp=89eecd6127c57154&biw=1024&bih=585
Zusammenfassung des Romans:
"Chief Bromden, a long-term patient in Nurse Ratched’s psychiatric ward, narrates the events of the novel. The book begins as he awakens to a typical day on the ward, feeling paranoid about the illicit nighttime activities of the ward’s three black aides. The aides mock him for being a pushover, even though he is six feet seven inches tall, and they make him sweep the hallways for them, nicknaming him “Chief Broom.” Bromden is half Indian and pretends to be deaf and dumb; as a result, he overhears all the secrets on the ward and is barely noticed by anyone despite his stature.
Nurse Ratched, whom Bromden refers to as “the Big Nurse,” enters the ward with a gust of cold air. Bromden describes Ratched as having “skin like flesh-colored enamel” and lips and fingertips the strange orange color of polished steel. Her one feminine feature is her oversized bosom, which she tries to conceal beneath a starched white uniform. When she gets angry with the aides, Bromden sees her get “big as a tractor.” She orders the aides to shave Bromden, and he begins to scream and hallucinate that he is being surrounded by machine-made fog until he is forcedly medicated. He tells us that his forthcoming story about the hospital might seem “too awful to be the truth.”
Bromden regains consciousness in the day room. Here, he tells us that a public relations man sometimes leads tours around the ward, pointing out the cheery atmosphere and claiming that the ward is run without the brutality exercised in previous generations. Today, the ward’s monotony is interrupted when Randle McMurphy, a new patient, arrives. McMurphy’s appearance is preceded by his boisterous, brassy voice and his confident, iron-heeled walk. McMurphy laughs when the patients are stunned silent by his entrance. It is the first real laugh that the ward has heard in years.
McMurphy, a large redhead with a devilish grin, swaggers around the ward in his motorcycle cap and dirty work-farm clothes, with a leather jacket over one arm. He introduces himself as a gambling fool, saying that he requested to be transferred to the hospital to escape the drudgery of the Pendleton Work Farm. He asks to meet the “bull goose loony” so he can take over as the man in charge. He encounters Billy Bibbit, a thirty-one-year-old baby-faced man with a severe stutter, and Dale Harding, the effeminate and educated president of the Patients’ Council. All the while, McMurphy sidesteps the attempts of the daytime aides to herd him into the admission routine of a shower, an injection, and a rectal thermometer.
McMurphy surveys the day room. The patients are divided into two main categories: the Acutes, who are considered curable, and the Chronics, whom Bromden, himself a Chronic, calls “machines with flaws inside that can’t be repaired.” The Chronics who can move around are Walkers, and the rest are either Wheelers or Vegetables. Some Chronics are patients who arrived at the hospital as Acutes but were mentally crippled by excessive shock treatment or brain surgery, common practices in the hospital. Nurse Ratched encourages the Acutes to spy on one another. If one reveals an embarrassing or incriminating personal detail, the rest race to write it in the logbook. Their reward for such disclosures is sleeping late the next morning.
Nurse Ratched runs her ward on a strict schedule, controlling every movement with absolute precision. The nurse has selected her aides for their inherent cruelty and her staff for their submissiveness. Bromden recalls Maxwell Taber, a patient who demanded information about his medications. He was sent for multiple electroshock treatments and rendered completely docile. Eventually, he was considered cured and was discharged. Bromden conceives of society as a huge, oppressive conglomeration that he calls the Combine, and he sees the hospital as a factory for “fixing up mistakes made in the neighborhoods and in the schools and in the churches.”
During the Group Meeting, Nurse Ratched reopens the topic of Harding’s difficult relationship with his wife. When McMurphy makes lewd jokes at the nurse’s expense, she retaliates by reading his file aloud, focusing on his arrest for statutory rape. McMurphy regales the group with stories about the sexual appetite of his fifteen-year-old lover. Even Doctor Spivey enjoys McMurphy’s humorous rebellion against Ratched. The doctor reads from the file, “Don’t overlook the possibility that this man might be feigning psychosis to escape the drudgery of the work farm,” to which McMurphy responds, “Doctor, do I look like a sane man?” McMurphy has similar defiant retorts for almost any action Ratched can consider, which perturbs Ratched greatly. McMurphy is disconcerted that the patients and the doctor can smile but not laugh. Bromden remembers a meeting that was broken up when Pete Bancini, a lifelong Chronic who constantly declared he was tired, became lucid for a moment and hit one of the aides. The nurse injected him with a sedative as he had a nervous breakdown.
During the meeting, the patients tear into Harding’s sexual problems. Afterward, they are embarrassed, as always, at their viciousness. As a new participant and observer, McMurphy tells Harding that the meeting was a “pecking party”—the men acted like a bunch of chickens pecking at another chicken’s wound. He warns them that a pecking party can wipe out the whole flock. When McMurphy points out that Nurse Ratched pecks first, Harding becomes defensive and states that Ratched’s procedure is therapeutic. McMurphy replies that she is merely a “ball-cutter.”
Harding finally agrees that Ratched is a cruel, vicious woman. He explains that everyone in the ward is a rabbit in a world ruled by wolves. They are in the hospital because they are unable to accept their roles as rabbits. Nurse Ratched is one of the wolves, and she is there to train them to accept their rabbit roles. She can make a patient shrink with shame and fear while acting like a concerned angel of mercy. Ratched never accuses directly, but she rules others through insinuation. McMurphy says that they should tell her to go to hell with her insinuating questions. Harding warns that such hostile behavior will earn a man electroshock therapy and a stay in the Disturbed ward. He points to Bromden, calling him “a six-foot-eight sweeping machine” as a result of all the shock treatment he has received. Harding asserts that the only power men have over women is sexual violence, but they cannot even exercise that power against the icy, impregnable nurse. McMurphy makes a bet with the other patients that he can make Nurse Ratched lose her temper within a week. He explains that he conned his way out of the work farm by feigning insanity, and Nurse Ratched is unprepared for an enemy with a “trigger-quick mind” like his.
Chief Bromden, the narrator of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, is a complex character whose own story is revealed as he tells the story of the ward at large. Because he feigns deafness, he is privy to information that is kept from the other patients. In this way, he is a more informed narrator than any other patient. However, Bromden’s reliability as a narrator is unclear because we constantly see reminders of his psychological disorder. The main indications of his illness are paranoia and frequent hallucinations. His paranoia is often justified, as the patients are indeed treated barbarically. But his hallucinations, though they seem crazy at first, metaphorically reveal his deep, intuitive understanding of his surroundings. For example, the fog machine he hallucinates represents his state of mind—he is overmedicated or simply too fearful to face the stark reality beyond the fog. The fog machine also represents the powerlessness of the patients, who are encouraged and sometimes forced by the staff to stay hidden in their own individual fogs.
Bromden sees modern society as a machinelike, oppressive force, and the hospital as a repair shop for the people who do not fit into their role as cogs in the machine. Bromden’s way of interpreting the world emphasizes the oppressive social pressure to conform: those who do not conform to society’s rules and conventions are considered defective products and are labeled mentally ill and sent for treatment. Thus, the mental hospital is a metaphor for the oppression Kesey sees in modern society, preceding the emergence of the 1960s counterculture. A hospital, normally a place where the ill go to be cured, becomes a dangerous place; Ellis, Ruckly, and Taber, for instance, are electroshocked until they become docile or even vegetables. The hospital is not about healing, but about dehumanizing and manipulating the patients until they are weak and willing to conform.
At the center of this controlled universe is Nurse Ratched, a representative of what Bromden calls the Combine, meaning the oppressive force of society and authority. Bromden describes her in mechanical, inhuman terms. She tries to conceal her large breasts as much as possible, and her face is like that of a doll, with a subtle edge of cruelty. Bromden imagines that the hospital is full of hidden machinery—wires, magnets, and more sinister contraptions—used by Nurse Ratched to control the patients. The nurse is, in fact, in complete control of the ward, and the tools she uses—psychological intimidation, divide-and-conquer techniques, and physical abuse—are every bit as powerful and insidious as the hidden machinery Bromden imagines.
Immediately upon his arrival, McMurphy challenges the ward with his exuberant vitality and sexuality, which are directly opposed to the sterile, mechanical nature of the hospital and modern society. He is set up as an obvious foil to Nurse Ratched, as well as to the silent and repressed Bromden. McMurphy’s discussion with Harding reveals the misogynistic undertones of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The patients associate matriarchy with castration, explaining the lifelessness and oppressiveness of modern society as a product of female dominance.
Bromden believes that Nurse Ratched can set the clock to any speed. Sometimes everything is painfully fast and sometimes painfully slow. His only escape is being in the fog where time does not exist. He notes that whoever controls the fog machine has not turned it on as much since McMurphy’s arrival. Later, Bromden explains his captivation with McMurphy’s con-artistry, which he displays while playing cards with the other patients. McMurphy wins hundreds of cigarettes and then allows his opponents to win them back. That night, McMurphy whispers to Bromden and implies that he knows he is not really deaf. Bromden does not take his night medication and has a nightmare that the hospital is a mechanical slaughterhouse. The staff hangs Old Blastic on a meat hook and slashes him open, and ash and rust pour out of the wound. Mr. Turkle wakes him from the nightmare.
Everyone wakes to McMurphy’s boisterous singing in the latrine. When Williams, one of the aides, will not let him have toothpaste before the appointed time, McMurphy brushes his teeth with soap. Bromden hides his smile, as he is reminded of how his father also used to win confrontations with humor. Ratched prepares to reprimand McMurphy for his singing, but he stops her cold by stepping out of the bathroom wearing only a towel. He says that someone has taken his clothes, so he has nothing to wear. Ratched furiously reprimands the aides for failing to issue a patient’s outfit to McMurphy. When Washington, another aide, offers McMurphy an outfit, McMurphy removes the towel, revealing that all along he was wearing a pair of boxer shorts—black satin covered with white whales. Ratched manages to regain her composure with serious effort.
McMurphy is even more confident that morning. He asks Ratched to turn down the recorded music playing in the ward. She politely refuses, explaining that some of the Chronics are hard of hearing and cannot entertain themselves without the music turned up loudly. She also refuses to allow them to play cards in another room, citing a lack of staff to supervise two rooms. Doctor Spivey comes to get McMurphy for an interview, and they return talking and laughing together. At the Group Meeting, the doctor announces McMurphy’s plan for the radio to be played at a higher volume, so that the hard-of-hearing patients can enjoy it more. He proposes that the other patients go to another room to read or play cards. Since the Chronics are easy to supervise, the staff can be split between the rooms. Ratched restrains herself from losing her temper.
McMurphy starts a Monopoly game with Cheswick, Martini, and Harding that goes on for three days. McMurphy makes sure he does not lose his temper with any of the staff. Once, he does get angry with the patients for being “too chicken-shit.” He then requests that Ratched allow them to watch the World Series, even though it is not the regulation TV time. In order to make up for this, he proposes that they do the cleaning chores at night and watch the TV in the afternoon, but Ratched refuses to change the schedule. He proposes a vote at the Group Meeting, but only Cheswick is brave enough—or crazy enough—to defy Ratched, since the others are afraid of long-term repercussions. McMurphy, furious, says he is going to escape, and Fredrickson goads him into showing them how he would do it. McMurphy bets them that he can lift the cement control panel in the tub room and use it to break through the reinforced windows. Everybody knows it will be impossible to lift the massive panel, but he makes such a sincere effort that for one moment they all believe it is possible.
Bromden remembers how at the old hospital they did not have pictures on the wall or television. He recalls Public Relations saying, “A man that would want to run away from a place as nice as this, why, there’d be something wrong with him.” Bromden senses that the fog machine has been turned on again. He explains how the fog makes him feel safe and that McMurphy keeps trying to drag them out of the fog where they will be “easy to get at.” He then overhears someone talking about Old Rawler, a patient in the Disturbed unit who killed himself by cutting off his testicles. Bromden then further describes getting lost in the fog and finding himself two or three times a month at the electroshock room.
At the next Group Meeting, Bromden feels immersed in fog and cannot follow the group as they grill Billy about his stutter and failed relationship with a girl. McMurphy proposes another vote regarding the TV, with the support of some of the other patients. It is the first day of the World Series. Bromden observes the hands go up as McMurphy drags all twenty Acutes out of the fog. Ratched declares the proposal defeated, however, because none of the twenty Chronics raised their hands and McMurphy needs a majority. McMurphy finally persuades Bromden to raise his hand, but Ratched says the vote is closed. During the afternoon cleaning chores, McMurphy declares that it is time for the game. When he turns on the TV, Ratched cuts its power, but McMurphy does not budge from the armchair. The Acutes follow suit and sit in front of the blank TV. She screams and rants at them for breaking the schedule, and McMurphy wins his bet that he could make her lose her composure.
Bromden’s reliability as a narrator becomes clear as we realize how incredibly observant he is. Unlike the other patients, Bromden notices how carefully McMurphy sets them up to lose their cigarettes. Moreover, Bromden’s bizarre dream about Old Blastic turns out to be prophetic, demonstrating that his altered states of perception are significant rather than simply crazy. Bromden perceives the hospital not as a place promoting health but as a mechanized slaughterhouse where not only humans, but also humanity, is murdered. Old Blastic is hung on a meat hook and disemboweled, but rust and ash pour from his wound rather than flesh and blood. Bromden’s dreams metaphorically reveal his profound insight into the dehumanizing and mechanizing forces of the hospital.
Bromden’s hallucination that he is surrounded by fog extends to the other patients—he thinks that they are lost in fog too. This is clearly a delusion, but metaphorically it is true. The status quo enforced by Nurse Ratched functions to dull the patients’ senses. Her tight routine makes everything seem to move either too slow or too fast. The too-loud music makes conversation difficult and frustrating. In response to the ever-extending fog, or a clouding of one’s unique thoughts and needs, Bromden describes McMurphy’s actions as dragging the patients out of the fog. By resisting Ratched, McMurphy awakens the patients to their own ability to resist her, and thereby helps them see beyond the fog. Bromden at first does not attribute his rebellious vote to his own willpower, but rather to some mysterious power on McMurphy’s part. Then he later realizes, “No. That’s not the truth. I lifted [my hand] myself.” Bromden is very slowly beginning to see himself as an individual with free will; his recognition that the fog blankets the entire ward is an ironic indication that his own fog is beginning to lift.
McMurphy’s small but continual infractions of the rules are assertions of his own individuality. McMurphy’s defiance encourages the other patients to defy Ratched by gambling for cigarettes. He succeeds in drawing the other patients into rebellion against Ratched’s authority, because she forbids gambling for anything but matches. Furthermore, the incident with the towel reflects McMurphy’s faith in humor as a means to resist Ratched’s authority. Earlier, when McMurphy suggests that the patients laugh at Ratched, Harding scoffs at the idea. Harding asserts that the only effective tool of resistance against Ratched is the penis, the instrument of male violence against dominant femininity. Although McMurphy’s resistance to Ratched’s authority does include a sexual element, McMurphy combines sexuality with humor, not violence. The symbolism of the encounter is heightened by McMurphy’s boxers, a gift from a college student who said that McMurphy was himself a literary symbol. White whales evoke the famous Moby-Dick, a beast associated in Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick with a variety of symbolic meanings, including masculinity, unseen power, insanity, and freedom. When McMurphy flaunts these symbolic boxers before Nurse Ratched, he is connected to each of these interpretations, reminding the reader that he serves as a prominent symbol within the novel.
McMurphy’s display of his whale boxer shorts affirms his belief that men should not be ashamed of their sexuality, whereas making the patients ashamed of their sexuality is one of Ratched’s major ways of dominating them. Ratched’s strategy is evident in her treatment of Billy Bibbit, a thirty-one-year-old virgin dominated into celibacy by his mother. Though it is obvious to us that Billy needs to find a way out from under his mother’s shadow, Ratched does the opposite of helping him do this, defining his sexuality in terms of inadequacy and shame. Rather than attempting to cure the patients of their problems, Ratched increases their discomfort as a way of building her own power.
McMurphy’s personal rebellion against Ratched’s authority expands and becomes the patients’ collective rebellion, with McMurphy as their unofficial leader. When McMurphy wins his bet, he does so with the other patients’ help as they all join him in protest. Meanwhile, Bromden’s perceptions of the situation develop and change. When Ratched begins screaming hysterically, Bromden states that anyone who walked into the room at the moment would think they were all crazy. Insanity is no longer a characteristic of the patients alone. Before, Bromden saw the patients as defective. Now, with the help of a unified force against the mechanistic Combine, he is beginning to see the established order as defective as well.
The tables are turned in the ward as everyone watches Ratched in the glassed-in Nurses’ Station after her outburst. She cannot escape the patients’ stares, just as they can never escape hers. Ratched strains to regain composure for the staff meeting she called. Bromden says the fog is completely gone now. He always cleans the staff room during meetings, but after his vote, he fears that everyone will realize that he is not really deaf. He goes anyway, knowing that Ratched is suspicious of him. Doctor Spivey attempts to get the meeting started while Ratched uses silence to assert her power. The staff, misreading Ratched’s silence as approval, decides that McMurphy is potentially violent and should be sent to the Disturbed ward. Ratched disagrees; she declares instead that McMurphy is an ordinary man, subject to the same fears and timidity as the others. Since McMurphy is committed, Ratched knows she can control how long he spends in the hospital, and she decides to take her time with him.
Ratched assigns McMurphy the chore of cleaning the latrines, but he continues to nettle her in every way possible. Bromden marvels that the Combine has not broken him. One night, he wakes up and looks out the window and gazes in wonder at the countryside. Bromden observes a dog sniffing around the building and a flock of geese flying overhead. He watches as the dog runs toward the highway, where the headlights of an oncoming car are visible. During the Group Meetings, the patients begin to air their long-silent complaints about the rules.
The ward is taken to the hospital’s pool to swim. McMurphy learns from the patient serving as the lifeguard that someone who is committed to the hospital is released only at the discretion of the staff. McMurphy had believed he could leave as soon as he served the time remaining on his work farm sentence. Cowed by his new knowledge, he behaves more conservatively around Ratched. During the next Group Meeting, Cheswick brings up the problem of cigarette rationing, but McMurphy does not support him. Ratched sends Cheswick to Disturbed for a while. After he returns, on the way to the pool, Cheswick tells McMurphy that he understands why McMurphy no longer rebels against Ratched. That day, Cheswick’s fingers get stuck in the pool’s drain and he drowns in what is possibly a suicide.
Sefelt, who has epilepsy, has a seizure on the floor. Fredrickson, also an epileptic, always takes Sefelt’s medication. Ratched takes the opportunity to demonstrate the importance of following her advice and not “acting foolish.” McMurphy, who has never seen an epileptic seizure, is very disturbed by the whole scenario. Bromden notes that McMurphy is beginning to get a “haggard, puzzled look of pressure” on his face.
Harding’s wife comes for a brief visit. Harding mocks her poor grammar, and she says she wishes his limp-wristed friends would stop coming to their house to ask about him. After she leaves, McMurphy angrily erupts when Harding asks for his opinion of her, saying, “I’ve got worries of my own without getting hooked with yours. So just quit!” The patients are then taken to get chest X rays for TB, and McMurphy learns that Ratched can send anyone she wants for electroshock therapy and even a lobotomy in some cases, despite the fact that both practices are outdated. McMurphy tells the other patients that he knows now why they encouraged his rebellion without informing him about the consequences. He now understands that they submit to her not only because she is able to authorize these treatments, but also because she determines when they can leave the hospital. Harding informs him that, to the contrary, Scanlon is the only Acute aside from McMurphy who is committed. The rest of the Acutes are in the hospital voluntarily and could leave whenever they chose. McMurphy, completely perplexed, asks Billy Bibbit why he chooses to stay when he could be outside driving a convertible and romancing pretty girls. Billy Bibbit begins to cry and shouts that he and the others are not as big, strong, and brave as McMurphy.
McMurphy buys three cartons of cigarettes at the canteen. After the Group Meeting, Ratched announces that she and Doctor Spivey think the patients should be punished for their insubordination against the cleaning schedule a few weeks before. Since they did not apologize or show any remorse, she and Spivey have decided to take away the second game room. Everyone, including the Chronics, turns to see how McMurphy reacts. McMurphy smiles and tips his hat. Ratched thinks that she has regained control, but, after the meeting, McMurphy calmly walks to the glass-enclosed Nurses’ Station where she is sitting. He says that he wants some of his cigarettes and punches his hand through the glass. He claims that the glass was so spotless that he forgot it was even there.
The staff meeting illustrates the unbelievable extent of Nurse Ratched’s power in the hospital, even in the face of disruptions by a clever, sharp-witted patient like McMurphy. After McMurphy learns of her true power—her responsibility for his release and her ability to administer inhumane treatments—no one dares deny her authority even after her hysterical fit. She quickly reconsolidates her power over the staff before they can doubt her. Ratched’s actions indicate her clear-thinking, premeditated approach to dealing with McMurphy. She chooses to keep McMurphy on the ward to prevent him from attaining the status of a martyr. Moreover, she realizes that sending him off the ward would be tantamount to declaring defeat. Ratched would rather confront McMurphy directly. She is comforted to know that she has complete control over his future, and that once he realizes it too, he will not dare to disobey her.
Up to this point, McMurphy’s rebellions have largely been self-motivated, although they have ended up benefiting others as well. Now the other men are discovering their own individual desires and begin to follow his lead: Cheswick demands that the rationing of cigarettes be ended, and Bromden stops taking his sleeping pill. Bromden’s transformation from a pretend deaf-mute into a man who can think for himself results from his observation and admiration of McMurphy. Although Bromden is physically much larger than McMurphy, he sees himself as weak and small, and he marvels at McMurphy’s strength. He realizes that McMurphy’s power comes from his ability to “be who he is,” to maintain his individuality within the Combine’s institutions. With this new knowledge, Bromden and the other patients slowly resurrect their suppressed individuality.
Bromden’s realization, upon looking out the window, that the hospital is in the countryside symbolizes the broadening of his perceptual abilities under McMurphy’s influence. He watches as animals interact with man-made creations. This scene of nature versus machine echoes the situation occurring within the hospital’s walls. The geese belong entirely to the wild, undomesticated world. The car represents the oppressive, mechanized modern society. The dog, as a domesticated creature, is situated in between. Bromden notes that the dog and the car are headed for “the same spot of pavement.” The implication is that the dog will run into the car and be killed by the overwhelmingly larger machine. This image signifies that when one tries to defy modern society’s mechanized, conventional imperatives, one runs the risk of experiencing annihilation rather than victory.
After McMurphy learns that Ratched will determine when he can leave the hospital, he chooses to conform to the hospital’s set of norms and rules. McMurphy doesn’t yet understand the responsibility that he has assumed by serving as the ward’s most effective teacher of resistance. This responsibility becomes apparent when Cheswick dies. McMurphy realizes that by ending his rebellion and conforming to Ratched’s ways to save himself, he has become complicit with the destructive Combine.
The knowledge of his own complacency with the Combine strikes McMurphy strongly and influences him to resume his rebellion, although with a new sense of the ramifications of rebellion. He now acts with the full knowledge of his situation and the punishments that Ratched may inflict on him in response to his continued opposition. He now knowingly assumes the role of leader that he naively assumed earlier. Rather than being a selfish action, his resumed rebellion is calculated to benefit the other patients. In addition, McMurphy no longer relies on humorous nettling as his weapon in this rebellion. McMurphy’s strength becomes less mental and more corporeal. Breaking the window is his first act of violence—far more serious than his humorous jabs. Moreover, the glass, which is kept so spotless that it is almost invisible, represents the control Nurse Ratched has over the patients; it is so deviously subtle that they sometimes forget it is there. By breaking the glass, McMurphy reminds the other patients that her power over them is always present, while simultaneously suggesting that their knowledge of her power renders that power breakable.
After breaking the glass at the Nurses’ Station, McMurphy is back to his old troublemaking ways. Even Doctor Spivey begins to assert himself with the nurse. The aides put a piece of cardboard where McMurphy broke the glass, and Ratched continues to sit behind it as if it were transparent—she looks like “a picture turned to the wall.” Ratched rejects McMurphy’s petition for an Accompanied Pass, which is a permission to spend time outside the ward while attended by another person. McMurphy wants to leave the ward with a prostitute he knows from Portland, Candy Starr. As a result of Ratched’s denial, McMurphy shatters the replacement glass pane, claiming he did not know it had been replaced. Bromden notes that the nurse shows signs that her patience is starting to wear down. When the glass is replaced again, Scanlon accidentally smashes it with a basketball, which she then throws away.
Doctor Spivey grants McMurphy’s request for a pass to take a fishing trip with nine other patients, accompanied by two of his aunts. Men begin to sign up for the trip, each paying McMurphy ten dollars for the boat rental. Meanwhile, Ratched pins newspaper clippings about rough weather and wrecked boats on the bulletin board. Bromden wants to sign the list, but he is afraid to blow his deaf-and-dumb cover, realizing that he has to “keep acting deaf if [he] wanted to hear at all.” He remembers that when he was ten, three people came to his home to talk to his father about buying the tribe’s land. When Bromden spoke to them, they acted like he had not said a word. This memory represents the first time in a long time that he has remembered something about his childhood.
Geever, an aide, wakes Bromden and McMurphy in the middle of the night when he scrapes off the wads of gum under Bromden’s bed. He tells McMurphy that he has tried for a long time to find out where Bromden, as an indigent patient, could obtain gum. After he leaves the dorm, McMurphy gives Bromden some Juicy Fruit, and Bromden, before he can think of what he is doing, thanks him. McMurphy tells him that when he was a boy, he took a job picking beans. The adults ignored him, so McMurphy silently listened to their malicious gossip all summer. At the end of the season, he told everyone what the others said in their absence, creating havoc. Bromden replies that he is too little to do something bold like that.
McMurphy offers to make Bromden big again with his special body-building course. He offers to pay Bromden’s share of the fishing trip fee if he promises to get strong enough to lift the control panel in the tub room. He tells Bromden that the aunts who will accompany them are in reality two prostitutes. When McMurphy notices Bromden’s erection, he states that Bromden is getting bigger already. Right then, McMurphy adds Bromden’s name to the list. The next day he persuades George Sorenson, a former fisherman, to take the last slot.
When Candy arrives at the hospital—without Sandy—the men are transfixed by her beauty and femininity. Ratched threatens to cancel the trip because all the patients cannot fit into Candy’s car, and they do not have a second driver. In doing so, she discovers that McMurphy lied about the cost of the rental to make a profit off the other patients. She tries to use this information as part of her typical divide-and-conquer strategy, but the other patients do not seem to mind. McMurphy then persuades Doctor Spivey to come with them and drive the second car. When they stop for gas, the attendant tries to take advantage of them. McMurphy gets out of the car and warns him that they are a bunch of crazy, psychopathic murderers. The other patients, seeing that their illness could actually be a source of power for them, lose their nervousness and follow his lead in using their insanity to intimidate the attendant.
Bromden marvels at the changes the Combine has wrought on the Outside—the thousands of mechanized commuters and houses and children. When they get to the docks, the captain of the boat does not allow them to take the trip, because he does not have a signed waiver exonerating him should any accidents occur. Meanwhile, the men on the dock harass Candy, and the patients are ashamed that they are too afraid to stand up for her. To distract the captain of the boat, McMurphy gives him a phone number to call. When the captain goes to call, McMurphy herds the patients onto the boat. They are already out to sea by the time the captain realizes the number belongs to a brothel.
While on the boat, everyone catches large fish and gets drunk. When they return to the dock, the captain is waiting with some policemen. The doctor threatens to inform the authorities that the captain did not provide enough life jackets, so the policemen leave without arresting anyone. After a short fistfight, McMurphy and the captain have a drink together. The men on the dock are friendly with the patients when they see their impressive catches and after they learn that George is a retired fisherman. Billy is infatuated with Candy; when McMurphy notices this, he arranges a date for them at two in the morning two weeks later, on a Saturday night.
Everyone is in high spirits when they return to the ward, but McMurphy seems pale and exhausted. They had taken a detour to pass by an old, run-down house where McMurphy lived as a child. Caught in a tree branch was an old rag, a remnant from the first time he had sex, as a ten-year-old with a girl who was perhaps even younger than he. She gave him her dress to keep as a reminder, and he threw it out the window, where it caught in a tree branch and remained to this day. Bromden remembers seeing his face reflected in the windshield afterward and remarks how it looked “dreadfully tired and strained and frantic, like there was not enough time left for something he had to do.”
McMurphy’s rebellion grows more overt as the patients begin to defy Ratched on their own terms. McMurphy still maintains a somewhat humorous edge to his resistance, as his request for an Accompanied Pass demonstrates. By asking to be let out for a day to consort with a prostitute, McMurphy both asserts his sexuality and reminds Ratched that she has failed to emotionally castrate him. By gaining Spivey’s approval for the fishing trip, McMurphy demonstrates to Ratched that he does not deem her the highest authority on the ward. Nurse Ratched can only resist his growing influence by trying in vain to frighten the other patients with the newspaper clippings, which fail to suppress them and their newfound individual thinking.
Meanwhile, Bromden begins to attain greater self-knowledge through McMurphy’s influence. He remembers the racist government agents coming to his house, and he realizes the origin of his sense of inadequacy and invisibility. Bromden feels himself becoming stronger as he talks to McMurphy and slowly becomes a man in his own eyes. McMurphy’s offer of Juicy Fruit to Bromden illustrates the value of good relationships between the patients, and Bromden’s decision to speak demonstrates the extent to which goodwill has helped to heal his wounds.
In contrast, Geever’s discovery of Bromden’s gum is a reminder that the hospital continues to function like a totalitarian state. The patients are still subject to strict supervision and the invasion of their privacy. Once faced with the conniving Geever, Bromden knows that McMurphy will keep his most precious secret: that he is not deaf and dumb. McMurphy’s own childhood experience of playing mute shows that the two of them are more similar than they might appear.
McMurphy’s own program of therapy for the other patients involves reviving their faith in their sexuality. He notes, jokingly, that Bromden’s erection is proof that he is getting bigger already. McMurphy presents the patients with a woman who can reawaken their repressed sex drives; the pretty Candy Starr, unlike Nurse Ratched, exudes sexuality. McMurphy seems to recognize that the patients, Billy in particular, can become individual, powerful men only if they can experience sexual feelings without the sense of shame that Ratched and the rest of the ward seem to inculcate.
During the trip, two unpleasant experiences threaten the therapeutic value of the outing but ultimately lead to the greatest individual development for the patients. First, when the gas station attendant disrespects them, McMurphy rescues them by showing how their stigmatized identity as mental patients can be used to their advantage. Instead of being made to feel afraid, they can now intimidate others by exaggerating their insanity. McMurphy, in effect, teaches them how to cope with the outside world in a different way, to reject the previously unsuccessful approach of conformity. However, the patients still depend heavily on McMurphy to lead them. When they arrive at the docks,they are too timid to answer the insults of the seamen by themselves.
The second experience that initially seems detrimental, but is actually beneficial, occurs when McMurphy tests the patients by refusing to help them once they are out to sea. Like Christ taking his twelve disciples to the sea, he forces them to fend for themselves, and they find, to their surprise, that they do not actually need his help. They begin to see themselves as men, not as feeble mental patients. When they return to the docks, they realize that they not only have proven something to themselves, but they have proven something to the seamen with their impressive catches. In turn, the seamen act politely and respectfully, in remarkable contrast to their earlier rudeness.
Yet, while the mental state of each patient is improving immensely, the strain of responsibility for curing the patients of their society-generated insecurities has clearly begun to wear McMurphy down. McMurphy’s exhaustion seems to stem from something other than the trip alone, and Bromden’s description of his expression in the car foreshadows McMurphy’s eventual submission. Significantly, this expression occurs in conjunction with McMurphy’s childhood memory of being sexually dominated by a woman. Despite all of the fervor and individuality that McMurphy conveys, he also has experienced a distortion of his male sexuality due to a woman’s dominance. In his increasing strain, we see that the strength which makes McMurphy so well equipped to combat the mechanistic society of Nurse Ratched—his humanity—is also a weakness that may ultimately lead to his total exhaustion.
Nurse Ratched posts the patients’ financial statements on the bulletin board to show that everyone’s account, except McMurphy’s, shows a steady decline in funds. The other patients begin to question the motivations for his actions. When a phone call keeps McMurphy away from a Group Meeting, Ratched insinuates that everything he does is motivated by the desire for personal gain. Later, Harding argues that they have all gotten their money’s worth and that McMurphy never hid his con-man ways from them.
McMurphy asks Bromden if he can move the control panel, as a way of testing how big Bromden has grown. Bromden is able to move it half a foot. McMurphy makes a rigged bet with the other patients that someone could lift the control panel, knowing, of course, that Bromden has already lifted it. Bromden lifts it, and McMurphy wins the bet. Bromden, uncomfortable with McMurphy’s deceit, refuses to accept the five dollars that McMurphy offers him later. McMurphy asks why all of a sudden everyone acts like he is a traitor, and Bromden tells him it is because he is always winning things.
Ratched orders that everyone who went on the fishing trip be cleansed because of the company they kept. George has a phobia regarding cleanliness and begs the aides not to spray him with their smelly salve. McMurphy and Bromden get into a fistfight with the aides to defend George, so Ratched sends them to Disturbed. The kind Japanese nurse who tends them explains that army nurses have a habit of trying to run the place as if it were an army hospital and are “a little sick themselves.” One of the patients wakes Bromden during the night by yelling in his face, “I’m starting to spin, Indian! Look me, look me!” Bromden wonders how McMurphy can sleep, plagued as he must be by “a hundred faces like that,” desperate for his attention.
Nurse Ratched tells McMurphy that he can avoid electroshock therapy by admitting he was wrong. He refuses, telling her “those Chinese Commies could have learned a few things from you, lady.” He and Bromden are sent for the treatment, but McMurphy does not seem afraid at all. He voluntarily climbs onto the cross-shaped table and wonders aloud if he will get a “crown of thorns.” Bromden, however, is afraid and struggles mightily. During the treatment and afterward, Bromden experiences a rush of images and memories from his childhood. When he regains consciousness, he resists the fog and works to clear his head, the first time he has managed to do so after receiving shock therapy. He knows that this time he “had them beat,” and he is not subjected to any more treatments. McMurphy, however, receives three more treatments that week. He maintains an unconcerned attitude about it, but Bromden can tell that the treatments are affecting him. Ratched realizes that McMurphy is growing bigger in the eyes of the other men because he is out of sight, so she decides to bring him back from Disturbed.
The other patients know that Ratched will continue to harass McMurphy, so they urge him to escape. McMurphy reminds them that Billy’s date with Candy is later that night. That night, McMurphy persuades Turkle to open the window for Candy. She arrives with Sandy in tow, carrying copious amounts of alcohol. Everyone mixes vodka with cough syrup, while Turkle and McMurphy smoke joints. Sefelt has a seizure while with Sandy, and Harding sprinkles pills over them both, declaring that they are “witnessing the end, the absolute, irrevocable, fantastic end.” Sometime after four in the morning, Billy and Candy retreat to the Seclusion Room.
As it gets closer to morning, they realize that they are going to have to figure something out before the staff arrives. Harding tells McMurphy that they can tie up Turkle, so it looks like the mess created by their party was all part of McMurphy’s escape attempt. Turkle can keep his job, the other patients will not get into trouble, and McMurphy can drive off to Canada or Mexico with Candy and Sandy. McMurphy asks whether any of the rest of them would want to escape with him. Harding replies by saying that he is almost ready to leave on his own, with all “the traditional red tape.” He says that the rest of them are “still sick men in lots of ways. But at least there’s that: they are sick men now. No more rabbits, Mack.”
McMurphy and Sandy climb into bed after asking Turkle to wake them up right before the morning staff arrives. Unfortunately, Turkle falls asleep, and the aides discover them in the morning. Bromden surmises that the ensuing repercussions were inevitable, whether or not they followed through with McMurphy’s escape. He figures that even if McMurphy had escaped, he would have had to come back and not let the nurse get “the last play.”
The next morning all the patients are incredulous about the night’s activities. As Ratched turns up more and more incriminating remnants from the party, the patients cannot keep their laughter in, and the nurse looks like she is going to “blow up like a bladder.” McMurphy has a chance to escape when Turkle undoes the screen to let Sandy out, but he refuses, despite Harding’s warnings of what is to come. When Ratched finds Billy with Candy, he is calm and peaceful. He and Candy both move “like cats full of warm milk.” The nurse threatens to tell Billy’s mother. Billy regains his stutter and begins to cry, begging her to keep it a secret and blaming Candy, McMurphy, and Harding for the whole thing. She sends him to Spivey’s office to wait while she clears things up with the other patients. But Billy ends up committing suicide by cutting his throat.
Nurse Ratched asks McMurphy if he is satisfied with his accomplishments, and then she retreats to the Nurses’ Station. Bromden realizes that nobody will be able to stop McMurphy from rebelling, because it is the need of the patients that has been encouraging him all along, “making him wink and grin and laugh and go on with his act long after his humor had been parched dry between two electrodes.” Then, McMurphy smashes through the glass door, rips open the front of Ratched’s uniform, and tries to strangle her. As he is pried off of the nurse, he gives out a cry “of cornered-animal fear and hate and surrender and defiance.”
Several of the Acutes transfer to other wards, and some check themselves out of the hospital altogether. The doctor is asked to resign but refuses. Ratched returns after a week on medical leave with a heavy bandage around her throat, unable to speak. She cannot regain her former power over the ward. Eventually the only patients left on the ward are Bromden, Martini, and Scanlon. McMurphy is given a lobotomy for his attack on Nurse Ratched. When he is returned to the ward after the operation, he is a vegetable. That same night, Bromden suffocates McMurphy with a pillow. He throws the control panel through a window screen and escapes from the hospital, hitching a ride with a trucker.
Ratched makes one last feeble attempt to regain control when she uses the same principle she used earlier to ensure the patients’ submission to her authority: divide and conquer. She begins to sow the seeds of distrust among the patients by publicizing the financial gain McMurphy has enjoyed since his transfer from the work farm. Harding defends McMurphy, pointing out that McMurphy has more than repaid the patients’ financial losses by providing them with the means to resist Ratched’s influence.
But it is McMurphy’s timing of the rigged bet on the control panel that proves extremely disadvantageous. He fleeces them of their money too soon after Ratched has planted the seeds of doubt in their minds. Bromden is affected most acutely, because he feels that McMurphy has used him to take advantage of the others. Only after McMurphy regains the patients’ trust by taking on yet another personal risk for their benefit—defending George against the aides—do Bromden and the others realize McMurphy’s true objectives. Even Bromden helps this time, demonstrating the extent to which he has regained his self-confidence.
McMurphy’s self-sacrifice for the benefit of the other patients begins to surface after he defends George, and also when he undergoes the electroshock treatments. McMurphy is belted to a cross-shaped table, an obvious allusion to a crucifix. This Christ imagery suggests an impending martyrdom on the part of McMurphy, and he even compares himself to Christ when he asks whether he gets to wear a crown of thorns. Of course, a martyr ultimately must sacrifice himself to save others. This proves true, since although Bromden feels strong enough to withstand the effects of the electroshock, McMurphy weakens under the repeated treatments. Bromden finally begins to feel that his victory over the hospital is complete. He is no longer ruled by his fears or his past, thanks to the help of his unlikely savior, McMurphy.
After Nurse Ratched provokes Billy, leading to his suicide, McMurphy truly does become a Christ figure for the patients. Under the invisible but heavy pressure of the other patients’ expectations, McMurphy makes the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that Ratched cannot use Billy’s death to undo everything they have gained. By attacking Ratched and ripping her uniform, he permanently breaks her power but also forfeits his own life. Though Ratched tries to give McMurphy a fate worse than death by having him lobotomized, Bromden dignifies McMurphy by killing him, assuring that McMurphy will always be a symbol of resistance instead of a lingering cautionary tale for future patients on Ratched’s ward. (Ken Kesey)