One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 12th grade August 2001

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest 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. The institution is dominated by Nurse Ratched (Big Nurse), a cold, precise woman with calculated gestures and a calm, mechanical manner. She has absolute authority over the hospital staff and its patients. 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. McMurphy immediately distinguishes himself from the other patients in the disregard he displays for all authority.

Due to this Nurse Ratched immediately pegs McMurphy as a manipulator. Most of the patients follow Ratched's orders and defend her against McMurphy's comments but eventually end up siding with McMurphy. He tries to assert his newfound leadership by trying to watch a World Series baseball game but Nurse Ratched turns off the electricity to the TV. A character, the lifeguard, is introduced as an patient who is involuntarily committed. He tells McMurphy that he has to abide by Nurse Ratched's rules or risk her extending his sentence indefinitely. McMurphy quiets down for a while. Later on 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. Further in the novel, McMurphy once again asserts his leadership when he convinces the counsel to go on a fishing trip with several of the patients. Big Nurse tries to scare some of the patients off by posting "bad" weather reports and articles about boating accidents, but did not succeed. The group comes back with a new found individuality. McMurphy tells many of the patients that he will escape from the institution by lifting up the control panel in the tub room and throwing it through the window. Along with McMurphy, many of the other patients show a disregard for Nurse Ratched and the "black boys." McMurphy and Chief come to the aid of a patient receiving an enema, a fight breaks out, and they are eventually removed to the Disturbed Ward. This is where they were forced to undergo electric shock therapy. Chief returns before McMurphy to realize they were missed. He realizes their leadership role in the institution. They are almost considered heroes. McMurphy eventually returns, after enduring great mental strain. He tries to act like his normal self but no one is fooled. Meanwhile, patients are coming up with a way for him to escape. A man, Bibbit, kills himself due to a threat made by Big Nurse and McMurphy retaliates by attempting to strangle her but only rips her shirt off. Her authority over the patients is now exposed because her sexuality was exposed. Many of the patients decided to leave the hospital. Shortly after, McMurphy is lobotomized. He appears to be in a vegetative state. Chief Bromden smothers McMurphy with a pillow to put him out of his misery, then throws the control panel in the tub room through the window and escapes from the institution, as McMurphy had long ago suggested.