Independent Novel Project
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Randle McMurphy (Mack) is a loud, energetic rebel who spent most of his time in jail and on work camps. When his sanity is questioned, he is sent to Nurse Ratched's ward and makes it his goal to take over. While there, he runs card games and gambling, organizes a fishing trip, and throws a party in attempt to overthrow the tightly wound, strict nurse.
In the process, he has a profound impact on the patients of the ward. Most men have been there for years, stuck in the habitual, slow moving life of the mental ward. Chief Bromden, Harding, Billy, and the rest of men in the 'acute' (young or curable) group were all changed in some way because of him.
At the end of the novel, Nurse Ratched uses her authority to subject McMurphy to a lobotomy, a treatment that turns him in to a vegetable. Chief Bromden, a former fly on the wall, ends his life out of mercy and escapes the ward. All of the men are inspired to live their lives as McMurphy would in honor of the change he rooted in them.
- Machinery and “The Combine” - Chief has dreams and hallucinations of machinery in the walls, keeping the hospital maintained and the patients in line. The Combine is a greater force acting outside the hospital. It is a force that is taking over society, making everything uniform and destroying culture.
Fog – a tactic of Chief and the belief that allowing himself to detach from reality is better than the alternative. “As bad as it is, you can slip back in it and feel safe”. In many ways, a break from reality keeps men calm and is a goal of Ratched, so McMurphy fights to keep men in the moment.
Jesus – There are biblical references several times throughout the novel. McMurphy is a 30-something leader among men who aspire to live as he does. Jesus is often associated with fish, and Mack leads a fishing trip for the men. While receiving shock treatments, he gets wounds on his hands and feet from the straps, and jokingly asks for a crown of thorns.
Self Esteem/Perspective- McMurphy takes Chief under his wing and devotes himself to making him “feel big” again. He is physically much larger than the other men, but envies McMurphy's confidence and “bigness”. Many of the men were in danger of fading in to the background rather than living up to their potential.
Authority-McMurphy has always aimed to defy authority. In the ward, he sees that authority is misused. Men are too structured, nearly stripped of humanity, and electro-shock therapy is debilitating and used far too often. The ward is an example of how authority can be oppressive. It is notable that the most powerful authoritative figure in the novel is a woman. McMurphy is open about his sexuality and is condescending to women.
Chief Bromden – the narrator who is successful in pretending to be deaf and dumb to escape authority. He is nicknamed “Chief Broom” for his duties on the ward. Bromden is transformed by McMurphy and breaks his silence.
Harding – the “voice of reason” among the ward. He has analyzed himself and is free to leave the ward, but doesn't have the courage. He discharges himself after McMurphy's death.
Billy – In Mack's eyes, the nervous, stuttering Billy is far too young to be on the ward. His mother is a friend of Nurse Ratched. After being humiliated when Nurse Ratched finds him with a prostitute (Mack's idea), he commits suicide in the doctor's office.
McMurphy – the energetic protagonist who fights Nurse Ratched for the upper hand on the ward.
Nurse Ratched – the antagonist. She is calm and collected, yet stern and cold. She is the force that has been suppressing the men and eventually ends Mack, but not the rest of the ward.
Cheswick – The original disciple of Mack, who admired him first and had the courage to speak up only when he was around. Cheswick tragically drowns during the ward's pool time, and McMurphy fails to save him. He is upset and uncharacteristically reserved after the death.
The Black Boys – Workers who are portrayed culturally by Kesey through their language. They are outfitted in white and are equally fearful of Nurse Ratched, though they often mistreat the men on the ward while she isn't around.
The Doctor – A timid guy who is also intimidated by Nurse Ratched, though he is above her in the medical community. The Doctor accompanies the men on their fishing trip and is more open to McMurphy's ideas to change the ward.
Women Were In Power
o Ironic because unusual to have woman in charge during that time
o Time when women were emerging in the job market
o McMurphy views women as sex objects
Black Boys Were Like Slaves
o Had to do everything Nurse Ratched told them to do
o Had to do all the demeaning jobs when caring for the patients
o Nurse Ratched gave them all of the orders to care for patients
Time Period Affected How Patients Were Treated
o Patients were not allowed to try to live a normal life
o Were always drugged to keep their minds ‘numb’ and to keep them calm
o Shock treatments and lobotomies were accepted and allowed during the time
the novel took place (normalcy)
McMurphy is like the hero in the novel (protagonist) and Nurse Ratched is the antagonist
Beneficial that McMurphy came because he tried to help the patients to become more human and see their potential in life
o Tried to make the men feel more normal by letting them do what normal people
enjoy doing i.e. watching the world series, playing basketball, going fishing, and
being with women
Both Nurse Ratched and McMurphy were trying to do good for the other patients but had different approaches and clashed, making them rivals
Kesey utilizes the time period by examining the taboo nature of
sex, the destruction of Native American culture, and the
treatment of mental patients.