One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest By Ken Kesey Summary and Analysis Part 1: Before Noontime

Summary

At 1 p.m., the Acutes assemble for their daily meeting with Big Nurse and Doctor Spivey. Big Nurse opens the session by reading notes that other patients have submitted on Dale Harding. Big Nurse asks if any member of the group would like to touch upon the matter further. McMurphy uses the opportunity to make an off-color remark about touching the breasts of Harding's wife, a statement that catches Big Nurse off guard and flusters her.

To cover her frustration, Big Nurse reads McMurphy's file. He received a Distinguished Service Cross in Korea for leading an escape from a prison camp, but was dishonorably discharged for fighting and insubordination. He also was once charged with the statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl. McMurphy says that the girl's insatiable sexual appetite made him take "to sewing my pants shut," and that he was forced to leave town because the girl would have "burnt me to a frazzle by the time she reached legal sixteen."

In his discussion with Doctor Spivey, McMurphy makes a veiled threat to Big Nurse and repeats that the work farm doctor has diagnosed him as a potential psychotic. Doctor Spivey responds that the doctor also suggests that McMurphy could be feigning mental instability to get out of work detail.

McMurphy's joking and Doctor Spivey's obvious enjoyment of his behavior cause Big Nurse to place control of the meeting back into the hands of Doctor Spivey.

McMurphy approaches Harding to discuss the meeting, calling it a "pecking party." Harding defends Big Nurse, but McMurphy refers to her as "a bitch and a buzzard and a ball-cutter." Harding tries to refute McMurphy but ends up convincing himself that McMurphy is correct.

Analysis

During the meeting, Ratched exerts control over the patients by her autocratic demeanor. Because Harding is the group's most intelligent and educated member, she begins the meeting by reminding him that his wife's physical attractiveness makes him feel insecure. The meeting concludes with Chief's observation that McMurphy is learning quickly about the group in order to make a gambler's move at a later time.

McMurphy tells Harding that Big Nurse set up Harding to take the pecks of his fellow patients whom McMurphy calls "bastards." Harding argues that the session was for his benefit, to which McMurphy responds that Big Nurse wasn't pecking at his eyes, she was pecking lower, referring to his masculinity. McMurphy tells Harding that the session weakened Harding because everyone attacked him where it hurt worse, in his "vitals," which is where people who want to make someone weak rather than make themselves stronger prefer to strike.

He tells McMurphy that the patients are the victims of a matriarchy established by a female supervisor who condones Big Nurse's methods. Doctor Spivey is ineffectual because, as Harding says, Big Nurse can report him for writing large requisitions for Demerol. This last fact can be interpreted that Doctor Spivey is addicted to the morphine that is Demerol's active pain-killing ingredient. Harding calls the patients and Doctor Spivey rabbits and Nurse Ratched a wolf. Worse, Harding says that they are rabbits without sexual potency. The conversation leads to a bet that McMurphy can get Nurse Ratched's goat within a week. Harding allows McMurphy to hold the bets, because, as he says to McMurphy, "You won't be going any place for a while."

Glossary

matriarchy government, rule, or domination by women.

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