One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest By Ken Kesey Summary and Analysis Part 1: The New Man

Summary

Chief describes the relationships of the men on the ward. He relates that the Big Nurse encourages them to divulge information on other patients by writing down into her log book what they overheard in conversation. Big Nurse rewards the individual who made the entry by allowing him to sleep later than the other patients, and uses this information in the group therapy sessions to turn the patients against one another.

Chief tells of the division between the Acutes and the Chronics on the ward. The Chronics are those that he describes as "the culls of the Combine's product." Some Chronics, he says, began their stay at the hospital as Acutes, but due to staff errors, became Chronics. Big Nurse threatens the Acutes exhibiting undesirable behavior that they may end up as Chronics, a foreshadowing of events that will eventually play out in the novel. Chief writes that the ward proudly exhibits a sign congratulating it for "GETTING ALONG WITH THE SMALLEST NUMBER OF PERSONNEL," which he believes is due to the passive cooperation of the Acute patients. The sign is a line of demarcation between the Acutes and the Chronics, placed there as an implicit warning to keep in line by Big Nurse.

Chief equates the patient's fear of female authority to schoolboys' fear of being caught acting naughty by their teacher. McMurphy, oblivious to their fear, challenges the Acutes to identify the "bull goose loony," which would be the "craziest" patient. He dismisses Billy Bibbit, a stuttering, 31-year-old man, and is introduced to Dale Harding, a college-educated, effeminate man. Chief relates enough information about Harding to indicate that he has been figuratively emasculated by his large-breasted wife and an education that has divorced his intellect from his masculinity.

Their curiosity raised, the patients ask McMurphy about his background. He tells them that he served in the Army, was a logger, learned to play poker, and is dedicated to staying single and gambling. He says he never had trouble with the law when he got into fights as a logger or soldier, but was persecuted for fighting when he became a gambler. He tells the other men that he is incarcerated for assault and battery.

McMurphy introduces himself to all the men on the ward and comes to Chief Bromden. Billy Bibbit explains that Chief is deaf, and that Bibbit would kill himself if he became deaf, a foreshadowing of his death.

Analysis

In this portion of the novel, Kesey seems to indicate that the methods of therapy used by Nurse Ratched are intended more to control the patients rather than cure them (for example, the destructive spying that she encourages between the Acutes exemplified by the log book). In addition, the orderlies emotionally torture the Chronics, as typified by the dwarf black orderly who "gets a rise out of him [Ruckly] from time to time by leaning close and asking, 'Say, Ruckly, what you figure your little wife is doing in town tonight?'"

Nurse Ratched keeps the Acutes and the Chronics on the same ward, apparently to frighten the Acutes with the possibility that they may end up as Chronics if they don't yield to her authority. Chief writes, "The Big Nurse recognizes this fear and knows how to put it to use; she's point out to an Acute, whenever he goes into a sulk, that you boys be good boys and cooperate with staff policy which is engineered for your cure, or you'll end up over on that side."

Chief introduces two of the Chronics, Ellis and Ruckly, both of whom he refers to as "culls of the Combine," and products of the "filthy brain-murdering room that the black boys call the 'Shock Shop.'" Speaking specifically about Ruckly, Chief believes that, although Nurse Ratched considers Ruckly one of her failures, perhaps he's "better off as a failure," rather than as a successful example of the Combine's machinations.

Glossary

chronic lasting a long time or recurring often.

bull goose loony an oxymoron. A bull indicates masculine qualities while a goose indicates feminine. A loony, of course, is someone not entirely in control of their mental faculties and perhaps unable to discern whether they are a bull or a goose.

Patient's Council a group of Acutes appointed by other patients and Nurse Ratched, ostensibly, to vote on matters of interest to the other patients. Because none of the council members wants to upset Nurse Ratched, the group is essentially powerless.

voting for Eisenhower Dwight Eisenhower was a World War II general and president of the United States during the latter half of the 1950s, a period perceived by many to be marked by conservatism and conformity. Therefore, one who votes for Eisenhower is a conformist.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

How is Doctor Spivey controlled by Nurse Ratched?




Quiz