One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest By Ken Kesey Summary and Analysis Part 2: In the Group Meetings

Summary

Chief recounts that the group meetings have become gripe sessions now that the patients have been empowered by McMurphy's rebelliousness. They challenge Ratched's easy and often arbitrary rationales. Although she doesn't challenge McMurphy, he suspects that "she acts like she still holds all the cards up that white sleeve of hers."

McMurphy's suspicions are confirmed when he and the other patients are taken to the hospital pool. The lifeguard, who is sentenced like McMurphy, tells him that their respective stays are indefinite. Unlike the prison, when an inmate knows when he will be released, a patient in a mental institution is at the mercy of his keepers.

This revelation marks a change in McMurphy's behavior. He begins to become an exemplary patient, cleaning the latrine thoroughly and keeping his wisecracks to a minimum. His behavior confuses the other patients, and they speculate that he may be plotting a new, more blatant campaign against Ratched or else he's conforming by deciding to "toe the line." Cheswick looks to McMurphy to support him in an argument with Ratched, but McMurphy ignores him. Cheswick, "punctured," is taken to the Disturbed Ward, and Chief can again see the refrigerated light generated by the Combine. Chief, knowing the truth, states that McMurphy is being cagey, much like Chief's father was with the government agents who took his tribe's land.

When Cheswick returns to the ward, he visits the pool with the other patients. He tells McMurphy he understands why McMurphy is conforming. He then proceeds to deliberately drown himself by attaching himself to an underwater grate.

Analysis

After helping the patients recognize that they have been victimized by Ratched's autocratic methods, McMurphy withdraws in order to gain her favor to ensure an early release. The patients, especially Bibbit and Cheswick, perceive this as a sellout. Cheswick's feeling of betrayal is perhaps more telling, because Chief recalls that, during his tantrum at the group meeting, "He never had looked big; he was short and too fat and had a bald spot…but standing there by himself in the center of the day room like that he looked tiny." Whereas each of the patients eventually "grows" bigger when they empower themselves through their association with McMurphy, Cheswick doesn't spend enough time with the rebellious McMurphy in order to grow larger. Instead he commits suicide.

Glossary

latrine a toilet, privy, etc. for the use of a large number of people.

gurney a stretcher or cot on wheels, used in hospitals to move patients.

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