The book begins with the narrator, Chief Bromden, waking up early within the psychiatric ward in Oregon where he has spent the past ten years of his life. He tries to be quiet as he passes the aides who he believes have been committing illicit sexual activities in the night, but they sense him and because he pretends to be deaf and dumb, they point out a spot to be mopped nicknaming him “Chief Broom.” They speak hatefully and gossip about hospital secrets because they don’t believe Bromden can hear them. As a result, Bromden goes mostly unnoticed in the ward.
Bromden has a good enough grasp on reality that he can narrate the entire book, so it immediately questions the competence of the staff and the definition of sane/insane. He has pretended to be deaf and dumb for years, showing that the ward has little interest in recalling seeing the person beneath the “condition,” which it turns out he doesn’t even have. Instead, he’s used as a tool to clean things up as though he’s just a robot.
Nurse Ratched, also known as the “Big Nurse”, enters the ward. Bromden knows it’s her by the way the key turns, and cold air follows her inside. Her fingertips match the color of her lips, a “funny orange.” She’s carrying the same wicker bag she’s had since Bromden arrived on the ward. Inside the bag Bromden can’t see any makeup or feminine items. Bromden thinks that when she notices the aides gossiping in the hallway from the nurse’s station she’ll rip them to pieces. She doesn’t hold back, Bromden says she “blows up bigger and bigger, big as a tractor, so big I can smell the machinery inside,” because no one pays any mind to deaf and dumb Bromden. But before she can get going, the other patients start to wake up and emerge.
Bromden hones in on the fact that Nurse Ratched lacks the conventional feminine markers. She tries to appear gender neutral, in a way. Her entrance, followed by the cold, immediately gives an icy feel to her character. The fact that her wicker bag hasn’t changed in the ten years that Bromden has been on the ward shows her dedication to a specific routine, that it needs to be close to perfect—mechanized. She has to maintain a façade, though, in front of the patients that she is calm so she can be seen as more of a force than a person.
Nurse Ratched composes herself. Bromden describes her face as being precisely made, like a doll, with everything seemingly working except for the odd color of her lips and fingernails and her irregularly large bosom, which she does her best to hide under her uniform.
Ratched hides her breasts under her uniform because she doesn’t want to be seen as a sexual object by her male patients—something that might remind them that she is not, in fact, a force or machine there solely to tell them what to do.
Nurse Ratched proposes that to get a good start to Monday the aides should shave Bromden. He quickly hides in a mop closet. He tries to think back to where he grew up near the Columbia River and hunting birds with his father. But Bromden senses the aide, and soon enough they discover him in the closet and take him to the shaving room. Bromden doesn’t fight them because he knows that will just make it harder on him in the long run, but when he arrives and they put something on his temples he becomes hysterical and starts hallucinating a thick fog, cold snow coming down. Bromden can hear Nurse Ratched rushing towards him through the thick of it, and he’s pinned down and sedated.
There is no expressed need for Bromden to be shaved; this comes off as an arbitrary exercise of control on behalf of Nurse Ratched. When something is put on his temples it reminds him of electroshock therapy, and this terrifies him—signaling both the way that Ratched uses the threat of pain as a measure of control and foreboding electroshock therapy to come. The hallucinatory fog symbolizes the control of the Combine that plagues Bromden.
Bromden promises that the story he is about to tell will burn him like a dog running scared in a thick fog: “about the hospital, and her, and the guys—and about McMurphy.” He says he’s been quiet for so many years that it will just come out of him like a flood, and no one will believe him, but it’s all true.
Bromden breaks the “fourth wall” of narration to speak to the reader directly, pleading with them to believe his story. Because he’s spent so many years as “deaf,” he fears no one will hear him.
Bromden wakes in the dayroom as the fog is beginning to clear. He knows he wasn’t taken for shock therapy, but he mildly recalls being in Seclusion—but not for how long or when is the last time he ate. Bromden sees the ward door open, and wonders whether it will be a resident before the patients have had medication, or a visiting wife, or the Public Relations man who celebrates how ethical the treatment is in these psych ward facilities.
Bromden emerges from his hallucinatory fog after the sedation. He is not greeted by a doctor or nurse to brief him on what happened. There is no regard for him as a person, because it’s taken for granted that he won’t understand. The mention of the PR man shows the contrast between the realities of the ward and how it’s presented.
Instead, it’s a new admission: Randle McMurphy. He refuses the entry shower, claiming he received one already at the courthouse. The patients can only hear his loud voice, which reminds Bromden of his father’s once booming voice. McMurphy laughs, for no identifiable reason, and Bromden realizes it’s the first laugh he’s heard in years.
McMurphy is rowdy immediately at entry. His laughter comes off as a unique sound: there is never any true laughter in the ward. McMurphy’s genuine laughter shows that he has not been stripped of the dignity, wildness, or sense of fun as the other men on the ward have.
McMurphy introduces himself to everyone in the day room as a gambler and a fool, still laughing. He says he requested a transfer from the Pendleton Work Farm so that he could have more interesting days. McMurphy, a large, well-built redhead, wears farming work clothes and a black motorcycle cap. He inserts himself into a card game and says that the farm ruled him a psychopath after some scuffles he was in and he wasn’t going to argue with the court if it got him out of the hard work on the farm.
McMurphy’s role as a gambler shows he’s freewheeling, he enjoys raising the stakes, and he takes games seriously. His continued laughter shows the sterilized atmosphere of the ward does not intimidate him. He confesses that he’s not really crazy, he just let himself be described as such if it would make his life easier. He seems to have ways of manipulating The Combine.
McMurphy scans the room, which Bromden then describes. It’s filled with Acutes (curables) and Chronics (vegetables). A logbook is kept by the nurse’s station so that if someone lets a secret slip in the day room, the man who tattles will be rewarded by getting to sleep in the next day. Bromden notes that not all of the Chronics are immobile (himself included). But also that they all didn’t arrive as Chronics: Ellis and Ruckly both came in as Acutes but became Chronics as the result of botched procedures. Bromden reveals he’s been on the ward the longest of anyone.
The room is neatly categorized, not just between sane/insane (employees vs. patients), but into different types of insane (Acutes/Chronics). Ratched’s logbook shows how ruthless she is in maintaining control: she relies on pitting patients against each other (certainly not an intuitive method for rehabilitation or building trust). The Chronics who were once Acutes show that the “treatments” used by the ward have the ability put patients under lifelong control of the hospital.
McMurphy realizes immediately he’s an Acute and walks over to some of the others. He asks Billy Bibitt who’s in charge so that he, himself, can take over. Billy says he supposes it’s Dale Harding, the president of the Patient’s Council who Bromden notes has effeminate good looks suited for the silver screen. McMurphy and Harding exchange joking words, trying to one-up each other, and Harding concedes his position as head to McMurphy. All of the Acutes have surrounded McMurphy in a way Bromden has never seen, curious about his story.
McMurphy’s immediate assertion of dominance is a rare thing on the ward. Harding’s word-play combat with McMurphy is more for show than an actual claim to be in charge. Everyone is simply fascinated with McMurphy because he’s arrived in such high spirits: he’s not already torn down form the world outside. Note how Harding's good looks make him look like an actor, but it's very "delicacy"—he's gay—that caused him to commit himself to the ward.
McMurphy continues to refuse the aides who want to administer the admission protocol shower, rectal thermometer, and injection. McMurphy goes around the room and shakes all of the Chronics’ hands, to everyone’s surprise. Bromden is the last one, and he feels that McMurphy can tell he’s not deaf and dumb.
McMurphy’s continued refusal to follow protocol foreshadows his greater rebellions to come. He shows unprecedented respect for all of the patients by shaking their hands—he treats them like people, and Bromden has the immediate sense that McMurphy can see him as a person and see through his false deaf and dumbness.
Nurse Ratched is calling for McMurphy (initially as McMurphy, her error) about his refusal to follow protocol. She discusses him with a nurse in the station, and compares him to a former patient, Maxwell Taber, who she says was a manipulator (which is how she sees McMurphy). Taber arrived disobedient, but Nurse Ratched says that was only for “a while.”
Nurse Ratched’s conversation with the other nurse about Taber shows that she intends to rein McMurphy in, no matter what it takes. In Taber’s case, we only know so far that his disobedience was short-lived—the “institution” won out.
Bromden relates how strictly Nurse Ratched runs her ward. He believes that she’s part of a larger conglomerate of the outside world called The Combine. She intimidates the doctors into doing what she wants, and she has carefully recruited three daytime black aides who are filled with hate. With her staff, the day’s events run like clockwork. No one is to dispute their medication, like Maxwell Taber did, who was later pinned down by the aides and taken to the Disturbed ward for shock therapy. Taber was eventually sent to enough shock treatments that he becomes obedient enough to be discharged. The staff views him as a successful case.
The Combine is Bromden’s name for what he sees as an increasingly mechanized world outside of and including the ward, which treats people as units or machines and cares only about them fitting in. Ratched used electroshock therapy to break Taber and make him "calm" enough to leave, which made him “sane.” There is no mention of whether Taber’s character or personality remained intact, though, so Taber’s eventual obedience isn’t a success in terms of his dignity, but for the institution.
Bromden believes that the psych ward is a factory for the Combine. It’s purpose is to correct the mistakes that the neighborhoods, schools, and churches made so that the person, the “product,” can go back into society “better than new.”
Bromden sees the world, The Combine, as a place that needs not people but units that "fit". The ward is the place that takes those who don't fit and either forces them to fit or never lets them go. It does not care about its patients as people, with their own intrinsic worth and dignity.
The group meeting takes place and Nurse Ratched brings up what they had discussed on Friday: Harding’s relationship with his wife. Nurse Ratched goes into detail about overheard conversations Harding has had concerning his wife’s breasts, and Harding closes his eyes. McMurphy makes a crass joke, and this almost flusters Nurse Ratched—some of the Acutes try not to smile. Nurse Ratched turns her attention to McMurphy and reads out his long rap sheet, including a charge of rape of a fifteen year old, which McMurphy refutes, saying the girl said she was seventeen and it was consensual and he brags about how often they had sex. She hands McMurphy’s folder to Doctor Spivey who notes McMurphy has no previously documented mental illness. Spivey reads a note from the doctor at the work farm that suggests McMurphy is feigning psychosis to get out of having to do physical labor. McMurphy stands up and asks the doctor if he looks like a sane mane. The doctor tries not to laugh.
Nurse Ratched ensures that the discussion about Harding, a homosexual, and his wife make him supremely uncomfortable. McMurphy, not used to this kind of “ball-cutting” approach tries to unsettle Ratched with a crass joke. Ratched tries a similar tactic on McMurphy by trying to expose him as a rapist, which he turns on her by saying the girl told him she was of age and gladly consented—telling stories about how often they had sex. He’s using his sexuality as a tool to unsettle her, while she was trying to emasculate him by making him seem like a pervert (as she did with Harding). McMurphy parodies the idea of sanity, when he stands up asking if he looks sane—showing that there really is no way to prove he is or isn’t.
Doctor Spivey introduces the Therapeutic Community rules, which include airing grievances in the safe space of group sessions, and running meetings democratically where votes are taken by the patients to decide on problems that need solving. Bromden says he’s heard these rules a million times. The doctor compares it to a small world within the larger world. Bromden recalls one time when the doctor was giving this speech and Nurse Ratched asked if anyone would like to start, and a bunch of Acutes started confessing dark secrets until Pete Bancini, an old Chronic, stood up and began claiming, in a moment of rare clarity, that he was “tired” and “born dead.” None of the aides could calm him down. He was eventually sedated.
Since Bromden has heard these rules repeated more than anyone, if they were in any way helpful or “therapeutic” he would take this opportunity in the narration to attest to their good merits, but he does not. Instead, it just makes Bromden recall an episode of Bancini’s during one of the group sessions. In his moment of clarity, he does not say the meeting is helping or that he feels relief, but rather that he’s tired and he was born dead—he’s hopeless. For this confession, accompanied by physical resistance, he wasn’t comforted but sedated.
By the time it’s two p.m. the group meeting is still in session and the patients are “tearing into poor Harding.” When the session ends, everyone looks ashamed of how they talked about Harding, after spending so long drilling him with questions about why he can’t please his wife, or what do they think he believes is wrong with him, or why he insists she’s always been faithful, the other Acutes now sheepishly avoid him. McMurphy looks puzzled by the end and asks Harding if this is usually how the meetings go; he calls them a “pecking party.” McMurphy talks loud enough that the other Acutes can hear. He says that the patients acted like chickens pecking at a wounded chicken, and a pecking party can wipe out the entire flock if you aren’t careful. McMurphy says that Nurse Ratched is the first to peck, and she’s pecking at Harding—and the rest of the men’s—balls. He says she’s a “ball-cutter.”
McMurphy insists that if the group meetings continue in this way, all of the men will simply destroy each other. He makes sure the men hear him when he points out that Nurse Ratched is the one that always initiates the first “peck,” – she is the one that wants to see them self-destruct because then they will have only her to rely on, rather than themselves. By stripping them of the ability to brag about their manhood or their sexual history in a positive manner, she effectively emasculates them.
Harding agrees, after some convincing, that McMurphy is right, just that no one has ever dared to say it before. Harding says that Dr. Spivey is like the rest of the men, submissive to Nurse Ratched. She can’t be fired because the doctor doesn’t have the power, it’s the supervisor’s power and the supervisor is a woman and an old friend of Nurse Ratched because they were both nurses together in the Army. Harding claims that they’re all victims of a “matriarchy.” He suggests that the doctor is addicted to opiates and says that Nurse Ratched is a master of insinuation, which ultimately condemns people, like Harding.
Nurse Ratched has done everything in her power to make sure that she is the one who is in full control of the ward. The men are victims of a matriarchy, which to them means a system of power dominated by women who seek to keep men down through emasculation and shame.
Harding says that the world belongs to the strong and the strong destroy the weak. It’s natural law. They are rabbits and they have to accept that they’re rabbits, and see that the wolf is strong. The rabbit knows to hide from the wolf in order to survive—to not challenge it. Harding says everyone is in the ward because they’re a rabbit, and the nurse is a wolf. Harding says he was born a rabbit. Cheswick is the first to say he’s not a rabbit. McMurphy suggests that the men just shouldn’t answer Nurse Ratched’s questions but McMurphy learns what The Shock Shop is: where men are sent by Nurse Ratched for electrotherapy if they don’t behave. Harding points to Bromden sweeping in a corner and says that Bromden is now just a cleaning machine after taking so much electroshock.
Harding’s analogy places the patients as rabbits and Nurse Ratched as a wolf—ensuring that the patients inherently don’t have the ability to challenge the wolf; it’s all a part of the natural order. McMurphy resists this because while he believes Harding’s view of natural law may be correct, his categorization is mistaken—the men aren't rabbits like they've been forced to believe. McMurphy learns though that to challenge the wolf means shock therapy, and Bromden is the example of what can happen after too many.
McMurphy encourages the men to start voting on anything. He says that the most unsettling thing for him walking into the ward was that he hasn’t heard anyone laugh. He claims without laughter you start to lose your “footing,” and if a man lets a woman dominate him and hold him down until he can’t laugh anymore then he’ll lose his edge and she’ll start to think she’s stronger.
McMurphy doesn’t care what they vote on, just that they exercise some kind of agency. The lack of laughter shows to him that the men are living without any sense of control, and taking a man’s laughter away emasculates him because it lets a woman think that she has the upper hand.
Harding continues with this line of thinking and asserts that the only way to show dominance over a woman is with their only weapon—not laughter, but their penises. Sex is their weapon, but they can’t use it against the nurse who they see as icy. McMurphy makes a bet that he can make Nurse Ratched lose her temper by the end of his first week. McMurphy says he conned his way out of the work farm, he can handle beating Nurse Ratched at her own game.
The consensus is that the men’s only weapon against Nurse Ratched is their sexuality, since she is so keen on erasing masculinity from her ward. McMurphy, a hyper-masculine figure, believes he can crack Nurse Ratched in a week just by using the threat of sex/sexuality.
Bromden believes that Nurse Ratched has the power to set the clock at any speed to alter time to either super fast or super slow. Bromden says the time-control only stops when the fog machine comes on, and you get lost in it. Bromden notes that the ward hasn’t been completely fogged up today, since McMurphy arrived.
Bromden’s fog, which symbolizes the control the ward has over the patients, hasn’t been full force since McMurphy arrived. McMurphy is the anti-Combine force, with the power to make the fog dissipate.
Music is constantly playing loudly overheard, and McMurphy doesn’t like it. He’s playing blackjack for cigarettes with the other patients. McMurphy nearly gets up to beat up one of the aides if he doesn’t turn it down but Harding says that’s the kind of behavior that will get him shock treatment. Bromden, as if in a trance, watches McMurphy while he plays blackjack with the patients—winning tremendously, then giving them back their confidence by letting them win all their losses back by the end—and laughing all the while.
McMurphy is learning the ropes of the hospital from Harding. McMurphy fascinates Bromden because he treats all of the patients like real men, and he does so with a laugh—which shows that he is still free and not under the control of the institution. McMurphy lets the men all win their money back in the end because he’s not trying to dispirit them, but show them that they can have fun again.
McMurphy is given a bed next to Bromden, and as they are preparing for sleep he talks to Bromden. Bromden doesn’t take his nightly medication for the first time in years. McMurphy says that one of the aides is coming and Bromden better get into bed. Geever comes in and ties Bromden down to the bed with a sheet. McMurphy tells Bromden he thought he was deaf because Bromden reacted to McMurphy’s warning about the aide.
This is the first time that McMurphy confirms to himself that Bromden is not deaf and dumb, because Bromden reacts to McMurphy’s warning about Geever. Bromden’s refusal to swallow his nightly medication also shows that the arrival of McMurphy has sparked a smell rebellion in him too.
That night Bromden suffers from a nightmare/hallucination where the hospital is a slaughterhouse and Old Blastic is attached to a hook on the ceiling by the staff and gutted, but only rust and ash pour out. He dies. Mr. Turkle, the night aide, wakes Bromden up from his nightmare. Bromden sees that Old Blastic is covered with a sheet and being carried out on a stretcher after passing away in the night.
Bromden’s hallucination/dream is everything he fears about the Combine. The ash and rust that come out of Blastic’s body show that he’s not even a person anymore after being in the hospital, just a tool of the Combine. The dream feels prophetic when it turns out Blastic died in the night.
The ward wakes up to the sounds of McMurphy singing in the shower. Everyone’s shocked to hear singing on the ward—which they haven’t in years. McMurphy asks one of the aides for toothpaste, and when they refuse because it’s against policy to give it to him this early, he brushes his teeth with soap. Bromden tries to hide his smile as he mops in the same place he did the day before, because McMurphy’s use of humor to upset those with authority reminds him of his father.
Similar to laughter, singing hasn’t been heard on the ward because it exerts a hopeful freedom. Bromden is charmed by McMurphy’s humor because it not only upsets the harsh aides, but because it makes him feel close to his memories before life in the ward.
Nurse Ratched arrives and prepares to punish McMurphy when she learns of his behavior, but he exits the bathroom with just a towel around his waist, which she says is not allowed. McMurphy claims someone took his clothes, and Ratched orders the aides to go find his uniform. Washington comes back with an outfit and McMurphy strips his towel away, showing that all along he’s been wearing a pair of black satin boxer shorts with white whales on them. Nurse Ratched is furious but tries her best to regain control over herself and maintain order in the ward.
In keeping with the bet, McMurphy uses the towel as a weapon against Nurse Ratched, threatening to expose his nakedness. When it turns out he’s wearing his boxers, it’s even more of a victory for McMurphy because the mere threat of his manhood being exposed was enough to unsettle her—and the threat/the unseen is more terrifying than what is seen.
McMurphy is especially cocky after his mild victory with Nurse Ratched. He spends the morning playing blackjack again with IOUs instead of cigarettes. The music is bothering him, and he gets up to ask Nurse Ratched to turn it down. Nurse Ratched justifies the music by saying that there are Chronic patients who rely on the radio because it’s all they can do but listen. McMurphy suggests they take the card game elsewhere, to the meeting room. She says he can take up his suggestions with the rest of the staff at another time, but she’s sure they’ll all agree with her because they don’t have enough staff to cover two rooms. McMurphy restrains himself with great effort and returns to blackjack.
Nurse Ratched still feels like she can control her ward, despite McMurphy’s cockiness. She’s confident that the rest of the staff will always back up her opinions, and that McMurphy won’t have his way. McMurphy restrains his anger over the situation because Harding has already warned him that stepping out of line will result in shock therapy, but perhaps more importantly to McMurphy: he would lose the bet.
Later that day, McMurphy has his admission interview with Dr. Spivey, and when McMurphy returns they are both laughing. At the group meeting afterward, Dr. Spivey says that McMurphy’s suggested a plan to fix the music problem: it will be turned up louder for the Chronics, and the others can go play cards in another room. Spivey says this will work fine because the Chronics don’t require much supervision. Nurse Ratched is furious, but has to keep from losing her temper.
McMurphy’s laughter is contagious. Any sense of hope has clearly long been absent from the ward, and Dr. Spivey is not immune to it. He too has been emasculated by Nurse Ratched, and sees McMurphy as a beacon of hope. He is taken in by McMurphy’s charm and agrees to open up the game room. Nurse Ratched feels like she’s losing control of her ward, but she too holds back her anger, because to lose control of herself would make her seem like less of an unmovable force and more like a person on equal footing with the patients.
McMurphy starts a game of Monopoly that has been going on for three days with Cheswick, Martini, and Harding. McMurphy adds pennies to the game to raise the stakes so it’s more of a gamble. Bromden notes that McMurphy is making a very conscious effort not to lose his temper with staff, and that he doesn’t seem affected by the fog.
McMurphy insists on gambling and raising the stakes, foreshadowing how he’ll continue to raise the stakes with his own life. The fog doesn’t bother McMurphy (in Bromden’s hallucinations) because he’s too strong; he can stand up against the Combine.
McMurphy does lose control once at the other patients for acting “too chicken-shit,” when none of them would stand up for an amendment to allow them to watch the World Series on television (something for which McMurphy had been taking bets). McMurphy proposes to Nurse Ratched that the men be allowed to watch the games, even though it deviates from the schedule—instead they would do their cleaning chores in the evening and watch TV in the afternoon. Nurse Ratched refuses. McMurphy calls a vote, but only Cheswick will raise his hand, and McMurphy is disgusted.
McMurphy is disappointed that his efforts haven’t resulted in the men all banding together in favor of more liberties, yet. He realizes this will take longer than he thought, but he’s still disappointed with how weak the men are and even angrier at Nurse Ratched who has made them all this way.
McMurphy doesn’t mention the World Series again until the day before the Series begins as they are playing cards. As they talk about the Series, they hear someone screaming upstairs, and Scanlon says that’s Rawler the Squawler, who Nurse Ratched permanently sent to the Disturbed ward. But McMurphy won’t let Scanlon change the subject and brings it back to the World Series. McMurphy asks who will vote for him when he brings it up again, and is in disbelief when only half agree. He says he hasn’t missed a World Series in years and he’d sooner kick down the door and escape than miss one. Fredrickson mockingly asks how McMurphy would escape, and McMurphy responds that he’d break the mesh on the window. Cheswick says it’s special-made, and won’t break. McMurphy decides he would move the giant control panel and crawl out behind it, but everyone agrees that it’s far too heavy for one man to lift. McMurphy bets them all he can lift it, and though they all know it’s impossible, McMurphy tries so hard that his hands are bloodied and for a fleeting second they think he might do it. He walks away angrily claiming he tried, “I sure as hell did that much, now, didn’t I?”
McMurphy’s attempted lift of the control panel—which by its very name symbolizes the machine-like nature of the ward that oppresses the men—expresses his frustration with the men. The fact, though, that they believe for a fleeting second that he can lift it shows that their attitudes are truly beginning to shift about how much power and dignity they have as men, not just as patients to be manipulated in a ward. Even though McMurphy failed he emphasizes angrily that he at least tried, implying that this is precisely what the other men on the ward have not done, and are currently refusing to do by not voting in favor of watching the World Series.
Bromden recalls the old hospital where there was no television, swimming pools or chicken served twice a month. He thinks about how when the Public Relations man comes through and gives tours of the hospital, he says how far they’ve come and that no one would want to escape form a place this nice. Bromden is finding it more and more difficult to see in the fog, but he believes the fog makes him feel safe. He thinks that McMurphy doesn’t understand that he’s pulling all of them out of the fog, and in doing so making them easier “to get at”. Bromden hears a shuffle from upstairs into the lobby, and he learns from listening to the aides that Rawler the Squawler cut off his testicles and bled to death.
In recalling the PR man, Bromden shows that the hospital makes a conscious effort to keep up a humane appearance. The fog, which he sometimes views as a comfort because it lets him escape, is thicker as it fights back against McMurphy. McMurphy is a threat to the fog because he’s anti-Combine. The fog oppresses the men, but also gives them a place to hide. By removing the fog, McMurphy forces them to be people again, to be men again, to not hide—which makes them vulnerable to the Combine’s power. Rawler chooses death over institutional control and kills himself by literally cutting off his balls: Nurse Ratched has won.
The group meeting begins and Bromden feels the fog starting to thicken in the room, which he believes Nurse Ratched turned on because she’s going to do something to McMurphy. Bromden can vaguely hear what’s going on in the meeting: talking about Billy Bibbit’s stutter and his issues with women and his mother. Bromden feels afraid of how lost he feels in the fog and in his hallucination he sees the men start to fly past him. He figures this is what it must feel like to be dead or a vegetable. Then he hears McMurphy talk and starts to feel like he’s drifting out of the fog—he wishes McMurphy would leave him alone.
Bromden’s fog becomes most powerful while Nurse Ratched is in control, an agent of the Combine. The men in the meeting who speak under her direction are all, then, under the control of the Combine. It is only when McMurphy, who is impervious to the Combine’s power, speaks that the fog begins to clear and he can see. Bromden, at this point, is scared of leaving behind the protection of the fog. He wants to keep hiding, even if that means pretending to be deaf and dumb in the ward forever.
McMurphy proposes another vote about watching the World Series, and Bromden watches as all twenty Acutes raise their hands. Nurse Ratched responds that the proposal is defeated because McMurphy needs a majority and there are forty patients on the ward, and none of the Chronics voted. McMurphy is incensed, but finally persuades Bromden to raise his hand. Nurse Ratched says it’s too late.
McMurphy should win this vote after getting Bromden to raise his hand, but he controls his temper knowing that he still has a bet to win.
When it’s time for afternoon chores, McMurphy says it’s game-time and he sits down in front of the TV and turns it on. Ratched cuts off the power, but McMurphy stays seated and the other Acutes pull up chairs and join him in front of the blank TV. Nurse Ratched yells at them all to get back to work and screams at them for breaking the rules. McMurphy wins his bet about making Ratched lose control. Bromden says anyone looking in would think the whole room was filled with lunatics.
McMurphy wins the bet, but not by being “hyper-masculine,” he simply doesn’t let Ratched control him. Her explosion of anger marks his victory, and Bromden’s point about the entire room appearing insane shows the fine line between the definitions of sane and insane because clearly the behavior of both parties was anything but normal.