One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Part Three Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After McMurphy shatters the glass at the nurse’s station, he goes back to his rebellious ways while Nurse Ratched bides her time until she can come up with another idea to get her ahead again. The other Acutes begin joking and talking again, and McMurphy puts together a basketball team and has Dr. Spivey sign off on it for its “therapeutic value” despite Nurse Ratched’s protests. At the nurse’s station, the janitors place cardboard over where McMurphy had punched through, but Nurse Ratched keeps sitting behind it each day as though it was still transparent and she could see into the day room. She looks like “a picture turned to the wall.”
McMurphy now has essentially chosen to remain stuck in the ward. The only way he could get out is to completely destroy Nurse Ratched's power. And so he goes back to being rambunctious and problematic for Ratched and the aides. Nurse Ratched keeps sitting behind the nurse’s station, even though she can’t see through the cardboard because it fits in with her duty and her un-breaking schedule, but now this way of being seems almost ridiculous.
Themes
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
Soon McMurphy reaches his one-month anniversary at the ward, which gives him the right to request an Accompanied Pass to allow a guest to come visit him. He lists a girl he knows form Portland named Candy Starr. The pass request is brought up in group meeting a few days later, the same day a new glass is installed at the nurse’s station. Nurse Ratched rejects the request, saying that Candy doesn’t seem wholesome. McMurphy shrugs and walks to the new nurse’s station window and punches through it again, claiming he had no idea they’d replaced it. His hand bleeds. The other men start to become flirtatious with the women who work on the ward, and after the glass is replaced a third time with a giant white “X” Scanlon bounces the basketball through it and breaks it again. Nurse Ratched throws the basketball away.
McMurphy’s second punch-through of the glass window is a continuation of his physical rebellion, showing his male strength against Ratched's judgmental demands for conformity with her sense of what is proper. Scanlon follows suit with this, breaking the glass a third time, though he doesn’t use his body but the basketball—an extension of McMurphy in a way, since he started the team. Ratched throws the basketball away in an attempt to weaken McMurphy’s resolve because he so enjoyed the basketball team.
Themes
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
McMurphy decides that if they can’t play basketball they should go fishing. Dr. Spivey approves the trip for McMurphy and nine others after McMurphy says that they’ll be accompanied by two of his nice aunts who live a small town outside of Oregon City. Nurse Ratched posts a newspaper clipping about rough seas and suggests the men think carefully about whether to go on the trip. McMurphy asks if he should sign her up, and she wordlessly pins the clipping to the bulletin board next to the sign up sheet. Men start signing up for the trip, paying ten dollars for the cost of renting the boat. Nurse Ratched keeps posting clippings about the rough water
Nurse Ratched doesn’t outright oppose the trip, but tries to sway the men from going via insinuation—which she is so good at—by posting clippings every day appealing to the patients’ fears and anxieties.
Themes
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
Social Pressure and Shame Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
Bromden wants to sign up but he doesn’t have the money and also doesn’t want to reveal that he isn’t deaf and dumb: “I had to keep on acting deaf if I wanted to hear at all.” Bromden then recalls a summer when he was still living in the village of Columbia with his family and three people came to his house to speak to his father about buying the tribal land. Bromden tried to speak to them, but they acted as though he hadn’t said anything. Bromden is amazed he can recall this childhood memory, the first such memory he’s had in a long time.
Bromden’s childhood recollection comes as a surprise to him. It’s as though as the fog has begun to lift over the ward, so has a block against what he was able to remember about his life before he lived in the ward. This story serves as a kind of root or foundation for why Bromden chose to pretend to be deaf and dumb—he was hiding from his past, and the forced loss of that past.
Themes
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
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Soon after, Geever, a night aide, wakes Bromden and McMurphy as he scrapes off gum from under Bromden’s bed. As Bromden pretends to be asleep, Geever sits on the edge of Bromden’s bed and says to McMurphy that he can’t understand where Bromden gets all his chewing gum with no money, and speculates that he’s been chewing these same pieces over and over. After Geever leaves, McMurphy tosses Bromden a pack of Juicy Fruit that he won off of Scanlon, and before Bromden realizes it he says “thank you.” Bromden’s voice sounds more like a cry than anything else, and McMurphy comforts him by saying they have plenty of time.
McMurphy isn’t shocked that Bromden speaks, though Bromden is surprised that he thanks McMurphy so automatically. McMurphy has clearly had his suspicions about Bromden for a while, but it only took a small gesture of kindness to break a ten-year spell of silence. Which also highlights how little actual kindness there has been in the ward before McMurphy showed up.
Themes
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
McMurphy then tells the story of how when he was young he worked a job picking beans and all of the adults ignored him, but by the end of the season—after he’d remained silent and listened to everyone’s gossip—he spoke up and told everyone the mean things that everyone else had said about them, causing an uproar. McMurphy wonders if Bromden is doing the same thing, but Bromden says he’s too “little” to do something like that.
McMurphy’s childhood story parallels Bromden’s in a way, except that McMurphy used what he heard to take the men down in the end. Bromden says he’s too little to do the same, but this foreshadows Bromden’s eventual narration of the book: this is Bromden finally speaking up.
Themes
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
Social Pressure and Shame Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
McMurphy responds that Bromden is physically huge, but Bromden says he inherited his size from his father, a Chief, and his mother—a white woman who was also tall. His parents’ rocky marriage beat down his father, as did the government who took his land. Bromden gets so worked up explaining how the Combine took down his father, that an aide overhears and he and McMurphy have to pretend to be asleep as a flashlight passes. Bromden finally says his father fell prey to alcoholism.
Bromden tries to explain his idea of the Combine to McMurphy and how it destroyed his father, which could be another reason why he fears it so much since Bromden looked up to his father and thought he was untouchable. Bromden's father's alcoholism is much the same as his fog—something to hide in, to dull your ability to see or be vulnerable to the world.
Themes
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
Bromden feels a sudden warmth towards McMurphy where he wants to touch him just because he’s there and “he’s who he is,” shrugging off the “fear hiding behind another” that this desire makes him a queer.
Bromden fears being a homosexual—another example of how society has programmed people about what is right or not right.
Themes
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
Before Bromden can act, McMurphy says Bromden should come on the fishing trip. Bromden says he’s broke. McMurphy thinks for a bit and then asks if, when Bromden is full-sized and built up, would he be strong enough to lift something the size of the control panel. Bromden thinks he would. McMurphy says if Bromden promises to take McMurphy’s special bodybuilding class to get strong enough to lift the control panel, then he’ll cover Bromden’s fee for the fishing trip. McMurphy reveals that the two “aunts” coming on the fishing trip are actually prostitutes and fantasizes about Bromden’s soon-to-be sexual conquests. He gets up and says he’s going to sign Bromden up right now, and, after stripping the sheet off Bromden and revealing his erection, comments that Bromden has already grown half a foot.
McMurphy sees Bromden as a potential tool in the future if he can lift the control panel. McMurphy’s motivations still have a selfish edge, because he knows if the control panel can be lifted then it can be thrown through the window to escape. McMurphy celebrates Bromden’s erection as a sign that he’s already becoming stronger (both in the body-building regime they’ve agreed to, but also as a free-thinking man with sexual desire).
Themes
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
Only one of the two prostitutes shows up—Candy Starr. The men are all taken in by her beauty, and how she doesn’t hide her femininity under a white uniform. Nurse Ratched threatens to cancel the trip because not all the men can fit in Candy’s car, and in the ensuing back-and-forth with McMurphy it becomes clear that McMurphy overcharged the men for the boat rental. Nurse Ratched tries to use this fact to make the men turn on McMurphy, but none of them seem to care. McMurphy then persuades Dr. Spivey to join them on the trip and drive a second car.
Nurse Ratched is clearly threatened by the men’s attraction to Candy, but also wants to prevent their trip because she won’t be there to supervise. Her exposure of McMurphy as something of a thief doesn't matter to the men because he's also given them so much. He cheats them honestly. Ratched cheats them dishonestly.
Themes
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
When they stop at a gas station, the attendant notes that the men’s uniforms are those from the mental hospital. Dr. Spivey says they’re a work crew, but the “lying made us feel worse than ever—not because of the lie, so much, but because of the truth.” The station attendant tries to take advantage of spineless Dr. Spivey, forcing him to buy extra-premium gas, but then McMurphy gets out of the car and says they’ll take regular gas and they’re a “government-sponsored expedition.” When the attendant says the doctor told him they weren’t patients, McMurphy says that they are indeed crazy psychopathic criminals headed to San Quentin prison. McMurphy intimidates the attendant so much that he tells them to send the gas bill to the hospital and use the cash to get some beer for the men in the car. The patients in the van, seeing McMurphy using their mental illness as a weapon of power, quit feeling so nervous and intimidate the attendant a little bit too.
Dr. Spivey’s initial lie about the men as a work crew is more harmful than the truth because it further stigmatizes mental illness, and makes them seem and feel less than human. When McMurphy uses mental illness as a way to intimidate the attendant, though, he shows that there is power in mental illness because people are afraid of what is different or what is not normal, particularly what isn’t “sane.” By capitalizing on this social fear of insanity, McMurphy shows the men that they are not helpless, and that, in fact, there is power in embracing who and what they are.
Themes
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
Social Pressure and Shame Theme Icon
When they arrive at the docks, the captain of the boat they rented refuses to let them get on because he doesn’t have the proper waiver signed. The men who work on the dock keep harassing Candy, while the patients cower and feel ashamed that they don’t stand up for her. McMurphy gives the captain a number to call for the waiver, and when the captain goes inside McMurphy rushes them all onto the boat because the number is actually for a brothel in Portland. They make it out to sea.
The patients’ shame at being unable to stick up for Candy—to be men who protect a woman—shows that they still need McMurphy around to be their leader.
Themes
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
Social Pressure and Shame Theme Icon
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
On the boat, everyone drinks and starts catching big fish. McMurphy doesn’t help the men who plead with him to pull in the fish; he just watches and laughs. The patients look foolish trying to reel in their fish, and Bromden cuts his thumb. McMurphy can’t stop laughing, and Bromden realizes it’s because he knows that you need to be able to laugh at the things that hurt you just to “keep yourself in balance,” so that “the humor will blot out the pain.” Harding starts laughing too, and then Scanlon, and Candy, Sefelt, Dr. Spivey, and everyone else too.
McMurphy is deliberately absent because he knows the men need this opportunity to see that they can do things on their own, without him. The outburst of laughter from everyone shows that this was a smart move by McMurphy: the men are beginning to feel free and independent in a way they perhaps never have before.
Themes
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
Social Pressure and Shame Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
When they got back to the docks, the captain was waiting with some cops. Dr. Spivey got off the boat and said that the cops didn’t have any jurisdiction as this was a “government-sponsored expedition,” and it would have to be a federal agency—plus, there should be an investigation into the lack of lifejackets on board. The police depart. McMurphy is still riled up and gets in a brief fistfight with the captain, but they end up settling on getting a drink. The men on the dock who were previously so crass to Candy now sense a change in the patients and are polite. On the way back to the hospital, Candy is asleep against Billy Bibbit’s chest and McMurphy can tell that he likes her. He arranges a date for the two of them two weeks from then on Saturday at 2 a.m., saying he’ll bribe a night aide.
Dr. Spivey has also been emboldened by the trip and McMurphy's example, facing the cops when earlier he couldn't face the gasoline attendants. McMurphy and the captain's fight isn’t motivated by spite or hate, it’s just pent up “masculine” energy that they express and then settle over a drink. It's part of their natural masculine natures, and, the novel suggests, there's nothing wrong with it. McMurphy schedules the date for Billy because he knows Billy would never do it himself, and he thinks that Billy losing his virginity would empower him.
Themes
Social Pressure and Shame Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
When they return to the ward, Dr. Spivey takes the patients outside to his car to look at the halibut he caught. Only McMurphy stays behind, saying he’s tired. Bromden notes that on the way back to the ward they had taken a detour at McMurphy’s insistence past a place he had once lived, and that he had looked exhausted then too. In a tree branch by the house they were passing, a rag hung from a tree. McMurphy said it was the dress of a ten-year-old girl, maybe younger, with whom he’d had sex or the first time. She gave him the dress as a gift to remind him of her, but he threw it out the window and it caught on the tree where it still hung. As McMurphy was telling the story, Bromden noticed McMurphy’s face reflected in the windshield and how it looked “dreadfully, tired and strained and frantic, like there wasn’t enough time left for something he had to do.”
McMurphy appears tired because this trip wasn’t really about him, though he enjoyed parts of it. He did it for the men on the ward: those who came, and those who didn’t—giving them an opportunity to see that they can be independent and happy. McMurphy passing by his old house and seeing the relic of an adolescent sexual conquest is almost mournful, particularly with Bromden’s description of McMurphy’s face who is “frantic” because he doesn’t think he has enough time to save these men, and himself, before Nurse Ratched takes him.
Themes
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
Social Pressure and Shame Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon