One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

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The Control Panel Symbol Analysis

The Control Panel Symbol Icon
Randle McMurphy makes a bet that he can lift the control panel, an object that is so large and heavy that no one believes he can actually do it—but they are all committed to seeing him try. Though he fails, and walks away with bloodied hands, there is a sense of victory in his fighting against the insurmountable. The control panel symbolizes The Combine and the rules of the ward that seem too big to move or change. Chief Bromden is groomed by McMurphy to get his old strength back, and at the book’s end is able to throw the control panel out of the window and escape the ward. In other words, Bromden uses a symbol of his own oppression in the ward to free himself from it, and from The Combine in general.
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The Control Panel Symbol Timeline in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Control Panel appears in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part One
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
Social Pressure and Shame Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Part Three
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Part Four
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
Social Pressure and Shame Theme Icon
Bromden says he never felt suspicious about McMurphy until an event with the control panel . McMurphy wants to see if his training regimen has worked for Bromden, and asks... (full context)
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
Following Scanlon’s advice that he should run, Bromden lifts the control panel and throws it through the window. He can hear aides running down the hall, so... (full context)