One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Randle P. McMurphy Character Analysis

The protagonist of the novel. A gambling, thirty-five year old womanizer, McMurphy was transferred to the ward after potentially faking psychosis, because he believed the ward would be more comfortable than the work farm he had sentenced to work at. He is shocked by the emasculating control that Nurse Ratched has over the men, and becomes a radical, subversive force of change that inspires the men to challenge Ratched.

Randle P. McMurphy Quotes in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

The One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest quotes below are all either spoken by Randle P. McMurphy or refer to Randle P. McMurphy. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Classics edition of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest published in 2002.
Part One Quotes

You know, that's the first thing that got me about this place, that there wasn’t anybody laughing. I haven’t heard a real laugh since I came through that door, do you know that? Man, when you lose your laugh you lose your footing. A man go around lettin’ a woman whup him up and down till he can’t laugh any more, and he loses one of the biggest edges he’s got on his side. First thing you know he’ll begin to think she’s tougher than he is…

Related Characters: Randle P. McMurphy (speaker)
Related Symbols: Laughter
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

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You’re making sense, old man, a sense of your own. You’re not crazy the way they think.

Related Characters: Randle P. McMurphy (speaker), Chief Bromden
Page Number: 117
Explanation and Analysis:

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Part Two Quotes

There was times that week when I’d hear that full-throttled laugh, watch [McMurphy] scratching his belly and stretching and yawning and leaning back to wink at whoever he was joking with, everything coming to him just as natural as drawing breath, and I’d quit worrying about the Big Nurse and the Combine behind her. I’d think he was strong enough being his own self that he would never back down the way she was hoping he would. I’d think, maybe he truly is something extraordinary. He’s what he is, that’s it. Maybe that makes him strong enough, being what he is. The Combine hasn’t got to him in all these years; what makes the nurse think she’s gonna be able to do it in a few weeks? He’s not gonna let them twist him and manufacture him.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker), Randle P. McMurphy, Nurse Ratched
Related Symbols: Laughter
Page Number: 139-140
Explanation and Analysis:

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In the group meetings there were gripes coming up that had been buried so long the thing being griped about had already changed. Now that McMurphy was around to back them up, the guys started letting fly at everything that had ever happened on the ward they didn’t like.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker), Randle P. McMurphy
Page Number: 144
Explanation and Analysis:

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McMurphy doesn’t know it, but he’s onto what I realized a long time back, that it’s not just the Big Nurse by herself, but it’s the whole Combine, the nation-wide Combine that’s the really big force, and the nurse is just a high-ranking official for them.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker), Randle P. McMurphy, Nurse Ratched
Page Number: 164
Explanation and Analysis:

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I couldn’t figure it at first, why you guys were coming to me like I was some kind of savior. Then I just happened to find out about the way the nurses have the big say as to who gets discharged and who doesn’t. And I got wise awful damned fast. I said, ‘Why, those slippery bastards have conned me, snowed me into holding their bag. If that don’t beat all, conned ol’ R. P. McMurphy,’…Well I don’t mean nothing personal, you understand, buddies, but screw that noise. I want out of here just as much as the rest of you. I got just as much to lose hassling that old buzzard as you do.

Related Characters: Randle P. McMurphy (speaker)
Page Number: 165
Explanation and Analysis:

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Tell me why. You gripe, you bitch for weeks on end about how you can’t stand this place, can’t stand the nurse or anything about her, and all the time you ain’t committed. I can understand it with some of those old guys on the ward. They’re nuts. But you, you’re not exactly the everyday man on the street, but you’re not nuts.

Related Characters: Randle P. McMurphy (speaker), Dale Harding, Billy Bibbit, Sefelt
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:

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Part Three Quotes

They could sense the change that most of us were only suspecting; these weren’t the same bunch of weak-knees from a nuthouse that they’d watched take their insults on the dock this morning. They didn’t exactly apologize to the girl for the things they’d said, but when they ask to see a fish she’d caught they were just as polite as pie. And when McMurphy and the captain came back out of the bait shop we all shared a beer together before we drove away.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker), Randle P. McMurphy, Candy Starr
Page Number: 218
Explanation and Analysis:

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Part Four Quotes

I still had my own notions—how McMurphy was a giant come out of the sky to save us from the Combine that was networking the land with copper wire and crystal, how he was too big to be bothered with something as measly as money—but even I came halfway to thinking like the others. What happened was this: He’d helped carry the tables into the tub room before one of the group meetings and was looking at me standing beside the control panel.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker), Randle P. McMurphy
Related Symbols: Gambling, The Control Panel
Page Number: 231
Explanation and Analysis:

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I tried to talk to [McMurphy] into playing along with [Nurse Ratched] so’s to get out of the treatments, but he just laughed and told me Hell, all they was doin’ was chargin’ his battery for him, free for nothing.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker), Randle P. McMurphy, Nurse Ratched
Page Number: 250
Explanation and Analysis:

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First Charles Cheswick and now William Bibbit! I hope you’re finally satisfied. Playing with human lives—gambling with human lives—as if you thought yourself to be a God!

Related Characters: Nurse Ratched (speaker), Randle P. McMurphy, Billy Bibbit, Charles Cheswick
Page Number: 274
Explanation and Analysis:

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She tried to get her ward back into shape, but it was difficult with McMurphy’s presence still tromping up and down the halls and laughing out loud in the meetings and singing in the latrines. She couldn’t rule with her old power any more, not by writing things on pieces of paper. She was losing her patients one after the other. After Harding signed out and was picked up by his wife, and George transferred to a different ward, just three of us were left out of the group that had been on the fishing crew, myself and Martini and Scanlon.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker), Randle P. McMurphy, Nurse Ratched, Dale Harding, George Sorenson, Martini, Scanlon
Related Symbols: Laughter
Page Number: 277
Explanation and Analysis:

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I was only sure of one thing: [McMurphy] wouldn’t have left something like that sit there in the day room with his name tacked on it for twenty or thirty years so the Big Nurse could use it as an example of what can happen if you buck the system. I was sure of that.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker), Randle P. McMurphy, Nurse Ratched
Page Number: 278
Explanation and Analysis:

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The big, hard body had a tough grip on life. It fought a long time against having it taken away, flailing and thrashing around so much I finally had to lie full length on top of it and scissor the kicking legs with mine while I mashed the pillow into the face. I lay there on top of the body for what seemed days. Until the thrashing stopped. Until it was still a while and had shuddered once and was still again. Then I rolled off. I lifted the pillow, and in the moonlight I saw the expression hadn’t changed from the blank, dead-end look the least bit, even under suffocation. I took my thumbs and pushed the lids down and held them till they stayed. Then I lay back on my bed.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker), Randle P. McMurphy
Page Number: 278
Explanation and Analysis:

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Randle P. McMurphy Character Timeline in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

The timeline below shows where the character Randle P. McMurphy appears in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part One
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Social Pressure and Shame Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
Instead, it’s a new admission: Randle McMurphy. He refuses the entry shower, claiming he received one already at the courthouse. The patients... (full context)
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
McMurphy introduces himself to everyone in the day room as a gambler and a fool, still... (full context)
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
McMurphy scans the room, which Bromden then describes. It’s filled with Acutes (curables) and Chronics (vegetables).... (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
McMurphy realizes immediately he’s an Acute and walks over to some of the others. He asks... (full context)
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
McMurphy continues to refuse the aides who want to administer the admission protocol shower, rectal thermometer,... (full context)
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
Nurse Ratched is calling for McMurphy (initially as McMurphy, her error) about his refusal to follow protocol. She discusses him with... (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
...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... (full context)
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
Social Pressure and Shame Theme Icon
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
...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... (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
Harding agrees, after some convincing, that McMurphy is right, just that no one has ever dared to say it before. Harding says... (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
...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... (full context)
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
McMurphy encourages the men to start voting on anything. He says that the most unsettling thing... (full context)
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
...lost in it. Bromden notes that the ward hasn’t been completely fogged up today, since McMurphy arrived. (full context)
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
Social Pressure and Shame Theme Icon
McMurphy is given a bed next to Bromden, and as they are preparing for sleep he... (full context)
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
Nurse Ratched arrives and prepares to punish McMurphy when she learns of his behavior, but he exits the bathroom with just a towel... (full context)
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
McMurphy is especially cocky after his mild victory with Nurse Ratched. He spends the morning playing... (full context)
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
Later that day, McMurphy has his admission interview with Dr. Spivey, and when McMurphy returns they are both laughing.... (full context)
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
McMurphy starts a game of Monopoly that has been going on for three days with Cheswick,... (full context)
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
Social Pressure and Shame Theme Icon
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
McMurphy does lose control once at the other patients for acting “too chicken-shit,” when none of... (full context)
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
...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... (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
...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... (full context)
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
McMurphy proposes another vote about watching the World Series, and Bromden watches as all twenty Acutes... (full context)
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Part Two
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
Dr. Spivey begins a staff meeting to discuss McMurphy and the other residents (i.e. doctors in training) are all present. Nurse Ratched sits quietly... (full context)
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
Nurse Ratched immediately assigns McMurphy to latrine duty after the staff meeting, i.e. cleaning the communal bathroom. Despite her attempts... (full context)
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
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Bromden feels comforted by McMurphy’s ease, and feels as though the Combine doesn’t have the power over McMurphy that it... (full context)
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...rules on the ward, like having to take seven people with you to the latrine. McMurphy is satisfied with how things have changed, but is surprised that Nurse Ratched isn’t putting... (full context)
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McMurphy learns why Ratched is so calm when, that Wednesday, the ward is taken on a... (full context)
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Some of the patients suspect that McMurphy is playing a long con against Nurse Ratched, and that’s why he didn’t speak up—but... (full context)
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However, the other Acutes quickly catch on to why McMurphy is acting differently. None of them act mad or disappointed because they understand why McMurphy... (full context)
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...over him saying Sefelt has been refusing his anti-seizure medication. Nurse Ratched pointedly turns to McMurphy and says that Sefelt is an epileptic and this is what it looks like when... (full context)
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...visit to the ward. Harding does not appear in any way affectionate. He calls over McMurphy to introduce him. She mocks Harding for “never having enough” when he doesn’t have an... (full context)
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...in Building One. Across the hall from the X-ray office are those for electroshock therapy. McMurphy asks Harding what goes on in there, and Harding explains the Shock Shop (EST). Harding... (full context)
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McMurphy tells the men that he finally understands why none of them ever said anything to... (full context)
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Heading back to the ward across the grounds, McMurphy lags behind the others, smoking a cigarette. Bromden drops back to walk with him, wanting... (full context)
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Nurse Ratched ends the discussion. McMurphy shrugs and stretches as he stands up. Bromden says he can see it’s too late... (full context)
Part Three
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After McMurphy shatters the glass at the nurse’s station, he goes back to his rebellious ways while... (full context)
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Soon McMurphy reaches his one-month anniversary at the ward, which gives him the right to request an... (full context)
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McMurphy decides that if they can’t play basketball they should go fishing. Dr. Spivey approves the... (full context)
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McMurphy then tells the story of how when he was young he worked a job picking... (full context)
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McMurphy responds that Bromden is physically huge, but Bromden says he inherited his size from his... (full context)
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Bromden feels a sudden warmth towards McMurphy where he wants to touch him just because he’s there and “he’s who he is,”... (full context)
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Before Bromden can act, McMurphy says Bromden should come on the fishing trip. Bromden says he’s broke. McMurphy thinks for... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Part Four
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Nurse Ratched’s next play against McMurphy starts the day after the fishing trip. She posts a “statement of the patient’s financial... (full context)
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Bromden says he never felt suspicious about McMurphy until an event with the control panel. McMurphy wants to see if his training regimen... (full context)
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...phobia of cleanliness and he begs them not to spray him with their putrid salve. McMurphy loses his temper and gets into a fistfight with the aides, and Bromden joins in... (full context)
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Bromden and McMurphy are assigned beds next to each other, but Bromden isn’t tied down. He is woken... (full context)
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...next day and says that the patients agreed with the staff that it might help McMurphy to receive shock therapy unless he admits that he was in the wrong and demonstrates... (full context)
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McMurphy gets onto the cross-shaped table without help, and asks if he’ll receive a complimentary “crown... (full context)
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McMurphy gets three more shock treatments that week alone. As soon as the old spark in... (full context)
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Knowing that Nurse Ratched will only keep hounding McMurphy, many of the patients tell him he should make a break for it. McMurphy responds,... (full context)
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...night. At midnight, when Geever and the other aides besides Mr. Turkle go off duty, McMurphy gets Mr. Turkle to let Candy in through the window and to unlock the Seclusion... (full context)
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As morning approaches, Harding becomes adamant that McMurphy’s must now escape and that they must do something about the mess on the ward.... (full context)
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McMurphy gets into bed with Sandy and asks Turkle to wake them up before the morning... (full context)
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...Ratched angrier. Turkle opens up the screen on the window to let Sandy out, and McMurphy has the opportunity to escape with her, but he refuses even though Harding begs him... (full context)
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Nurse Ratched approaches McMurphy with the news of Billy’s death and asks him if he’s satisfied with how he’s... (full context)
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In the week after McMurphy attacked Nurse Ratched, while Ratched is on medical leave, Sefelt and Fredrickson signed out of... (full context)
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One day, McMurphy is wheeled back into the ward on a gurney with a chart reading “Lobotomy.” The... (full context)