One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Laughter Symbol Analysis

Laughter Symbol Icon
After Randle McMurphy arrives, Chief Bromden notices that his laughter is the first genuine laughter he has heard in years. The longer McMurphy is on the ward, the more the men begin to laugh. Laughter becomes a symbol and an active representation of the men’s freedom, even though they are basically imprisoned by the ward and by society. They can still find pleasure in their small rebellions and jokes, and this happiness—as embodied by laughter—cannot be taken from them.

Laughter Quotes in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

The One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest quotes below all refer to the symbol of Laughter. 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

There’s something strange about a place where the men won’t let themselves loose and laugh, something strange about the way they all knuckle under to that smiling flour-faced old mother there with the too-red lipstick and the too-big boobs. And he thinks he’ll just wait a while to see what the story is in this new place before he makes any kind of play. That’s a good rule for a smart gambler: look the game over awhile before you draw yourself a hand.

Related Characters: Chief Bromden (speaker)
Related Symbols: Laughter, Gambling
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

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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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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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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Part Four Quotes

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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Laughter Symbol Timeline in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

The timeline below shows where the symbol Laughter 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
...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. (full context)
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
Emasculation and Sexuality Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Sanity v. Insanity Theme Icon
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
...them back their confidence by letting them win all their losses back by the end—and laughing all the while. (full context)
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Part Three
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
...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.... (full context)
Part Four
Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity Theme Icon
Social Pressure and Shame Theme Icon
...the night before. As Nurse Ratched discovers more and more damning evidence, the patients start laughing uncontrollably, which only makes Nurse Ratched angrier. Turkle opens up the screen on the window... (full context)