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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - Barron's Booknotes
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But the Chief does not lose himself. Instead, he raises his hand
to vote with McMurphy. This is a tribute to McMurphy's
strength of character, but it is also a tribute to the Chief's. For
as the Chief's hand rises, he at first claims McMurphy is
pulling it with invisible strings, just as Nurse Ratched might
have. Then he corrects himself: "No. That's not the truth. I
lifted it myself." The fact is that the Chief possesses his own
reserves of courage-it just took McMurphy to remind him that
they were there.

Once this breakthrough is made, the Chief slowly but steadily
heals. The fog and the hallucinations come less often, and he is
able to remember more of his past and to think about it
rationally. With McMurphy he gives up the pretense of being
deaf and dumb, allowing himself to share his pain with
someone. He recognizes that despite life's anguish, he has to
laugh-a sure sign of sanity.

Gradually, too, the man who said he could help no one realizes
he must help his rescuer. As the Chief is regaining his power to
fight back against the Combine, McMurphy is losing his.
When, in the shower, McMurphy fights to protect George
Sorenson, the Chief joins in, even though he knows it will lead
him to another appointment on the electroshock therapy table.
The Chief is able to survive even this: there will be no more

At the end of the book, the roles of McMurphy and the Chief
are reversed. McMurphy is weary and near defeat; the Chief
has gained strength. Just as the Chief can lift the control panel
McMurphy couldn't, he will make the escape McMurphy
cannot. After the Chief has smothered his friend out of love for
him, he tries on his cap-and finds it's too small. The Chief has
regained his true size, and he will be able to fight the Combine
on another battlefield.


The best educated of the men on the ward, Dale Harding is
president of the Patients' Council when McMurphy is admitted
to the hospital. He serves a useful purpose, both for McMurphy
and for us: while the Chief with his hallucinations may give us
an unusual insight into the hospital, Harding gives us the sorts
of rational explanations we're used to hearing. It's Harding who
tells McMurphy how Nurse Ratched is able to maintain her
power, how electroshock therapy works, what a lobotomy does
to people. It's Harding who gives the new patients and the
reader the understanding of the matriarchy Nurse Ratched

Clever and well-read, Harding can talk smoothly about
psychiatric theory and make joking allusions to the works of
William Faulkner. Yet he is proof that intelligence alone is not
a sufficient defense against oppression. Harding lacks courage,
and lacking courage he can only use his intelligence to deny
unpleasant truths, to flee from battles. When McMurphy points
out the viciousness of the Nurse and her Group Meetings,
Harding defends them eloquently, snidely condemning
McMurphy for his lack of education, even though he knows
(and later admits) McMurphy is completely correct. Harding
seems to stand on the sidelines watching each act of rebellion
McMurphy undertakes, hopeful that the new patient will fail.
Perhaps his feeble status is indicated most vividly in his laugh-
or rather, in his inability to laugh: the sound he makes is
painful, "like a nail being crossbarred out of a plank of green

As with so many of the patients, Harding's problem is in large
part sexual: ashamed of his effeminacy (symbolized by his
graceful, uncontrollable hands), he is terrified of his wife and
her accusations of homosexuality and weakness.

Harding's transformation over the course of the book is almost
as striking as the Chief's. Thanks to McMurphy, he comes to
realize that effeminacy is not his real problem: the real problem
is his fear of it. Following McMurphy's example he is able to
overcome his fear, to add courage to his intelligence. The
healed Harding is in his way nearly as strong a man as the
Chief. He sees the necessity of McMurphy's escape and makes
plans for it, and when, unhappily, the escape fails and
McMurphy is lobotomized, Harding is able to take on
McMurphy's role as card sharp, jokester, and constant irritant
to Nurse Ratched. He comes to deserve the title that he couldn't
win at the book's start, but which McMurphy bestows on him
at the end: Bull Goose Looney. And he is able to leave the
hospital in the dignified way he wanted to leave it, met by his
wife, ready to start a new life on the outside.

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - Barron's Booknotes

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