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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - Barron's Booknotes
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Part II of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest consists of eight


We're still in the day room, with the patients seated around the
switched-off television, just as they were at the end of Part 1.
Why did Kesey choose to split things up this way-stick this
intermission in the middle of what might easily be a single
scene? Because we're in another world. On the surface nothing
has changed; underneath everything has. The patients have
asserted themselves; Nurse Ratched has lost control. Now she's
the one being watched-and not just by the patients, but by her
staff, who for the first time see that she, too, is vulnerable.

Still, this scene shows that the change is not as complete as it
first seems. McMurphy has scored an encouraging victory, but
we've already seen that the Nurse and the Combine can afford a
few losses.

Indeed, the Chief fears that his situation is more dangerous
since McMurphy pulled him out of the fog. His immediate
worry: Nurse Ratched and the staff will guess that he is not
deaf and dumb. One of the aides seems to suspect the truth and
tries to trick the chief into revealing it for certain, though
without success.

Even before the incident with the television, Nurse Ratched
had scheduled a meeting of the hospital staff to discuss
McMurphy. The Chief's descriptions of past meetings make
them sound brutal; his hallucinations transform the bitterness
displayed by the staff members into poison and acid, and the
discussions of the patients are so lengthy the men being
discussed appear to materialize on the coffee table, naked and
"vulnerable to any fiendish notion" the staff took.

As Nurse Ratched enters, the Chief worries that, like the aide,
she suspects his secret and will want to investigate further. He's
so nervous he's ready to confess but is saved when the Nurse
herself becomes rattled by the stares of the staff members who
have learned of her defeat.

The meeting begins. Originally Nurse Ratched called it to
arrange McMurphy's move into the Disturbed Ward; Dr.
Spivey believes this is still her goal, and he agrees that given
McMurphy's recent behavior, she may be correct. He asks the
young residents (physicians past their internships but still in
training) for their opinion.

Ironically, the doctors, though educated and intelligent, show
no more courage than do their patients. They, too, are afraid,
and fear makes them act like sheep, each agreeing unthinkingly
with the other, each trying to outdo the other in the use of
impressive-sounding but meaningless psychological terms.
When one resident dares to suggest the truth-that McMurphy
isn't mentally ill-the rest attack him: it's another pecking party.
Finally all agree that he is a negative oedipal (a diagnosis
chosen seemingly at random) and that he should be moved to
the Disturbed Ward.

This, however, is no longer what Nurse Ratched wants. She
wants revenge, though of course her explanation makes it
appear that she is only acting for the good of the other patients.
If she permits McMurphy to be moved to the Disturbed Ward,
he will appear a martyr who has sacrificed himself for the other
patients. If, on the other hand, Nurse Ratched can keep him in
her ward, she'll be able to prove that he is just a selfish, fearful,
ordinary man. She'll have ample opportunity to break him, she
reminds everyone: McMurphy has been committed to the
hospital, and she and the other staff members are the ones who
decide when he will be released.

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

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