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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - Barron's Booknotes
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SCENE 2

McMurphy, unaware that Nurse Ratched has planned a
counterattack, acts more outrageously than ever. Made to clean
the latrine, he writes obscenities in reversed letters to shock the
Nurse when she checks his job with a mirror. And he is not the
only one being difficult. The other patients have slacked off on
their chores, preferring to listen to McMurphy's stories. So
strong is the new patient's personality that even the Chief, who
heard the Nurse's plotting, hopes that McMurphy can defeat
her and the Combine.

How did McMurphy become so strong? This is the question the
Chief asks himself as he looks in the mirror. He has spent
much of his life trying to be on the inside the same man he
looks to be on the outside world: strong, hard, and mean. He'll
never succeeded. Maybe, the Chief thinks, McMurphy has
survived because "he hadn't let what he looked like run his life
one way or the other." The Chief may feel weaker than his face
appears, and Harding may be ashamed of his feminine hands,
but McMurphy is secure enough that he doesn't always have to
act like the roughneck he appears to be. He can paint; he can
write letters in lovely script.



You'll notice how clearly the Chief is thinking here. Even
though it is the other Acute patients who seem to be most
obviously changed by McMurphy's arrival, the changes that
McMurphy brought about in the Chief are more profound. The
fog machine has been shut down. The hallucinations will still
disturb him, but much less frequently; in general, for the rest of
the book, the Chief's descriptions of events will match what we
would see if we were with him. When he wakes up at night, he
sees not machine and scalp-hunting aides, but the real world
outside his window.

The view surprises him. The smell of autumn recalls time's
passage, his Indian boyhood. Far below he spots a young dog
happily sniffing around the hospital grounds for squirrel holes.
(Compare this dog to the one the Chief described in Scene I,
Part 1, afraid and lost in the fog; it's another sign of the Chief's
healing.) The dog freezes as a flock of Canadian geese fly in V
formation across the sky.

NOTE: IMAGES OF FREEDOM
Unlike McMurphy's whale-dotted shorts, the symbols here are
not jokes. The dog and the geese in flight are images of
freedom-the freedom of the Chief's Indian past, the freedom
McMurphy has brought into the ward as Bull Goose Looney.
What will happen to this freedom? The answer is unclear, but
not encouraging. For the geese fly away, and as the dog chases
after them, his chase leads him towards a highway and into the
path of an oncoming car-another of the machines the Combine
uses to subdue the wilderness. The Chief is taken away before
he learns the dog's fate.

The Chief looks at the nurse who led him to bed. In what is not
a hallucination but simply an act of imagination, he sees her at
home trying to scrub her wine-colored birthmark away. You
may remember that McMurphy, too, has a "wine-colored scar"-
we saw it in Part I, Scene 3- but his is healing. The nurse's
mark can't be healed because it rises from the illness inside her,
both the cause and a symptom of her hatred. Against so much
hatred, the Chief feels himself weakening. He wants
McMurphy's help, but McMurphy is not awake to offer it.

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