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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - Barron's Booknotes
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SCENE 3

We're back at the group meeting, but what a difference
between this one and those that have come before it! Now
McMurphy isn't alone in squabbling with Nurse Ratched; other
patients-especially Cheswick, who no longer backs down now
that he sees an ally beside him-do so too.

The one question McMurphy has is why the Big Nurse has
given up so easily. On a trip to the swimming pool he learns
the truth. She hasn't given up; she's merely biding her time.
While the Chief nervously stays at McMurphy's side (Chief
Bromden's fear of water is another sign of his decline since his
Indian youth), McMurphy talks to the pool lifeguard, an ex-
football player now in the Disturbed ward. When McMurphy
says he likes the hospital more than the work farm he was at
previously, the lifeguard disagrees. At least at the work farm
you know you'll be released at the end of your sentence.
Patients committed to the hospital don't have a set sentence:
they can be held for as long as the hospital wants to hold them.

The Chief remembers what the Nurse said at the staff meeting
and is afraid, and we can see McMurphy becoming afraid, too.
As the patients leave the pool, a group from another ward
arrives; one of them, severely handicapped, falls on the wet
floor. Harding and Cheswick go to help him, and they ask for
McMurphy's assistance. McMurphy refuses. He won't help
anyone for fear that it might endanger his chances of being
released.

The next day we see further evidence of his new attitude. He
obediently cleans the latrine. When Cheswick attacks the Nurse
at Group Meeting, McMurphy declines to back him up, so
upsetting Cheswick that he is marched off to the Disturbed
Ward. The Nurse is regaining her power. For the first time in
days the Chief suffers a hallucination-again he sees the
Combine's machinery of control and says "It beams all the way
into my stomach."



At first the Acutes believe McMurphy's obedience is a new
tactic he's using against Nurse Ratched. The Chief knows
better. McMurphy is finally getting cagey, just as the Chief's
father finally realized it would be smarter to allow the
government to buy his tribal village. (The government will
build a hydroelectric dam that will destroy the waterfall the
Chief has already described; because the Indians spear salmon
as they leap up the falls, the dam will effectively destroy the
tribe's livelihood.) Like hiding in the fog, giving in is the
safest, smartest thing to do.

Eventually the Acutes see the truth about McMurphy. He is no
more courageous than they are; Nurse Ratched was right. The
other patients seem to be resigned to this truth, even Cheswick.
But McMurphy has inspired hope, and when he takes that hope
away he leaves the patients worse off than before. Cheswick,
who had waited so long for an ally, can't endure life when that
ally surrenders to the enemy. At the next trip to the swimming
pool, he drowns himself.

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