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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - Barron's Booknotes
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SCENE 7

Three weeks after the revolt over the TV, the patients, finally
under the Nurse's control, are taken for tuberculosis exams.
(The Chief sees it as "a check to see if everybody's machinery
is functioning up to par.") Next to the x-ray room is the Shock
Shop, where the electro-shock therapy takes place. McMurphy
asks Harding to explain the therapy, and Harding in his clever
way does. Electricity is shot through the brain; the treatment,
destructive to brain cells, is generally out of fashion, Nurse
Ratched being one of the few who still use it. (Harding's
mention of "the grand old Faulknerian tradition... brain
burning" is a joke; among William Faulkner's most famous
short stories is one entitled "Barn Burning.") Harding explains
that, like lobotomy, electro-shock therapy has its advantages:
it's cheap and painless. But a technique developed by striking
cattle on the head with sledgehammers certainly seems brutal
when applied to humans.

McMurphy is upset and afraid. He's discovered that the game
he's been playing is for much higher stakes than he imagined.
Not only may he not be allowed to leave, he may end up on the
shock table-and Nurse Ratched is the one who will decide his
fate.

The patients discuss whether or not their problems are entirely
the fault of Nurse Ratched, and they agree she alone is
responsible. But McMurphy says the Nurse is only part of a
bigger problem, one that he can't yet explain. The Chief
believes that McMurphy has stumbled on to the secret of the
Combine. In a sense, the Chief is correct. McMurphy may not
believe in the Chief's fantasy of all-powerful machines, but he's
beginning to understand the truth that underlies that fantasy-
that Nurse Ratched is only one representative of the forces of
fear that control too much of modern society. And those forces
are not just sexually repressive-if that were the case all he
would have to do is rape Nurse Ratched to defeat her. But that
wouldn't solve anything, he knows. All he can do is try to
avoid the Nurse entirely.



Harding is amused. McMurphy in turn accuses Harding and the
others of using him to win privileges they've been afraid to
fight for themselves. He says he has just as much to lose from
disobedience as they do.

Now, a revelation. "No," Harding tells McMurphy. "You've got
more to lose than I do, my friend." For Harding and most of the
other Acutes are not committed but have placed themselves in
the hospital voluntarily. Unlike McMurphy, they can leave
whenever they want.

McMurphy is dumbfounded. Why would Billy and the rest stay
in such a place when they could been enjoying the freedom of
the outside world? They aren't so bad off: McMurphy has
known many unhospitalized people with more severe
problems.

Billy tries to explain. They don't want to be here, he says, but
they're too weak. They're not like McMurphy. They don't have
his guts. Billy breaks down in tears.

NOTE: McMurphy is coming to understand the patients'
problems. Their weakness comes not so much from their
illnesses as from the fear planted in them by society and by the
hospital, and he sees that he himself has become a victim of
this fear, too. You can see him struggling to make sense of this
problem, preparing for the confrontation that comes in the next
scene.

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