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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - Barron's Booknotes
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Outside! For the first time in the book the Chief has escaped
beyond the walls of the hospital. You'll notice that even his
descriptions are clearer now-when he comments that "It
looked at first like the leaves were hitting the fence and turning
into birds and flying away," his use of the words "at first," and
"like" turn what could be one of his hallucinations into a
rational simile.

But the patients are unsettled by their freedom. They've
exposed themselves to the world the Nurse has warned them
repeatedly they can't survive. Even Dr. Spivey is nervous.
When the two cars pull up to a gas station, the attendant isn't
fooled by the doctor's feeble lie that his passengers are not
hospital patients but a work crew, and he is ready to cheat
them. McMurphy informs the attendant that the passengers are
indeed mental patients, and especially dangerous ones at that.
The attendant, frightened, backs down, and the other patients
follow McMurphy's example. "He'd shown us what a little
bravado and courage could accomplish, and we thought he'd
taught us how to use it."

The lesson hasn't fully sunk in yet; the patients are far from
being completely healed. No one will laugh, the Chief says,
and McMurphy "knew you can't really be strong until you can
see a funny side to things." But the Chief wonders if
McMurphy is able to see the damage that has been done to the
patients, the reasons why they are unable to laugh: if
McMurphy can in fact see the Combine.

Here we see evidence that the Combine is busy at work on the
outside as well as inside the hospital. The wild West that was
the Chief's home has been defiled by "five thousand houses
punched out identical by a machine"; commuter trains deposit
businessmen in "mirrored suits and machined hats, laying them
like a hatch of identical insects." (One of those businessmen
could well be the lobotomized Mr. Taber.) There is no room for
anyone different; the different will only suffer, like the one kid
the Chief imagines playing crack the whip, always at the end of
the line, always the one to fly off and get hurt. This pattern will
repeat itself for the rest of the kid's life, as he becomes
someone like Harding, or Billy, or the Chief himself.

McMurphy and his 12 followers (note that their number is the
same as the number of Christ's disciples: an early likening of
McMurphy to Christ) reach the ocean. But the captain and
crew of the boat McMurphy has chartered give them trouble:
McMurphy can't sail without papers authorizing the trip, the
captain announces; the crew makes dirty comments about
Candy. Brave with each other in the car, the Chief and the rest
of the patients are again afraid when presented with a real
threat, and their fear shames them.

But McMurphy fools everyone, taking the patients out on the
boat without permission or captain or crew. Out on the ocean,
as far from the hospital and Nurse Ratched as they can be, the
patients feel a sense of release. McMurphy gives Billy a chance
to be alone with Candy, and when Billy refuses, goes below
deck with the girl himself. Meanwhile, the other patients are
learning to fish under the instruction of George Sorenson, the
ex-fishing boat captain who has taken the helm just as he did in
the old days. A braver captain than those of the other
sportsfishing boats, George doesn't hug the shore but heads out
into the open ocean.

The patients are excited. Billy wins the pool for catching the
first fish, though it's clear that despite his victory, he'd rather be
with Candy. George steers the boat into a school of salmon, the
fish begin to bite, and the boat goes wild. No one knows what
to do; even Dr. Spivey is calling on McMurphy for help. But
McMurphy only laughs. The patients must learn to solve this
crisis-and by implication, all the crises of their lives-for
themselves, and they do. Harding helps the Chief land his fish.

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

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