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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - Barron's Booknotes
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Candy, who has lost her T-shirt during her time below deck
with McMurphy, takes a pole. Billy helps her, at last getting his
chance to be near the lovely girl. In the chaos of shouts,
flopping salmon, bending fishing poles, George stalls the boat.
But McMurphy continues to laugh, because, the Chief says,
"he knows you have to laugh at the things that hurt you just to
keep yourself in balance, just to keep the world from running
you plumb crazy. He knows there's a painful side... but he
won't let the pain blot out the humor no more'n he'll let the
humor blot out the pain."

This is the secret to sanity, to survival. This is the lesson
McMurphy has been teaching throughout the book. And now,
at last, the patients have learned it, because they, too, are
laughing. The Chief has gone them one step further-his
description of his feelings reminds us of his description of
McMurphy's voice at the start of the book. He's like a bird,
flying free above the world.

The doctor, who in his way is as much a victim of Nurse
Ratched as are his patients, enjoys his moment of triumph as he
lands an enormous salmon. The boat struggles through the high
waves the Nurse has warned about, but safely, with Billy
getting a chance to be Candy's hero by giving up his life jacket
to her. During the rough ride into the harbor, George stands at
the helm, unmoving as the mast. He's regained something of
his old strength on the trip.

At the dock, the Combine-in the forms of the captain and the
local police-are ready to attack, but the doctor (now braver and
cagier himself) warns that he will get the captain in trouble
over the shortage of life jackets. McMurphy and the captain
engage in a brief scuffle, then make peace over beers. The crew
that had been rude when the patients left is polite now that they
have proved themselves on the ocean, and is full of admiration
for George's skill as a sailor. Even George's obsession with
cleanliness for once makes humorous sense: to a suggestion
that he enter politics he answers he won't because it's "too

They return to the hospital late. Billy and Candy arrange a date
for two in the morning the next Saturday. The patients enter the
ward as heroes, but there's an ominous note when one of those
who remained points out how tired McMurphy seems. Harding
jokingly claims that McMurphy tired himself out making love,
but the Chief suspects something more serious is wrong. He
remembers the drive back from the ocean.

They drove through the town where McMurphy spent his
youth. His old house is run-down now, and his parents are
dead. "A good home," he says nostalgically. Then, perhaps a
little unbelievably, he spots a rag caught in a tree: put there, he
says, by the first girl he made love to, when he was only ten
years old.

You should note that the description of this girl, and all of this
description of McMurphy's return to his hometown, is written
in rhyme: "The first girl ever drug me to bed / Wore that very
same dress. / I was about ten and she was probably less / And
at the time a lay seemed like such a big deal / I asked her if
didn't she think, feel / We ought to announce it some way? /
Like say, tell our folks, 'Mom / Judy and me got engaged
today.'" The rhyme emphasizes the poetry of McMurphy's
memories, memories which are to him as precious as the
Chief's recollections of his Indian village-and as distant from
the grim world of the hospital to which he must now return.

The little girl teaches McMurphy not just about sex, but about
the occasional rightness of violating the rules: she knows they
don't have to get married just because they've made love.
McMurphy seems full of his usual bravado as he recalls her.
But the tail lights from a passing car expose his face, and the
Chief sees that McMurphy is in fact very weary. His rough life
has brought him to a prison from which there may be no
escape. Yet it's a measure of his generosity that despite his
weariness, he continues to play the part the patients have come
to expect him to play: McMurphy the rogue, the fighter for a
freedom that could, perhaps, be theirs.

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

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