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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - Barron's Booknotes
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We're in the Disturbed Ward, where patients pace endlessly
and unpleasant smells of burning hang in the air. The fear is
enough to make Chief Bromden suffer from the hallucination
that one of the Disturbed patients is "dangling from a wire
screwed in between his shoulder blades." The patient says, "I
wash my hands of the whole deal," his words echoing Pontius
Pilate's actions before ordering Christ's crucifixion. (We'll see
many more references to Christ shortly.)

McMurphy is in pain from the fight, but he tries to act like his
old, bragging self, and the Chief, also in pain, follows his
example. For the first time we meet a sympathetic member of
the hospital staff, a kindly Japanese-American nurse who
explains that not all of the wards in the hospital are as bad as
Nurse Ratched's. She suggests that the Nurse's thwarted
sexuality is to blame: all unmarried nurses, she says, should
quit after they reach 35. Interestingly, McMurphy, who might
be expected to agree, replies that the problem isn't that simple-
the fault may lie in the fact that Nurse Ratched is an Army
Nurse. (It's easy to see the Army as being another arm of the
Combine.) Despite the nurse's kindness, she says she is
powerless to keep the Chief and McMurphy in the safety of her

The Chief knows what is about to happen to them, and he
sleeps restlessly, plagued by nightmares and the voice of the
disturbed patient repeating Pilate's words.

The next morning Nurse Ratched and her aides appear, anxious
for revenge. Unless McMurphy and the Chief apologize for
their fight, they will receive electro-shock therapy. She claims
that during a group meeting the very patients McMurphy was
fighting for agreed such treatment was necessary. But
McMurphy refuses to admit he was wrong. He compares the
Nurse's tactics to the ones he experienced in a Chinese prisoner
of war camp in the Korean War.

McMurphy and the Chief are taken to the Main Building,
which holds the Shock Shop. On the walk there, the Chief
looks across the yard and is reminded of the dog he watched
from his window weeks before. You can almost see the Chief
wondering: Did the dog survive its meeting with the Combine?
Will he and McMurphy survive their similar meeting?

When they reach the Shock Shop, other patients are finishing
their treatments. One is singing a hymn; another, the ex-
football player who lifeguards at the pool, is shouting, "Guts
ball! Guts ball!" as he encourages his nonexistent team to play
as hard as they can, (Guts, you may remember from Scene 7,
Part II, is what Billy Bibbit said he and the other patients
lacked.) Frightened, the Chief thinks, "Air Raid," the wartime
danger he could escape only by hiding in the fog. As
McMurphy leaves for his first treatment, he winks and attempts
to tell the Chief something.

Throughout the book we've seen that electro-shock therapy has
been used as a symbol of Christ's crucifixion. Ellis a victim of
the treatment, stands perpetually crucified against the Ward's
walls; Harding's description of the procedure mentioned its
cross-shaped table and electric crown of thorns. As McMurphy
approached this punishment, we heard references to Pontius
Pilate and a hymn: "It's my cross, thank you Lord, it's all I got,
thank you Lord." Now, strapped to the table, McMurphy speaks
partly in biblical terms, telling the attendant, "Annointest my
head with conductant. Do I get a crown of thorns?" And many
readers and critics have asked in what way he is supposed to
resemble Christ.

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

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