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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - Barron's Booknotes
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13. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest concludes on a note of
apparent triumph, as the Chief hurls the control panel through
the ward window, escapes the hospital and begins to hitchhike
north. But the triumph may not be complete. Indeed, for most
of the book the Chief has been the one to tell us that triumphs
over the Combine can never be complete. As he says of its
main cog, Nurse Ratched (in Scene 9, Part 1): "She'll go on
winning, just like the Combine... she don't lose on her losses
but she wins on ours. To beat her you don't have to whip her
two out of three or three out of five, but every time you meet.
As soon as you let down your guard, as soon as you lose once,
she's won for good. And eventually we all got to lose. Nobody
can help that." And at the end of the novel, many have lost.
Cheswick and Billy are dead, McMurphy is a ruined man saved
from becoming another Mr. Taber only when the Chief kills
him. Nurse Ratched's power may be reduced, but she is able to
return to the ward. Still if McMurphy has not been able to
escape the Combine, he has given the Chief and other patients
the courage and strength to continue. As the Chief says just
before McMurphy's final battle with the Nurse, "The thing he
was fighting, you couldn't whip it for good. All you could do
was keep on whipping it, till you couldn't come out any more
and somebody else had to take your place." For now, that
somebody else is the Chief. Years before, the Combine
destroyed his tribe by destroying the waterfall on which their
salmon fishing depended. Now, the Chief tells us, the tribe has
returned and is using the Combine's dam to spear fish just as
they did in the old days-a small but significant act of rebellion
the Chief may join. So long as the Chief and others continue
the fight, McMurphy can't be said to have lost.

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

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