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Free Study Guide-One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey-Free Notes
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PART II

Notes

The main purpose of Part II is to show the process that McMurphy goes through in deciding to commit himself to the survival and well being of his fellow patients. At first, he is just having fun with Nurse Ratched, trying to irritate her with one little thing after another, battling her however he can. His actions unite the inmates, and they begin coming to McMurphy for assurance. He unconsciously takes on the role of guide and leader for the whole group, but he has not openly accepted the role. The Chief, however, sees McMurphy's influence; he judges him to be a big powerful man, whom the Combine has not been able to destroy. He sees him as larger than life and wonders how McMurphy can be what he is and still remain intact. The Chief then looks at his own reflection in the mirror and knows that his big, strong Indian face is just a mask; he is really a weak and intimidated person.

McMurphy has his own weakness, his self-centeredness. At first he is willing to sacrifice the patients for his own well-being. The revelation of the lifeguard throws him off balance, for McMurphy realizes that he is condemning himself by opposing the Nurse. As a result, he becomes the model patient. He stops supporting the other patients and causes no further trouble, for he has no intention of staying at the hospital longer than he chooses. When he is ready to leave, he wants Nurse Ratched to sign his release. The other patients resent the change in McMurphy. Cheswick is so depressed he commits suicide.

Chief Bromden is also very bothered by the change in McMurphy. When McMurphy was opposing Nurse Ratched, the Chief's paranoia was reduced, and he did not see fog anymore. When McMurphy backs off from confronting the Big Nurse, however, the Chief's paranoia and the attendant fog return. Then the Chief hears the staff discussing McMurphy. They accuse him of everything from "latent homosexual" to having a "negative oedipal" complex. They feel he should be placed in the ward for Disturbed patients. The Nurse opposes this action. She knows that if McMurphy is sent to the disturbed ward he will become a martyr to the others; therefore, she decides to continue her battle with him, knowing she will win in the end. She also knows that time is something she has in abundance and that McMurphy feels his time is limited. After McMurphy backs off and begins to act like the ideal patient, the Nurse thinks that she has the upper hand. She knows that McMurphy is a selfish man and realizes why he is behaving in exactly the way she predicted.


One night the Chief gets up and looks out of the window. He sees a dog sniffing around and some geese flying in the sky, silhouetted by the moon. The leader of the geese at the front of the "V", symbolizes McMurphy, who is "bull goose loony" and is leading his followers towards freedom. Once the geese have flown away, the Chief's attention is drawn back to the dog who has run towards the highway and is on a collision course with an oncoming car. He never sees what happens to the dog, for he is dragged back to bed, back to conformity, by one of the Black orderlies. The reader, however, knows that the dog does not stand a chance. Like the geese, the dog represents the individual seeking freedom, and the car that mows him down is the repressive society that refuses to allow individual freedom, demanding conformity in its place.

Before long McMurphy realizes that the force behind the patients is stronger than he anticipated. He cannot just sit back and watch as if nothing is happening. He does not react when Harding's wife insults him and leaves. He does not react when he comes to know about Cheswick's suicide. But when Seefeld, an epileptic, has a fit, he is pushed further towards action. If the epileptics do not take their medicines, they have seizures; if they do take the medicine, they suffer from bad side effects. Like them, McMurphy too is trapped. If he helps the patients, he is in danger of being given shock therapy, and if he does not help them, his conscience will kill him. His bad dream symbolizes his conscience, for he is haunted by "faces," the faces of the others on the ward. These faces need him to help them out.

McMurphy begins to wonder how he can strike out at the repressive society that imprisons the patients. He thinks about raping Nurse Ratched; he believes that would deflate her ego and establish her identity as a female, a fact that she tries to hide, just like she tries to hide her large chest. McMurphy, however, realizes that he would only be striking out at the Big Nurse, and he wants to strike out at all of society and its repressive ways.

When McMurphy is told that most of the patients have voluntarily committed themselves and could leave the hospital, he realizes how much they are truly in need of a savior. They stay in the hospital because they cannot cope by themselves; they have no courage or self-reliance. McMurphy decides he must save them from the Nurse and society, as well as themselves.

The last straw for McMurphy is when the Nurse decides to take away the patients' game room. Everyone looks to McMurphy to retaliate, and he is forced into making a final decision about saving himself or saving the patients. When McMurphy breaks the glass of the Nurse's station, he makes his statement. The war against Nurse Ratched and the repressive society has now seriously begun. McMurphy will do everything that he can to empower the patients to act as individuals and have faith in themselves, even if he is destroyed in the process.

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