1. How does Kesey make the reader question the accepted definitions of “sane,” “insane,” “sick,” and “healthy”?
Bromden sees modern society as an oppressive, mechanizing force, and he views the hospital as a repair shop for the people who do not fit into their roles as cogs in the machine. His way of interpreting the world emphasizes the social pressure to conform. Those who do not conform to the rules and conventions of society are considered defective products of the “schools, churches, and neighborhoods.” Such people are labeled mentally ill and sent for treatment. The hospital is normally defined as the place where the ill go to be cured. However, in the cases of Ellis, Ruckly, and Taber, the cure—being in the psychiatric hospital—is obviously worse than the disease. Ellis and Ruckly are considered “failures,” but Taber is considered a success. However, it is hard to tell the difference between the cured and sick patients. Taber, the cured patient, functions like a robot incapable of independent thought after he leaves the hospital; as such, he fits perfectly into society.
2. Why is the fishing trip therapeutic for the patients?
When the gas station attendant tries to intimidate the patients and the doctor into accepting services they do not want, McMurphy comes to their rescue by showing them how their stigmatized identity as mental patients can be used to their advantage. Instead of being made to feel afraid, they can inspire fear in others by exaggerating their insanity. McMurphy tries to teach the other patients another way to cope with the outside world, without using an approach of total conformity. However, when they arrive at the docks, they are too timid to answer the insults of the seamen without the support of McMurphy. Once they are out to sea, McMurphy refuses to step in and aid the patients. He leaves them to manage things for themselves, and, to their surprise, they find they do not actually need his help. They begin to see themselves as men, not as feeble mental patients. When the patients return to the docks, they realize that they have proven something to themselves and to the outside world, and the seamen are impressed by their large catches from the sea.
3. How does McMurphy become a Christ figure?
Several images contribute to the perception of McMurphy as a Christ figure. He is baptized with a shower upon entering the ward. He takes the patients on a fishing trip, like Jesus and his twelve disciples, to test and strengthen their faith in him and his rehabilitation methods. When McMurphy is taken to get electroshock treatment, he lies down voluntarily on the cross-shaped table and asks whether he will get his “crown of thorns.” Under the weighty pressure of the other patients’ expectations, McMurphy makes the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that Ratched cannot use Billy’s death to undo everything they have gained. He sacrifices his own hopes of personal salvation when he violently attacks her. McMurphy rips her uniform to reveal her femininity, the evidence that she is not an all-powerful machine but a flesh-and-blood person. His deed succeeds in destroying Ratched’s power. Although he himself dies as a result, his sacrifice becomes an inspiration to the other patients.
1. How is Nurse Ratched’s ward like a totalitarian society?
2. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest has been criticized for its treatment of race and gender. Why do you think this is the case?
3. McMurphy, Colonel Matterson, and Bromden are war veterans. Nurse Ratched is a former army nurse who tries to run her ward as if it were an army hospital. How might the advent of modern warfare serve as a metaphor for the sickness that Kesey perceives in modern society?
4. Why is Bromden the narrator of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest instead of McMurphy? Who is the real protagonist of the novel? How does the use of Bromden as the narrator tie into the biblical allusions in the novel?