One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

by: Ken Kesey

Important Quotations Explained

2. The flock gets sight of a spot of blood on some chicken and they all go to peckin’ at it, see, till they rip the chicken to shreds, blood and bones and feathers. But usually a couple of the flock gets spotted in the fracas, then it’s their turn. And a few more gets spots and gets pecked to death, and more and more. Oh, a peckin’ party can wipe out the whole flock in a matter of a few hours, buddy, I seen it. A mighty awesome sight. The only way to prevent it—with chickens—is to clip blinders on them. So’s they can’t see.

McMurphy gives this explanation to Harding and the other patients in Part I after his first Group Meeting. The entire group had been tearing into Harding, adhering to Doctor Spivey’s theory of the “Therapeutic Community,” where the patients are encouraged to bring “old sins out into the open.” Afterward, McMurphy tells the other patients that they were like “a bunch of chickens at a peckin’ party,” attacking the weakest one with such blind fury that they all put themselves in danger.

McMurphy is immediately shocked by the behavior of the patients and staff. It is clear to him that Ratched maintains her power through such strategies as divide and conquer. He points out that she “pecks the first peck,” or points out the first weakness, and then just sits back and watches as the patients start to attack each other. He does not understand why the patients fall for this strategy, especially since they might be next in line as the object of ridicule. The patients do seem to have blinders on; they are so blinded by their own shame that they are unable to see Ratched’s true nature and the way she manipulates and controls them so effortlessly.