One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

by: Ken Kesey

Rebellion

1

[A]ll twenty of them, raising not just for watching TV, but against the Big Nurse, against her trying to send McMurphy to Disturbed, against the way she’s talked and acted and beat them down for years.

The narrator, Chief Bromden, describes how, at McMurphy’s instigation, the men in the ward vote to change the TV schedule so they can watch the World Series, and in this seemingly simple act, rebel for the first time against Nurse Ratched’s irrational rules and question her absolute power. Though Nurse Ratched negates the vote on a technicality, the mere act of demanding a voice signals rebellion. Further, the majority of men voted together, and in banding together, they strengthen their ranks and encourage future acts of resistance. The men’s actions send the message to Nurse Ratched that she no longer holds complete power over them.

2

Now that McMurphy was around to back them up, the guys started letting fly at everything that had ever happened on the ward that they didn’t like.

Bromden describes that when the men start airing their grievances in the group meetings, they begin taking baby steps by standing up for themselves to Nurse Ratched and rebelling against her rules and authority. While the grievances may seem small, they represent larger issues of control such as the closure of the dorm rooms on the weekend because Nurse Ratched doesn’t trust them to be alone. The men begin questioning her reasoning as well, forming their own analyses and putting forward their own ideas. McMurphy has inspired them to think for themselves and act upon their rationales.

3

[A]nd by the time they got a screwdriver and undid the grate and brought Cheswick up, with the grate still clutched in his chubby pink and blue fingers, he was drowned.

Bromden describes Cheswick’s suicide, which occurs after his failed effort to rally the men against the cigarette policy. Cheswick was the first man to support McMurphy in his TV vote, and he relished the thought of future freedoms. Although he possesses the will to step into McMurphy’s role, he doesn’t have the confidence. Cheswick’s rebellion takes him only as far as the Disturbed ward. Left with few options, he rebels in another way, killing himself in the swimming pool to remove himself from the hopelessness of living under Nurse Ratched.

4

It was us that had been making him go on for weeks, keeping him standing long after his feet and legs had given out[.]

According to Bromden, McMurphy pushes himself to the limits in his fight against Nurse Ratched in service to the others on the ward. McMurphy knows that he inspires the other patients to become confident men. He refuses to let Nurse Ratched win the battle of wills between them, even if he no longer feels the strength to play anymore. In McMurphy’s ultimate act of rebellion, he physically attacks her and tears off her uniform. Even though he finally diminishes Nurse Ratched for good, this act results in his personal and final sacrifice.

5

I put my back toward the screen, then spun and let the momentum carry the panel through the screen and window with a ripping crash.

Bromden describes how he escapes from the hospital, a choice that represents his own major act of rebellion. He already has engaged in numerous atypical activities since meeting McMurphy, including talking. Now he needs to get away from Nurse Ratched. who will realize that he smothered McMurphy in a mercy killing. In doing so, Bromden usurps authority from her—she wanted McMurphy to remain on the ward as an example of what happens to those who go against her. In a fitting gesture, Bromden’s means of escape comes from McMurphy, who made Bromden strong enough to lift the control panel that he throws through the window.