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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - Barron's Booknotes
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McMurphy, the new patient can't take a step without disrupting
normal hospital procedure. He won't shower; he won't stand
still to have his temperature taken. He ignores the division
between Chronics and Acutes, greeting everyone like a
sideshow pitchman.

Is he crazy? It doesn't seem so. He claims to be in the hospital
only because a court ruled him psychotic, claims the ruling
came only because he'd had too many fights and-too many
women. He's glad to enter the hospital, he says; he expects an
easier life than he found on the state work farm.

The memory of the frontier West is apparent in much of this
book, which geographical clues tell us is set in Oregon. And
just as the Chief reminds us of the Indian past, McMurphy with
his bragging charm may remind us of the rough cowboy of
Western novels and movies. His humor is a modernized
version of the tall tales told by and about Western legends like
Davy Crockett, Mike Finn, and Paul Bunyan. For example, in
his mock showdown with Harding, the college-educated man
who is president of the Patients' Council, he wins by bragging
he's so crazy he voted for President Eisenhower not once but
twice and is going to vote for him again. (The book is set just
before the 1960 presidential election. Of course, Eisenhower,
who won the 1952 and 1956 elections, could not run for a third
term.)

Notice, too, the little McMurphy fights Harding for: Bull
Goose Looney brings back the image of McMurphy's high-
flying voice, and geese as symbols of freedom will recur often.
Bull also implies the powerful sexuality that McMurphy
possesses.



Initially McMurphy's antics unnerve the patients, but soon their
fears give way to the pleasure of seeing someone disrupt the
hospital routine. Even the Chronics seem amused, but when
McMurphy approaches the Chief, the Indian's mood changes:
the laughter that a moment before he enjoyed now seems
frightening, a signal that tells McMurphy the Chief is not really
deaf and dumb. This is doubtful (though McMurphy will guess
the Chief's secret later), but it's a sign of the new patient's
strong personality that the Chief believes it to be true.

The Chief shakes McMurphy's hand. All through the book
hands will be used to indicate character, and in McMurphy's
we see calloused traces of his entire hard-working, hard-
fighting life. As for the Chief's hands, he is an enormous man-
six-feet seven inches-and undoubtedly they are much larger
than McMurphy's. But the Chief's illness has changed his
perception of strength and size: to him, psychological
weakness creates physical weakness, and he has been so
damaged that he thinks of himself as small. However, when the
two shake hands, the Chief feels power being transmitted from
McMurphy to him, and sees his hand becoming larger-the first
example of McMurphy's healing effect on the Chief.

The handshake is interrupted by the Big Nurse, who warns
McMurphy that he must follow the same rules as everyone
else.

NOTE: FORESHADOWING
One of the literary techniques employed most successfully in
the early pages of the novel is foreshadowing, or the use of
small events to hint at more important events that occur later.
The scene in which McMurphy enters the hospital is largely
comic, but it contains examples of foreshadowing that give us
indications of less comic events to come.

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