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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - Barron's Booknotes
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SCENE 4

Scene 4 proves that Chief Bromden's trick of seeming to be
deaf and dumb is a highly useful one-he can loiter, broom in
hand, to catch conversations off-limits to patients. Nurse
Ratched is discussing McMurphy with a silly junior nurse. She
warns that the new patient is a manipulator, a psychologist's
term for someone who thinks of nothing but his own gain.
Because McMurphy has told us a bit of his history as gambler
and fighter, we may see some truth in her diagnosis-though it
seems rather too sinister for the laughing man we've just met.

There have been other manipulators in the hospital, Nurse
Ratched remembers, but in the old days (before the
improvements the public relations man noted) they could be
handled more easily; one Mr. Taber was "an intolerable ward
manipulator," but she defeated him. How? We don't know, but
her satisfaction in the memory is disturbing. It's clear Nurse
Ratched is convinced that anyone who threatens her rule is
insane.

The Chief tells us that Nurse Ratched belongs to what he calls
the Combine, a shadowy organization that seeks to regulate the
world as completely as the Nurse regulates her ward. A
combine can mean an organization working against the public
interest; its more common usage denotes an agricultural
machine. The Chief combines the two meanings of the word
and sees the Combine's sinister power in mechanical terms. It's
a fantasy, a symptom of his illness, of course-but we'll see that
like his fantasies of the hospital, it also contains a great deal of
truth about the way the modern world works.

How did Nurse Ratched attain so much power when she is only
a nurse? She makes life difficult for doctors, forcing them to
quit until she has found one timid enough to obey her.
Similarly, she has tested orderly after orderly before locating
three who will treat the patients with sufficient hatred.



NOTE: RACISM
Some critics of Cuckoo's Nest have accused Kesey of racism in
his treatment of the black orderlies, who throughout the book
are described in unfavorable racial terms. As with the debate
over Kesey's treatment of women (more on that later), this is an
issue you will have to decide for yourself. Certainly the three
aides are the major black characters in the novel, and they are
portrayed as despicable people. In Kesey's defense, a valid
reason (the rape of his mother) is given for the hatred of one of
the aides, nor are any of them above racism themselves-they
taunt the Chief for his Indian blood as readily as he taunts
them for being black. And other minor black characters-the
young girl the Chief meets in the cotton mill, the night aid, Mr.
Turkle-are presented sympathetically.

The ward and its morning routine are seen through the Chief's
machine-obsessed vision. The orderlies operate on beams of
hate; when a patient dies, he shorts out like a broken appliance.
Even the walls whirr. Behind her polished windows, the nurse
is the machine's invulnerable core; every day she tears off her
calendar brings her closer to her goal of complete control of the
hospital and the world.

As the patients line up for their medication, we see a flashback
to the time when Mr. Taber, the hated manipulator, refused to
take the pills Nurse Flinn forces on him. (This seems to be an
error on Kesey's part: at the opening of the scene it was implied
that Taber left the ward before Nurse Flinn began to work
there.) The Chief condenses a lengthy period of time into one
scene, as Mr. Taber refuses his pills, hides, is discovered and
sedated by the nurse and sexually assaulted by the orderlies,
then taken by technicians for electro-shock therapy, and, it's
hinted, "brain work"- a lobotomy.

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