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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - Barron's Booknotes
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SCENE 5

In this long scene we see in more detail how the ward operates.
Though the story is still narrated by the Chief, the fog machine
is not running at full power, which is to say that the Chief's
account of the day's events is mostly straightforwardly true. He
can still tune into reality, if he strains. One of these days, he
admits, he'll give up and escape into the fog permanently, but
this morning he wants to see how McMurphy will react to the
ward-another sign that McMurphy may have some role in
saving the Chief from his illness.

It's time for the daily Group Meeting. The Nurse leaves her
watchful position in the Nurse's Station, and joins the patients
in the day room. During the group meetings, patients are
encouraged to discuss their problems with each other, under the
supervision of Nurse Ratched and Dr. Spivey. Such group
therapy is a common psychiatric treatment and often helpful,
but in this scene we'll see how the Nurse manipulates the
meetings to maintain her control over the patients.

One Chronic, old Pete Bancini, complains as he always does of
being tired. The Nurse gets Billy Bibbit to quiet Pete, and then
she steers the meeting to a discussion of Dale Harding, the
patient who fought McMurphy for the title of Bull Goose
Looney. Harding's problems, like those of so many in this
book, are in great part sexual: although in scene three we were
told he bragged about his wife's desire for him, we now see she
apparently thinks him weak and effeminate, and his
embarrassment over his lovely, pale hands hints that he fears
her judgment is accurate.

McMurphy can't resist disrupting the meeting by making a
lewd pun on the meaning of touch. In retaliation, Nurse
Ratched reads his psychiatric record, which shows his life to be
a mixture of courage, foolhardiness and stupidity. McMurphy
beats the Nurse at her own game by joking about his rape
conviction, making the doctor smile at his sexual prowess, and
by warning the Nurse she had better not continue
mispronouncing his name. Though the nurse believes
McMurphy is a psychopath (a person whose illness prevents
him from feeling any responsibility to family, friends, or
society; one who thinks only of his immediate pleasure), Dr.
Spivey can't help but be amused. He suggests that McMurphy
may be faking mental illness simply to enjoy an easy life at the
hospital. In fact, it has become obvious that this probably is
McMurphy's intention; when he asks, "Do I look like a sane
man?" doctor and reader alike are probably telling themselves,
"Yes."



But to Nurse Ratched, anyone who causes her trouble is insane.
She insists that the doctor help her regain control of the
meeting. As it resumes, McMurphy becomes quiet, puzzled by
the lack of laughter among the patients and the Nurse's control
over them. Dr. Spivey enthusiastically discusses the theory
which governs the ward: the therapeutic community. So they
will learn how to function in the outside world, the patients are
told to discuss their grievances and emotional problems freely
with each other, and report on these discussions in the log
book. "Our intention," the doctor says, "is to make this as much
like your own democratic free neighborhoods as possible-a
little world Inside that is a made-to-scale prototype of the big
world Outside that you will one day be taking your place in
again." The doctor's description of the community contradicts
itself-what kind of "democratic free neighborhood" forces
citizens to spy on each other? It's easy to see that, despite the
democratic facade, the system is rigged to ensure Nurse
Ratched's, and the Combine's, control.

As Dr. Spivey talks, the Chief remembers one occasion when
the group meeting didn't go as planned. Trying to please Nurse
Ratched, the patients competed with each other to see who
could confess the most shameful secret, even if they had to
invent one. This sick game is interrupted by Pete, the Chronic;
his cry of "I'm tired" makes the patients feel ashamed because
it represents the truth. Nurse Ratched sends the aides after Pete,
but it's a tough fight; a victim of an accident at birth, Pete is too
simple-minded to be vulnerable to the Combine. In the Chief's
distorted vision, Pete's arm becomes a wrecking ball which
exposes the machinery inside the hospital walls. But eventually
Nurse Ratched sedates him, and he falls unconscious, never to
speak the truth again.

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