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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - Barron's Booknotes
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The meeting ends when the doctor grows bored; he is less
interested in curing people than in theories, and for this reason,
too, he is useful to Nurse Ratched. The patients feel ashamed
that once again they have been goaded into attacking one of
their own, and McMurphy remains puzzled. He asks Harding if
this afternoon's meeting was typical.

Harding is a man who uses his considerable intelligence in
unintelligent attempts to deny the truth. Clearly upset by the
meeting, he pretends confusion at McMurphy's question. When
McMurphy compares the meeting to a pecking party-frenzied
chickens pecking each other to death-he sneers that
McMurphy doesn't know what he's talking about. Does
McMurphy believe he is Freud, Jung, Maxwell Jones? (All
three were famous early psychoanalysts.) He speaks the words
the public relations man might use: "The staff desires a cure as
much as we do. They aren't monsters. Miss Ratched may be a
strict middle-aged lady, but she's not some kind of giant
monster bent on sadistically pecking out our eyes."

McMurphy is ignorant of psychiatric theory (he mispronounces
the famous names Harding has used to impress him), but he
insists that the Group Meetings are not going to cure anyone.
As for Nurse Ratched pecking out the patients' eyes,
McMurphy says she wants to peck at their testicles-just as
she's denied her own sexuality, she wants to deny the patients'
theirs.

Harding, so upset that his embarrassing hands fly out of
control, launches a defense of the Nurse that becomes in our
eyes an attack more fierce than any McMurphy has made. "Our
Nurse Ratched is a veritable angel of mercy," he announces,
but his words are ironic, for each charitable act he describes
only proves the Nurse's need for power. She acts on the outside
just as she does in the ward.



Now we get a more realistic view of the way the Nurse
operates, as McMurphy asks Harding questions we've probably
been asking ourselves. How did Nurse Ratched acquire so
much power? Doctor Spivey is as timid as his patients, Harding
answers, and-in this hospital, doctors don't have the authority
to hire or fire nurses-that power lies in the hands of a woman
who is a friend of Nurse Ratched. And the Nurse's methods of
wielding her authority are subtle-without ever making a direct
accusation, she can insinuate that the doctor is a morphine
addict, that patients have been masturbating, that Harding is a
homosexual. Changing McMurphy's metaphor, Harding says
the patients aren't chickens but timid cartoon rabbits (looking
on, the Chief even sees Billy Bibbit and another patient,
Cheswick, become rabbits briefly). They aren't even successful
rabbits, for rabbits at least are famed for the sexual abilities the
patients sadly lack.

Amazed at Harding's outburst, McMurphy tells him to be quiet.
He can't believe that Billy and the other patients are crazy, and
he tries to rally them against the nurse. But their fear of Nurse
Ratched stops him. Billy again mentions suicide, and Harding
explains what happens to troublemakers: they are taken to the
Disturbed ward, or subjected to electroshock therapy-which, if
they are unlucky, will leave them as ruined as Ellis or Chief
Bromden, the latter a victim of more than two hundred
treatments.

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