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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - Barron's Booknotes
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SCENE 8

The Chief awakens the next morning, surprised that
McMurphy is up before him, even more surprised that the new
patient is singing. In this ward, songs are like laughter, never
heard. The tunes McMurphy sings aren't given titles (they are
American folk songs, "The Wagoner's Lad" and "The Roving
Gambler"), but their lyrics show a man refusing to be tied
down by a woman-exactly the situation McMurphy finds
himself in now.

The Chief wonders why the Combine hasn't defeated
McMurphy before this, and he speculates that the newcomer
moved around too often to be snared. He thinks, too, that
McMurphy may have survived by not caring about anyone, in a
sense, agreeing with Nurse Ratched's diagnosis of him as a
psychopath. We'll see later whether the Chief is correct.

Now, at this early hour, McMurphy is forced into the first of
his battles with the hospital. He wants to brush his teeth, but
the toothpaste is locked up until 6:45, McMurphy is amazed-
why is toothpaste being guarded like a dangerous weapon? The
aide answers in the way bureaucrats always answer: it's policy.
The aide asks, "What do you s'pose it'd be like if evahbody was
to brush their teeth whenever they took a notion to brush?"

In fact, this question doesn't seem completely absurd; some of
the patients we've met in this ward might well decide to brush
their teeth twenty-four hours a day. But McMurphy makes the
question, and the aide, appear ridiculous, and he resourcefully
defeats the aide by brushing his teeth with soap power.
Angered by McMurphy, the aide takes his wrath out on Chief
Bromden: the usual pattern in the hospital.



NOTE: ON LAUGHTER
Here again we're reminded of the power of laughter. The Chief
looks at McMurphy and recalls his father, who also could
defeat people with jokes. He remembers a scene with his father
talking to white visitors who want him to sign a contract-we'll
find out later what that contract entails and its effect on the
Chief's tribe. The Chief's father makes fun of the visitors by
pretending to be just the man they think he is, an ignorant,
superstitious savage. He tells them he can see geese (note the
choice of bird), though it's July and geese would not be
migrating then in the skies of Oregon. Annoyed at being made
fun of, the visitors leave. "I forget sometimes what laughter can
do," the Chief says; it's McMurphy who has enabled him to
remember.

Nurse Ratched arrives and the aide bested by McMurphy over
the toothpaste is so anxious to tattle he forgets the truly
important news-that Mr. Blastic has died. In this hospital,
violations of the rules cause more concern than the deaths of
the patients.

McMurphy has resumed singing, angering the Nurse. Again the
Chief sees her rage as a physical force that transforms her from
a human being into a machine-this time a huge diesel truck
with a radiator grill smile, rolling full speed towards
McMurphy. But McMurphy stops her by walking casually
from the latrine wearing only a towel.

He explains that someone has taken his work farm clothing
(using a criminal's word-boosted for stolen-language that the
Nurse doesn't understand). When Nurse Ratched realizes that
this reasonable explanation of his nakedness has made her
seem silly she takes out her anger (now compared to a blizzard)
on the aides. Then McMurphy drops his towel, revealing that
he was not naked but had been wearing his gaudy undershorts.

It's a complete defeat for Nurse Ratched: only as other patients
straggle out of their beds does she regain her self-control. Even
then the anger hasn't disappeared; we can still see it in her
greetings to the patients, pleasant-sounding on the surface, but
barbed and cutting underneath. She warns Fredrickson and
Sefelt about switching their medication, tells Billy not to
disappoint his mother, asks Harding about the chewed
fingernails on his embarrassing hands. No weakness escapes
her. She'd like to use the same tactics on McMurphy, but he's
still singing.

Chief Bromden continues to sweep after everyone has left. At
the end of the scene, as he sweeps under the patients' beds, we
see the contrast between the world of the hospital and
McMurphy's world-or, actually, we smell the contrast. The
hospital's smells are musty, depressing; McMurphy's bed has
"the man smell of dust and dirt from the open fields, and sweat,
and work," the true smells of a life not controlled by the
Combine.

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