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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - Barron's Booknotes
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SCENE 15

This scene forms the climax of Part 1: the fiercest battle yet
between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched. It begins with Chief
Bromden discussing the fog machine that clouds his view of
the hospital. To him, this imaginary device is identical to a real
device used when he was a soldier in World War II. Fog was
blown over English airfields to protect them from German
bombers; as you stepped out onto the runway, "You were safe
from the enemy, but you were awfully alone." When you did
meet someone, you saw him with terrifying clarity: "You didn't
want to look at his face and he didn't want to look at yours,
because it's painful to see somebody so clear that it's like
looking inside him, but then neither did you want to look away
and lose him completely. You had a choice: you could either
strain and look at things that appeared in front of you in the
fog, painful as it might be, or you could relax and lose
yourself."

And we understand that those are the choices the Chief faces in
his life in the hospital. He can try to see things as they are, even
when they're painful and dangerous. Or he can lose himself in
the safety of the fog. Right now the fog is winning. The Chief
has learned how to cope with it; before, it panicked him and
sent him into the Shock Shop. Now he's used to illness, and he
knows that if he just gives into it, no one will bother him.
"Being lost isn't so bad."



Lately the fog has been thicker than usual, thanks to the
disturbances McMurphy has caused. The Chief says the fog
machine has been turned on more frequently, but we're familiar
enough with his illness (the fog rolls in when he's frightened,
disappears when he's calm) that we understand that McMurphy
has caused a disturbance within the Chief: McMurphy is a
constant reminder that there is a world of danger, but also of
freedom, outside the hospital.

The Group Meeting begins with Billy Bibbit under discussion.
We see the problems his stuttering has caused him. Notice that
the first word he stuttered was Mama-another signal of the
destructive power of the matriarchy.

Lost in the fog, the Chief sees glimpses of the other patients
around him, just as he once bumped into other soldiers on the
fogged-in airfield. He meets Colonel Matterson, an ancient
Army officer who speaks what at first seems like utter
craziness. "The flag is... Ah-mer-ica. America... is the plum.
The peach. The watermelon.... Mexico is... the wal-nut...
Mexico is... the rainbow." With the clarity the fog gives him,
the Chief now understands that the colonel's words made sense.
Like the Chief himself, he speaks things that are true even if
they didn't happen: the truth of metaphor, of poetry. But the fog
that gives this brief moment of perception then steals it away.
The Colonel disappears, perhaps for good.

Patients float by, Pete, Billy Bibbit, whose chances for love
were spoiled by his mother, others. The Chief is powerless to
help them, for the moment you try to help someone you
become vulnerable yourself. The Chief is on the verge of being
lost for good. "I'm further off than I've ever been." He'll
become one of the Vegetables, like Ellis or Ruckley. As he
drifts towards that fate, he remembers the forces that sent him
to the hospital in the first place: the war, his tribal village's
destruction by a government gravel crusher, his father's aging.

Then, suddenly, a voice breaks through: McMurphy. "He's still
trying to pull people out of the fog," the Chief says. "Why don't
he leave me be?" McMurphy is arguing about watching the
World Series. He wants a new vote. This time a few of the
patients have been impressed enough by McMurphy's attempt
to lift the control panel, and are annoyed enough at Nurse
Ratched that they back him up. As the vote is taken, the Chief
imagines that McMurphy's red, work-strong hand is pulling
each Acute out of the fog to stand with him.

McMurphy wins the votes of everyone who took part in the
election, all twenty Acutes. In any true democracy that should
give him a victory. But the Nurse goes by her own rules, which
say that McMurphy requires a majority of everyone in the
ward, including the Chronics who are incapable of
understanding an election. He needs twenty one votes.

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