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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - Barron's Booknotes
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The visitors leave. As a final reminder of their ignorance, they
call the tribe by the wrong name. (Navajos of course live in the
Southwest, hundreds of miles from the Columbia River.)

The Chief is amazed he can remember so much with such
clarity. In the first scene, we recall, the fear of the present
seeped through to destroy his memories of the past; that hasn't
happened here. Something about McMurphy and the idea of a
fishing trip has cleared his mind. But the Chief's thoughts are
interrupted by an aide cleaning up the gum Chief Bromden has
for years stuck under his bed. In the neighboring bunk,
McMurphy is angry at the disturbance of his sleep why
couldn't the aide do this work earlier? But then he finds the
collected gum amusing.

McMurphy knows the Chief isn't deaf, but this is only the
second time he's shown his awareness of that fact. Now he
starts to sing to the Chief a popular song, "Does Your Chewing
Gum Lose Its Flavor On the Bedpost Overnight?" The Chief,
though desperately wanting to laugh, is afraid to reveal his
secret. But when McMurphy offers him a stick of gum he says
"Thank you"- the first words he has spoken out loud in half a
lifetime.



The Chief is out of practice at laughing and at talking, but
McMurphy reassures him that he has all night to practice if he
wants. The Chief remains silent, though-what he wants to say
is something that would show his affection for McMurphy, but
he is afraid it would sound odd. So he listens as McMurphy
tells him about his own childhood experiences of staying silent
while adults paid no attention to him, then getting his revenge.
He asks if the Chief is playing the same game.

No, the Chief answers. He is too scared, too small. McMurphy
objects that the Chief stands a head taller than any man in the
ward. But we understand that the Chief's view of height and
size has nothing to do with physical stature and everything to
do with psychological strength. His father, so tall he was
known as the Pine-That-Stands-Tallest-on-the-Mountain, was
made small by his mother. His mother stood only five-foot-
nine, but she was a giant.

The Chief says that it wasn't only his mother who made his
father small; it was the forces that make up what he calls the
Combine. He explains to McMurphy the Combine's workings-
how it destroyed the Indian village and waterfall for a dam,
how it gave his father money but stole his self-respect. The
Chief warns that McMurphy may suffer the same fate: the
Combine will install machines to destroy him, just as it
destroyed his father by reducing him to a pathetic drunk. The
Chief admits that he's been "talking crazy," and McMurphy
agrees that he has-but then adds that the Chief's "craziness"
makes a certain sense. The Chief is so happy that someone has
broken down the wall of fear that isolated him he wants to
touch McMurphy, not out of sexual desire (though he briefly
fears that is the case) but out of gratitude and love.

McMurphy asks the Chief if he wants to join the fishing trip,
trying to heighten the Chief's interest by admitting the "aunts"
from Portland are in fact prostitutes. When the Chief confesses
that he has no money, McMurphy works out a deal that recalls
his failed effort to lift the control panel in scene eleven, Part
One, and that foreshadows the end of the book. McMurphy will
pay for the Chief's trip, and he promises to make the Chief as
big as he once was (which of course means giving the Chief
back his self-respect). In return the Chief has to promise to lift
the control panel. McMurphy plans to win bets on the stunt.

McMurphy describes the wonderful life the Chief will lead
once he regains his size. This is McMurphy's Western, tall tale
humor; he could be describing a modern Paul Bunyan: "Well
well well, what giant's this here, takin' ten feet at a step and
duckin' for telephone wires?" Women will pant after the Chief
and men will be terrified. McMurphy's talk is convincing. As
he leaves to add the Chief's name to the trip list, he lifts up the
Chief's bedsheet. Bromden's erection is a sign of his recovery,
his re-entry into the world of health and strength.

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