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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - Barron's Booknotes
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There's no doubt that the book draws many parallels between
the two, not just in its mention of electro shock therapy but
elsewhere-as in the number of men (twelve) McMurphy leads
to the ocean. But at the same time you may remember those
"Moby Dick" undershorts and wonder how seriously you
should take any symbol in this book. After all, McMurphy is a
drinker, a fighter, a gambler, a womanizer-not a saint. He
didn't enter the hospital to save souls but to find an easy life.
Even now his Christlike words are mixed with radio jingles for
hair tonic.

Still, here he is on a cross-shaped table with an electric crown
of thorns. Like Christ, he has spread a gospel of light and life
in a world of darkness and death, and, after fighting for the
salvation of others, is about to be sacrificed.

Now it's the Chief's turn for treatment. As the electricity passes
through his head, it brings forth a stream of thoughts about his
past-first an air raid in World War II, then a boyhood hunting
trip with his father. He feels ants crawling around him and
remembers that once his father tricked him into eating some.

We see more of the relationship between the Chief's father and
mother. A white woman, she represents the power of the
matriarchy, of whites over Indians, of the modern over the old-
in short, of the Combine. She is the woman the visitors in Part
Three, Scene One, say they will deal with to acquire the Indian
village for the government dam. By forcing her husband to
agree to this deal, and by forcing him to take on her own white
last name (instead of her using his Indian name), she has made
the Chief's father "small." Her complete victory is signalled
when the Chief's father says of his new name, "makes gettin'
that Social Security card a lot easier." Thanks to his wife, the
Chief's father has lost both his livelihood and his identity, and
is reduced to charity.



NOTE: THE BOOK'S TITLE
As the Chief recalls a rhyming game, we see both an
explanation of the book's title, and, in miniature, reminders to
many of the book's themes. The game is "Tingle Tingle Tangle
Toes," which he played with his grandmother.

Tingle tingle tangle toes
She's a good fisherman, catches hens
Puts 'em inna pens.

Wire blier limber lock
Three geese inna flock
One flew east, one flew west
One flew over the cuckoo's nest
O-U-T spells out
Goose sweeps down and plucks you out.

A child again, the Chief says that he doesn't like Mrs. Tingle
Tangle toes, but that he does like his grandma and the goose.
Why? Mrs. Tangle Toes is one of the Combine, imprisoning
fish the way Nurse Ratched imprisons her patients. As for the
geese, we've seen that throughout the book they are symbols of
freedom. Now in this rhyme one of them is flying over a
cuckoo's nest-and cuckoo, of course, is familiar slang for a
crazy person, "cuckoo's nest" a likely term for a mental
hospital. Is Bull Goose Looney McMurphy the swooping goose
in the rhyme? And is the Chief the one the goose plucks out?
Perhaps-but nothing is certain yet. For the rhyme is just a
child's game; the woman who taught it to the Chief is dead
ignored by whites and Indians alike. And the series of images
that follow the rhyme are bleak indeed.

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