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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - Barron's Booknotes
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The final scene in the book begins with the Chief announcing
that McMurphy's escape would have been doomed even if he
had left the hospital at 6 as planned. Somehow he would have
heard what Nurse Ratched did to Billy, and he would have
been forced to return for a final showdown with her.

The hospital has never seen anything like this morning. At first
the patients stand solemn and still as the evidence of their
disobedience is gathered, but soon each new reminder of last
night's party-cough syrup bottles, wheelchairs-amuses them as
much as it angers the Nurse.

Turkle lets Sandy escape, and Harding urges McMurphy to
follow her. But McMurphy, who looks "sick and terrifically
tired," refuses. One of the aides notices that Billy Bibbit is
missing, but no one will admit they know where he is. This
refusal of her patients to spill their secrets further enrages
Nurse Ratched.

Billy and Candy are discovered in the Seclusion room. Sleepy,
still a little drunk, they ignore the Nurse's outrage at first. Billy
is pleased that he's gained his manhood, but the Nurse will not
let him remain a man. She uses all of her powers to reduce him
once more to a disobedient child. She will have to tell Mrs.
Bibbit what Billy did, she warns, and Mrs. Bibbit will be very
disappointed. The tactic works. Billy begs the Nurse not to tell,
blames his situation on Candy, on McMurphy, even on
Harding. Seconds before, he could speak without stuttering:
now he is again a stuttering, weak-willed child. Nurse Ratched
sends him into the doctor's office.

The Chief looks at McMurphy and sees that, although he is
tired, he is just "resting a second before he came out for the
next round" of the fight. The Combine never lets up; all you
can do is keep fighting until you're worn down, then send
someone else to fight in your place. The doctor goes into his
office and discovers that Billy has killed himself by cutting his
throat. The Nurse immediately blames McMurphy for this
death, just as she blamed him for Cheswick's.

The Chief knows that the final battle is about to begin. He
would like to prevent it but realizes that he can't. He and the
other patients are the people who are making McMurphy fight
the Nurse; during his last weeks of shock therapy, their need
for him has given him his only reason to go on living.

Now, for a few minutes, McMurphy is his old self, a movie
cowboy, his cap a Stetson, his bare feet jangling on the floor
tiles as if they were spurred. Once again he breaks the glass of
Nurse Ratched's office. This time, however, he doesn't stop
with that: he attacks her, too. Up to a point, the attack succeeds.
The Nurse's smiling, doll-like face can never hold the power it
once held, now that it has shown such terror, the breasts visible
under the ripped uniform reveal what the Nurse has so long
tried to deny-that she, too, is a human being, not a sexless,
perfectly tuned machine.

But McMurphy's victory is brief. Battered by supervisors, he
falls unconscious, crying like a cornered, dying animal.

The Chief tells us that he remained in the hospital for a few
weeks more, simply to see what would happen to the Ward.
Many changes do occur. Though McMurphy has lost the war
for himself, he has won it for others. Patients are feeling brave
enough to sign themselves out of the hospital, or at least out of
Nurse Ratched's ward. The doctor, too, shows uncharacteristic
courage: when pressured to resign, he announces the hospital
will have to fire him. Harding takes on McMurphy's old role as
card sharp and Bull Goose Looney.

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

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