Revising Cuckoo’s Nest – McMurphy

OK, I think we all know that this is going to be a hard year in terms of time (and the lack of it!). So, we need to be revising and I want to start with ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ by Ken Kesey.

Let’s look at McMurphy. His arrival is a direct challenge to the power of the Combine. Even his initials give promise of something dynamic – R.P.M – revolution per minute – revs. He introduces the patients to revolt – gambling, drinking, independence, laughter – which means conflict with Big Nurse.

In this battle with the system (Combine) – a battle to the death – McMurphy has three different roles:

  1. persecutor
  2. victim
  3. rescuer
  1. He has a head-on confrontation with the institution – he bets with patients, gets the better of Nurse Ratched – he seems to have a number of victories BUT discovers he is committed and others are voluntary. This rattles him but he returns to battle by putting a fist through the window of the Nurses Station, he follows this with the battle over the baseball game, the fishing trip and fights the aide. He does this irrespective of the inevitable punishment.
  2. McMurphy is a victim – his defeat is inevitable as it is an uneven battle between him and the nurse. Ratched has three final weapons – EST, her control over when he is released and the lobotomy. Note the symbol of his victimisation – the cross shaped table and crown of thorns in ‘the shock shop’.
  3. As the rescuer McMurphy has a mission to rescue patients from the mind numbing effects of hospital routine. A symbol of this can be seen in Bromden’s response to the fog. McMurphy’s main defense against the Combine is laughter – it has a huge impact on the ward. Laughter is both a gesture of defiance and a symbol of freedom and mental independence.

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