One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest: Summary and Psychological Influence

One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest: Summary and Psychological Influence

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest takes place in a mental institution in the Pacific Northwest. Chief Bromden, or Chief Broom, narrates the novel. Chief is large half-Indian who has been on the ward for 10 years and has led everyone to believe he is deaf and dumb. We immediately discover his paranoia, and learn he also suffers from hallucinations, including the Combine (a government-like assembly that controls society) and a mysterious fog that fills the ward. The institution is dominated by Nurse Ratched (Big Nurse), a cold, precise woman with calculated gestures and a calm, mechanical manner.

When the novel opens, a new patient, Randall Patrick McMurphy, arrives at the ward. He is a self-professed ‘gambling fool’ who has just come from a work farm at Pendleton. He introduces himself to the other men on the ward, including Dale Harding, president of the patient’s council, and Billy Bibbit, a patient who stutters and appears very young. Both of these men are members of the Acutes, a division of patients consisting of those who can be cured, rather than the Chronics who cannot be.

Nurse Ratched immediately sizes McMurphy up and arrives at the decision that he is a trouble maker and a manipulator. During the first group meeting, it is revealed that McMurphy has been convicted of statutory rape and that is why he was at the work farm. As the meeting continues, McMurphy witnesses the tearing to pieces of the patients by fellow patients, led by Nurse Ratched. This disgust him and he lets the patients know- calling them chickens. The patients admit to their fear of the Big Nurse.

Being the gambling man he is, McMurphy then makes a wager with them that he can get Nurse Ratched to “crack” within the first week. And so the battle begins. McMurphy taunts the Big Nurse and her staff whenever he finds a chance. Much to everyone’s surprise, though, McMurphy is not sent to the Disturbed Ward, but Nurse Ratched keeps him on her ward, hoping to prove to the other patients that he is merely a coward. But during a trip to the pool, McMurphy discovers that because he has been admitted to the ward, it is the Big Nurse who decides if and when he can leave.

He is at Nurse Ratched’s mercy. This compels him to obey the Nurse and give up his taunts, in hopes of ever being released. When getting chest X-rays to check for TB in another part of the hospital, McMurphy learns about the ‘shock shop,’ where uncontrollable patients are administered electroshock therapy, and also learns about lobotomies. He confronts Harding and the other patients about why they didn’t tell him that Nurse Ratched controls whether or not he leaves, but they claim that they forgot he was committed; with a few exceptions, all of them entered the hospital voluntary.

McMurphy cannot even begin to conceive that these men would choose to live in the hospital, but Billy tells him that they are too weak to leave, and this is becoming more and more clear to McMurphy. For a fun trip, McMurphy plans a fishing outing with some whores. The men sign up, and much to the dismay of Nurse Ratched, they are actually able to go. The men come back from the trip rejuvenated and feeling like men again, rather than mental patients. Upon their arrival back, the Big Nurse orders them to take a special shower incase they picked up anything at sea.

It is at this time that several of the black aids harass one of the patients, George Sorenson. McMurphy defends him, and gets in a fight with them. Chief Bromden joins in when the black boys gang up on McMurphy, and both are taken away to the Disturbed Ward. Both Chief Bromden and McMurphy are given electroshock treatments. Within a week of the treatments, Chief Bromden complies with Nurse Ratched’s demand of an apology, and is returned to the ward, but McMurphy refuses. He is continued to be given shock treatments, but appears unaffected.

Still, Nurse Ratched decides to bring him back to the ward so that the patients might see that he is weakened. On the contrary, McMurphy’s status has only been strengthened in the eyes of the patients, and they plan a party for McMurphy’s escape. One the night of the event, McMurphy’s whore friends arrive with alcohol and they bribe the night watchmen to let them in. The night consists of drinking and smoking marijuana, and Billy goes of with one of the girls he has come to like. But rather than help McMurphy escape and clean up the ward, the men pass out.

They are rudely awakened by the black boys. When Nurse Ratched arrives that morning, she gathers the patients together in one room to take roll. She realizes that Billy Bibbit is missing, and finds him in the Seclusion Room along with the whore he spent the night with. She reprimands him for having sex with such a cheap woman, then tells him that she will tell his mother about this. Billy begins to stutter again when Nurse Ratched threatens to tell his mother, but she takes him in the doctor’s office so that he may calm down.

When the doctor arrives, he finds that Billy has cut his throat and killed himself. Nurse Ratched blames McMurphy for Billy’s suicide, and he responds by trying to strangle her. The black boys attempt to pull McMurphy off her before he can kill her, he rips her uniform, exposing her breasts. Afterward, Nurse Ratched takes time off to recuperate, and when she returns cannot speak. Many of the patients check out of the hospital, and McMurphy returns to the ward weeks later, as a vegetable after having had a lobotomy.

That night, Chief Bromden smothers McMurphy with a pillow to put him out of his misery, then throws the control panel in the tub room through the window and escapes the institution, as McMurphy had long ago suggested. Apart from taking place in a mental institution, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest deals with many elements of psychology. Nurse Ratched employs varies forms of psychology to control her patients. They in turn come to fear her oppression and tyranny so much that they obey her every demand. She uses psychoanalysis to turn her patients against one another.

McMurphy, however, refuses to submit to her power and psychological war is waged between the two. The novel is also significant within the field of psychology because it demonstrates the brutality that mental patients had, and still have to endure. We are provided an insight into the minds of the mentally ill and our naivety about their lives is revealed. Treatments of electroshock therapy and lobotomies are explored, and instead of seeing the “logic” behind them, we see their cruelty. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a psychology phenomenon because it illustrates a point of view we had previously ignored; from the mentally ill themselves.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *