One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What do Nurse Ratched and McMurphy believe are the keys to defeating one another?

    Answer: Nurse Ratched believes that letting McMurphy know how long he will ultimately stay in the joint without her permission to leave will inevitably force him to behave. McMurphy, meanwhile, believes that contesting Nurse Ratched for power and testing her sexual boundaries will make her "crack."

  2. 2

    What do the black boys represent?

    Answer: They seem to have no personality other than being vehicles for Nurse Ratched's hatred. They are her henchmen. They represent the dark anger, the overpowering rage, that lies inside of her and exists almost outside of herself after being buried for so long.

  3. 3

    What is Nurse Ratched's primary technique of manipulation among the men of the ward?

    Answer: She relies principally on emasculation to destabilize them. In the case of Billy Bibbit, for instance, she threatens to tell his mother of his behavior problems. She emasculates Harding by siding with his overbearing, domineering wife.

  4. 4

    What is the purpose of EST in the context of the patients' individual treatments?

    Answer: Electroshock therapy, as described by Chief Bromden, should be used only in the most extreme cases since it essentially induces seizure in order to clear the brain. But in the case of these inmates, Nurse Ratched uses it as punishment, somehow to "teach." If someone is not responsive, she is willing to take the next step and use lobotomy as punishment.

  5. 5

    How might the story of McMurphy be understood as a religious metaphor?

    Answer: McMurphy himself recognizes the Christian metaphor of his sacrifice and death for the sake of the other inmates. A number of explicit allusions back up this metaphor. McMurphy takes twelve disciples on the fishing trip, is betrayed by a Judas figure, wears a crown of thorns for his ultimate punishment, and is taken down and essentially killed by a repressive regime. He is a kind of Christ-figure in the novel even if the resurrection is Chief Bromden's and not McMurphy's.

  6. 6

    Why is Chief Bromden the narrator instead of McMurphy?

    Answer: If McMurphy were the narrator, he could not quite be telling the tell as a fable. He would be empowered to control the path of the narrative--if he were still sane. But Bromden, who has not been lobotomized but freed, recounts McMurphy's story and takes the lesson to the outside world. He becomes the messenger.

  7. 7

    Chief Bromden believes in the "fog" and the power of the "Combine." Explain both in the context of the book's themes.

    Answer: The fog is, on an individual level, a kind of mental dimness or confusion that also represents the thickness of delusion and suffering that prevents the inmates from seeing their true situation and their true selves. The Combine is, on a social level, a repressive institution and all the individual wheels and cogs in it that ensure that the inmates stay quiescent.

  8. 8

    Does McMurphy forget to leave on the night of his escape, or is it a purposeful self-sacrifice?

    Answer: When McMurphy supposedly oversleeps and is discovered, we must question the depth of his motivation to escape. McMurphy has found deep fulfillment in helping the men in the ward, especially Bromden, despite his increasing personal frustration. But he also has been letting his frustration distance himself somewhat from his initial efforts at leadership. McMurphy may well be the kind of person who is immoderate in his desires and who might end up oversleeping even while he might have preferred to escape.

  9. 9

    What is the place of Nurse Ratched after McMurphy's lobotomy?

    Answer: McMurphy has figuratively disrobed Nurse Ratched, disempowering her and because she has been exposed as human. Her power over the men is further broken, despite her clear victory over McMurphy as an individual. "Thoughts are free," but if part of one's brain has been removed, one does not even have much in the way of thoughts. Ratched has been stripped of much of her authority, her credibility in the overall institution has been further eroded, and Bromden finally gains the independence to escape.

  10. 10

    Is Nurse Ratched the true villain of the story?

    Answer: Nurse Ratched is nominally the villain, but she symbolizes a somewhat broken institutional system and the problems of a larger, repressive society that subjugates individualism to conformity. She is part of the Combine, and her place in the machine will likely be taken by another upon her demise. Still, she is particularly cruel at a level beyond that of the other doctors and nurses.