One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest | Study Guide

Ken Kesey

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Course Hero. "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Study Guide." Course Hero. 28 July 2016. Web. 22 Nov. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/One-Flew-Over-the-Cuckoos-Nest/>.

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Course Hero. (2016, July 28). One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved November 22, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/One-Flew-Over-the-Cuckoos-Nest/

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Course Hero. "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Study Guide." July 28, 2016. Accessed November 22, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/One-Flew-Over-the-Cuckoos-Nest/.

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Course Hero, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Study Guide," July 28, 2016, accessed November 22, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/One-Flew-Over-the-Cuckoos-Nest/.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest | Part 1, Chapter 1 | Summary

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Summary

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest takes place in a psychiatric hospital in the early 1960s. The first-person narrator, Bromden, is a patient there. Bromden, known as "Chief Broom" around the ward because the aides always have him cleaning, pretends he is deaf and dumb. When the reader meets Bromden, he is being teased by the aides as he starts his daily cleaning routine.

Nurse Ratched enters the ward to begin her shift. Spying the gossiping aides, she "goes into a crouch" like a jungle predator. Before Bromden's eyes, Nurse Ratched transforms into an enormous beast, splitting her crisp white nurse's uniform. Just as quickly, she turns back into her human form and suggests that Bromden be taken for a shave.

Bromden panics and hides in a closet, but he is soon found and dragged to the shaving room. He manages to hold himself together until the electric shaver reaches his temples; then he begins to yell uncontrollably. A cold, white fog envelops his body as Nurse Ratched storms into the shaving room. Bromden tells the reader that, despite his fear of Nurse Ratched and the hospital, this is a story he has to tell, "about the hospital, and her, and the guys—and about McMurphy."

Analysis

Ken Kesey sets the tone for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest with one simple sentence: "They're out there." Bromden lives in terror of what's "out there," beyond the fog: the wisecracking hospital aides, the militant nurse, the mysterious machinery slipped into a person's head during a routine shave. His entire existence revolves around fear.

Bromden's fear is understandable. He sees things that no one else seems to notice: the head nurse turning into a monster, an aide becoming more dog than human. Kesey uses these descriptions to establish Bromden as an unreliable narrator. His hallucinations remind the reader that Bromden's portrayal of the story may not be what actually happened. Bromden admits that himself, saying, "It's still hard for me to have a clear mind thinking on it."

Nurse Ratched's role as a villain is established early in the book, yet her villainy appears almost pleasant. Instead of yelling at the gossiping aides, she passive-aggressively smiles and points out just how much work there is to do on a Monday morning. The reader infers her true nature based on Bromden's reaction to her presence on the ward and his subsequent hallucination. The reader also learns about Nurse Ratched's large breasts, which Bromden describes as "a mistake ... made somehow in manufacturing." While some might perceive an ample bust as an asset, Bromden notes that "you can see how bitter she is about it," because this feature exposes her as a woman in a society that does not value women. Nurse Ratched's breasts are portrayed as her Achilles' heel, or her weakness, throughout the novel.

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