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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest | Study Guide

Ken Kesey

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest | Part 1, Chapter 2 | Summary



Bromden emerges from the fog to find himself in the day room. He describes the three aides working in the ward, then hears the lock on the ward door click. He speculates about who is on the other side. It's a new admission—a burly redhead with a leather jacket. The man introduces himself, saying, "McMurphy, buddies, R.P. McMurphy, and I'm a gambling fool." His boisterous personality and nonstop talking remind Bromden of a used-car salesman. In an attempt to avoid an intake shower, McMurphy immediately begins introducing himself to everyone on the ward.


While gentle and soothing on the ward floor, Nurse Ratched's three aides show their true colors behind closed doors, harassing patients and stealing food. Yet nothing compares to the horrors faced during the admissions process. Bromden doesn't come right out and say the aides rape new patients, but it's heavily implied. It's also implied that Nurse Ratched is aware of what the aides are doing. This possibility is symbolized by the gallon-sized jar of lubricant she leaves with the aides, ostensibly intended for use with a rectal thermometer.

Bromden assures the reader, "I'm out there most days, and I see it like that." That's not really an assurance at all. Bromden's unreliability as a narrator puts everything into question, including his own memory. Not knowing what really happens in the showers makes the aides seem even more threatening than if Bromden's memory could be trusted.

Bromden's memory seems crystal clear when it comes to the new admission. It's no coincidence that the fog from the shaving room lifts as the sound of the key hits his ears. McMurphy is an anomaly on Nurse Ratched's ward before he even gets into view. His voice is "loud, brassy," and he has a big laugh. It's the first genuine laugh anyone on the ward has heard in years, and it illustrates the stark differences between McMurphy and the rest of the men.

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