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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 2, Chapter 3 | Summary



The ward is now in an uproar of complaints and suggestions, but Nurse Ratched remains cool and collected, as if she thinks she still has the upper hand. At the swimming pool, McMurphy chats up the lifeguard, a former professional football player who is now in the Disturbed ward. They argue the merits of prison versus the hospital. The lifeguard points out that at least in prison a person knows when he's going to get out. When someone is involuntarily committed, like he and McMurphy are, the length of stay is indeterminate.

The next day, McMurphy wakes before everyone else and starts cleaning harder than ever before. When Cheswick throws a fit about the rationing of cigarettes, McMurphy refuses to engage. So do the other Acutes, and Cheswick is sent up to the Disturbed ward.

Within a few days, everyone has figured out why McMurphy has become a model patient. They all understand, even Cheswick, who is newly returned from Disturbed. Cheswick says that he wishes that "something mighta been done"; he then purposefully gets his fingers stuck in the grate at the bottom of the pool and drowns.


Nurse Ratched's ward runs so smoothly in part because of the type of men she allows to stay there. Very few have exhibited behavioral problems, and those who do, like Cheswick, are immediately sent to Disturbed until they calm down. Because of this, McMurphy has just started to realize how ill some of the men in the hospital actually are. The lifeguard's delusions make McMurphy uncomfortable, and he is perhaps wondering if he made the wrong choice between prison and a mental hospital.

McMurphy becomes even more upset when he realizes who holds the keys to his freedom. The other patients, for the most part, accept McMurphy's change in behavior. But to Cheswick, McMurphy's most stalwart disciple, this change in demeanor is a sign that Nurse Ratched has won the war. Cheswick can't bear the thought of his hero defeated, nor the thought of enduring countless more years of humiliation at the nurse's hand, so he purposefully ends his life.

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