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 6 | Summary



The Acutes and Bromden go to the hospital library. Harding's wife visits, but the spouses don't seem pleased to see each other. They trade insults, and she asks Harding for a cigarette. He doesn't have any, but an uncomfortable McMurphy does. Mrs. Harding flirts with him before mentioning that some of Harding's friends have been dropping by the house. She describes these friends as "hoity-toity boys with ... the limp little wrists that flip so nice." She then abruptly leaves.

Harding asks McMurphy what he thinks of his wife. McMurphy says he doesn't feel sorry for either of them—they are both terrible to each other. McMurphy then gets angry with everyone in the library, yelling, "I've got worries of my own without getting hooked with yours. So just quit!" He apologizes to Harding a few hours later, mentioning that he's been having bad dreams all week.

The next morning, the Acutes are playing cards in the tub room. Martini is at the control panel, pretending to be a fighter pilot. He suddenly stops, pointing out invisible people he sees hanging from the straps. He tells McMurphy the people "need you to see them," and McMurphy gets angry. Martini backs down, pretending he was just kidding. McMurphy goes back to shuffling his cards, but he can't control his trembling hands.


Harding's encounter with his wife confirms what the reader has speculated thus far: Harding is gay. Homosexuality was all but banned in the 1950s, and Mrs. Harding's words and actions clearly reflect the attitude of the general public at the time. Her husband, the complete opposite of the stereotypical masculine head of the household so greatly favored during the 1950s, has failed her. Her only means of retaliation is humiliation, first by insinuating that Harding is "lacking" in all aspects of their marriage, then by accepting a cigarette from McMurphy, a living, breathing example of machismo.

McMurphy's innate masculinity has inadvertently made him the patriarch of the ward, and the role of problem solver is wearing him down. It bothers him to see other men suffer, but the only way he knows to help is to fight Nurse Ratched. He can't do that if he wants to be released. His dreams are a symptom of the guilt he feels for saving himself. That's why he has such a severe reaction to Martini's invisible people—he can see them, but he can't save them.

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