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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 3, Chapter 1 | Summary



McMurphy is back on top in the ward and starts a basketball team. There's a feeling of recklessness in the air. Dr. Spivey ignores Nurse Ratched's request to keep the basketball in the gym, Harding flirts with the young nurses, and Billy stops writing his lengthy observations in the logbook.

McMurphy puts his fist through a window after his first request for a day pass is denied. He tries again a week later and asks to take some of the men from the ward on a deep-sea fishing trip. His request is approved, but Nurse Ratched immediately starts bringing in newspaper clippings about the dangers of the sea. McMurphy has a hard time getting enough guys signed up. Bromden wants to go, but he doesn't want anyone to know that he's not actually deaf.

Bromden recalls the exact moment he faded into the background. He was 10 years old and living on the reservation when three people from the government came to talk to his father about buying the tribe's land. He tries to remember more from his childhood but is interrupted by the sound of Geever chipping hardened gum off his bed frame while everyone sleeps.

McMurphy gives Bromden a pack of Juicy Fruit gum after Geever leaves, to which Bromden says, "Thank you." These are the first words Bromden has spoken in years. He ends up telling McMurphy everything—about his parents, about the Combine, and about the mistakes McMurphy has been making with Nurse Ratched. McMurphy invites Bromden on the fishing trip despite the fact that Bromden has no money. In exchange, Bromden will allow McMurphy to make him "big" again.


Bromden's recollections of his childhood reveal the roots of his particular illness. He thinks, "It wasn't me that started acting deaf; it was people that first started acting like I was too dumb to hear or see or say anything at all." The government representatives' blatant disregard for 10-year-old Bromden resulted in his first dissociative episode. Time stopped, everything became brighter, and he could see the seams at which the strangers were put together, like they were robots. Bromden has been ignored by people in authority—the government, the army, the hospital staff—his whole life, which has caused him to feel smaller and smaller.

The same thing happened to his father. Tee Ah Millatoona was emasculated by the government, by his tribe, and by his wife, making him shrink in his son's eyes. Bromden's mother, however, "got bigger all the time"; being white, she had all the power in the family and, eventually, in the tribe. Bromden has a similar relationship with Nurse Ratched. She holds the power, and the resulting emasculation makes him feel small. "I used to be big, but not no more. You're twice the size of me," Bromden explains to McMurphy.

Bromden idolizes McMurphy for his confidence and masculinity. "I want to touch him because he's a man," Bromden says. Throughout the book, Bromden has remained physically close to McMurphy, almost as if he could soak up some of his confidence by simply sharing the same space. His reverence for the new man in the ward echoes the way he used to feel about his father. Bromden believes the Combine stripped Tee Ah Millatoona of his manhood, and he worries it has already started doing the same to McMurphy. The last thing Bromden wants is to see another hero destroyed.

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