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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 4, Chapter 1 | Summary



The Acutes, encouraged by Nurse Ratched, attempt to figure out McMurphy's motivations for initiating so many activities in the ward. They wonder if he's crazier than he lets on. "Crazy like a fox," Nurse Ratched confirms. Harding points out that McMurphy has always been upfront about his motives and that they have all gotten their "money's worth" of fun out of their games with him.

Billy and Bromden are the last to question McMurphy's motives. McMurphy has taught Billy to dance, but Billy later learns that his friend's motives weren't so altruistic after all. In return, McMurphy wants Billy to send Candy some money for her upcoming hospital visit, some of which will be used to buy McMurphy booze. Later, McMurphy asks Bromden to demonstrate how big he's grown by lifting the control panel in the tub room. McMurphy then cons the other Acutes into betting that no man can lift the mammoth panel. Bromden begrudgingly lifts it again, and McMurphy collects on the bet. Bromden is disappointed in his friend for being interested only in money and winning.

The men who went on the fishing trip are herded into the showers for a special cleansing. The process is humiliating, requiring each man to spread his buttocks for the aides. George becomes hysterical as one aide, Washington, tries to soap him down. McMurphy tells Washington to back off. Washington says he's being threatened and swings at McMurphy, which starts a brutal fight. Warren, another aide, grabs McMurphy from behind, and Bromden enters the fray, throwing Warren into the showers. Williams, the third aide, runs for Nurse Ratched, and Bromden and McMurphy are soon on their way to Disturbed in leather handcuffs.


According to Nurse Ratched, McMurphy's primary motivators are greed and ego. She says he's "crazy like a fox" because he's not crazy at all, but rather a sly trickster who uses other people to get what he wants, be it money or adulation. She is confident that McMurphy will no longer have any power once his followers realize he is nothing but a self-centered trickster.

She has underestimated both her patients and her enemy. Though the Acutes and Bromden are well aware of McMurphy's reputation as a successful gambler and huckster, they are unwilling to assign him the role of villain. Harding continues to defend McMurphy, and Billy can't help but laugh when McMurphy outright swindles $20 out of him. The men in the ward love McMurphy, even if he's just using them to make the most of his time in the hospital. He has changed their lives for the better, and, as Harding points out, that's worth all of the money they have lost to him.

It is McMurphy's defense of George in the showers that solidifies to Bromden and the others that McMurphy's actions go beyond his own self-interests. There is nothing McMurphy can gain from defending George, and he knows fighting back against the aides will end badly. McMurphy doesn't want to fight—when he tells Washington to back off, his voice is quiet and resigned, as if this is a battle he wishes to avoid. He can't. No matter how much he denies it to himself or anyone else, McMurphy's actions are motivated by the need to protect those who are weaker than himself.

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