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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 3 | Summary



McMurphy is subjected to three more shock treatments in rapid succession, while Bromden is sent back to Nurse Ratched's ward. He regales the other patients with stories about the missing hero. Nurse Ratched realizes that McMurphy's absence from the ward has caused his presence to grow larger, so she decides to bring him back while continuing the shock treatments.

Harding, Bromden, and Scanlon devise a plan to help McMurphy escape, but McMurphy has a party planned, which will include a date between Candy and Bill. Candy and her friend Sandy arrive around two o'clock in the morning. The night aide, Mr. Turkle, opens the nurses' station; McMurphy picks the lock to the drug room. The partygoers drink cough syrup cut with vodka and play flashlight tag in the halls. Billy and Candy go to the Seclusion Room.

Harding, Bromden, McMurphy, and Mr. Turkle are left to figure what to do about the destroyed ward. Harding hastily concocts a plan that will lay the blame entirely on McMurphy, who will escape before the day shift arrives. McMurphy questions why Harding and Bromden aren't leaving with him but agrees to the plan. He and Sandy go to bed and await Mr. Turkle's six o'clock wake-up. When the day shift arrives at six-thirty, they're still there.


McMurphy's presence has irrevocably changed the patients in Nurse Ratched's ward. Bromden, a man who spent years silently lost in a fog, fights his way out of a shock-therapy-induced stupor and holds court while telling tall tales of his experiences upstairs. The day room that had lacked laughter for so long is now full of it; even the Chronics are grinning and snorting along. Men who were once scared rabbits are now simply sick men who may have a chance at becoming well men someday. McMurphy's brand of therapy, though unconventional, is far more successful than Nurse Ratched's terrifying treatments.

McMurphy is the only man on the ward who hasn't made some sort of improvement since his arrival. This is because the origins of his illness are very different from those of the other Acutes. Whereas many of the men felt threatened by society's expectations and sought comfort in the mental hospital, McMurphy's need for comfort doesn't arise until he's committed. Harding explains, "There's something else that drives people, strong people like you ... down that road. ... It is us." The weight of responsibility for his fellow patients hangs heavy on McMurphy's shoulders, and it's wearing away at his mental state.

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