One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest | Study Guide

Ken Kesey

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest | Quotes


But it's the truth even if it didn't happen.

Bromden, Part 1, Chapter 1

Chief Bromden recognizes that he is an unreliable narrator, but he wants the reader to know that his version of events, while perhaps not factually correct, accurately illustrates the emotions and thoughts associated with the events of the story.


There's no doubt in my mind that McMurphy's won, but I'm not sure just what.

Bromden, Part 1, Chapter 3

After a verbal face-off with Harding, McMurphy successfully (and easily) establishes himself as the craziest man in the ward. Bromden acknowledges that McMurphy is now the top dog in the ward, but he is not sure if such a position is desirable.


The ritual of our existence is based on the strong getting stronger by devouring the weak.

Dale Harding, Part 1, Chapter 5

Harding describes how Nurse Ratched maintains her power over the men in the ward. She is a wolf while they are mere rabbits. The more rabbits the wolf eats, the stronger the wolf gets. This idea applies to the larger world as well. The strong continue getting stronger while the weak (or the different) suffer.


The secret of being a top-notch con man is being able to know what the mark wants, and how to make him think he's getting it.

Randle McMurphy, Part 1, Chapter 6

McMurphy approaches his time in the hospital as he would a con. He makes his fellow patients feel manly and brave and receives money and attention in return. He makes Dr. Spivey feel as if he is contributing to the betterment of the ward, which allows McMurphy to get his own way in the end.


She don't lose on her losses, but she wins on ours.

Bromden, Part 1, Chapter 9

Bromden explains that Nurse Ratched runs the ward and makes the rules, so it simply is not possible to beat her every time. She is unbeatable in the long game.


'But I tried, though,' he says. 'Goddammit, I sure as hell did that much, now, didn't I?'

Randle McMurphy, Part 1, Chapter 11

McMurphy points out that he, unlike the other men in the ward, went after something he wanted. That is one of the key differences between McMurphy and the rest of the Acutes. When he wants something he does everything he can to get it even if failure is inevitable. The Acutes are so afraid of failure that they do not try to better their situations at all.


Maybe that makes him strong enough, being what he is.

Bromden, Part 2, Chapter 2

Bromden wonders if part of McMurphy's ability to stand up to the nurse comes from his acceptance of who he is. None of the other men in the ward like themselves, and they have never been able to stand up to her.


Damned if you do and damned if you don't. Puts a man in one confounded bind, I'd say.

Scanlon, Part 2, Chapter 4

Scanlon refers to the struggle Sefelt faces with his seizure medication. Sefelt will not have seizures if he takes the medication, but the side effects cause his gums to rot and his teeth to fall out. He loses either way. This sentiment is applicable to all the men in the ward. If they stand up to Nurse Ratched she will make their lives miserable with torturous treatments. If they meekly stand by they lose their self-confidence and become even more depressed.


In this country, when something is out of order, then the quickest way to get it fixed is the best way.

Dale Harding, Part 2, Chapter 7

Harding's insight about electroshock therapy speaks to Kesey's views about the larger problems of 1950s America. Problems do not seem like problems if nobody pays attention to them.


Because he knows you have to laugh at the things that hurt you just to keep yourself in balance, just to keep the world from running you plumb crazy.

Bromden, Part 3, Chapter 2

McMurphy does recognize the bad things in life, but he knows that he cannot let them bring him down. There has to be a balance between good and bad, happy and sad. The fishing trip teaches the other Acutes this important lesson.


The thing he was fighting, you couldn't whip it for good. All you could do was keep on whipping it till you couldn't come out anymore and somebody else had to take your place.

Bromden, Part 4, Chapter 4

Bromden knows that McMurphy's battle with Nurse Ratched cannot be won. However, when someone fights the establishment, he has to keep going until he wears out. When McMurphy "wears out," Bromden and the Acutes are ready to take his place.


I been away a long time.

Bromden, Part 4, Chapter 4

The last line of the book is both literal and figurative. It has been nearly 20 years since Bromden last visited the gorge, and it has been far longer since he has felt anything like himself and the man he wants to be. Thanks to McMurphy, Bromden's true self returns.

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