One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Study Guide

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest By Ken Kesey

Bromden, a half-Indian who has faked being a deaf-mute for years, narrates the tale of Patrick McMurphy. McMurphy has just arrived in an all-male asylum after faking insanity to get out of prison for a battery charge. The tyrannical Nurse Ratched and her three black orderlies run the place with iron fists.

McMurphy, a constant thorn it Ratched's side, upsets every routine and constantly introduces disorder into the asylum. He encourages the inmates to gamble on card games, watch the World Series on TV, and other activities that Ratched disapproves of. At one point, Ratched takes both Bromden and McMurphy in for electroshock 'therapy' to try to subdue them, but McMurphy is irrepressible.

After bribing the night orderly one night, McMurphy smuggles in liquor and whores, and convinces one of the prostitutes to seduce Billy Bibbit, a timid virgin. The plan is to escape before the morning crew arrives, but everyone passes out from the liquor. Nurse Ratched admonishes Billy, whom she finds in the arms of the prostitute, but Billy asserts himself for the first time, telling Ratched off. When the Nurse threatens to call Billy's mother, Billy has a breakdown and kills himself. McMurphy attacks Nurse Ratched, blaming her for Billy's death, and attempts to strangle her to death.

When Nurse Ratched returns after a week, she finds that most of her inmates have transferred away or checked out entirely. She can no longer speak, and thus is largely emasculated. In the end, only Bromden is in the ward when McMurphy is finally allowed back in.

Bromden sees McMurphy in a nearly vegetative state, with none of his usual spark, and realizes that Ratched has had him lobotomized. Rather than allow the other residents to see McMurphy finally defeated and broken at the hands of Ratched, Bromden smothers McMurphy with a pillow and breaks out the asylum to return to his tribal lands.

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