What do Nurse Ratched and McMurphy believe are the keys to defeating one another?
Answer: Nurse Ratched believes that letting McMurphy know how long he will ultimately stay in the joint without her permission to leave will inevitably force him to behave. McMurphy, meanwhile, believes that contesting Nurse Ratched for power and testing her sexual boundaries will make her "crack."
What do the black boys represent?
Answer: They seem to have no personality other than being vehicles for Nurse Ratched's hatred. They are her henchmen. They represent the dark anger, the overpowering rage, that lies inside of her and exists almost outside of herself after being buried for so long.
What is Nurse Ratched's primary technique of manipulation among the men of the ward?
Answer: She relies principally on emasculation to destabilize them. In the case of Billy Bibbit, for instance, she threatens to tell his mother of his behavior problems. She emasculates Harding by siding with his overbearing, domineering wife.
What is the purpose of EST in the context of the patients' individual treatments?
Answer: Electroshock therapy, as described by Chief Bromden, should be used only in the most extreme cases since it essentially induces seizure in order to clear the brain. But in the case of these inmates, Nurse Ratched uses it as punishment, somehow to "teach." If someone is not responsive, she is willing to take the next step and use lobotomy as punishment.
How might the story of McMurphy be understood as a religious metaphor?
Answer: McMurphy himself recognizes the Christian metaphor of his sacrifice and death for the sake of the other inmates. A number of explicit allusions back up this metaphor. McMurphy takes twelve disciples on the fishing trip, is betrayed by a Judas figure, wears a crown of thorns for his ultimate punishment, and is taken down and essentially killed by a repressive regime. He is a kind of Christ-figure in the novel even if the resurrection is Chief Bromden's and not McMurphy's.
Why is Chief Bromden the narrator instead of McMurphy?
Answer: If McMurphy were the narrator, he could not quite be telling the tell as a fable. He would be empowered to control the path of the narrative--if he were still sane. But Bromden, who has not been lobotomized but freed, recounts McMurphy's story and takes the lesson to the outside world. He becomes the messenger.
Chief Bromden believes in the "fog" and the power of the "Combine." Explain both in the context of the book's themes.
Answer: The fog is, on an individual level, a kind of mental dimness or confusion that also represents the thickness of delusion and suffering that prevents the inmates from seeing their true situation and their true selves. The Combine is, on a social level, a repressive institution and all the individual wheels and cogs in it that ensure that the inmates stay quiescent.
Does McMurphy forget to leave on the night of his escape, or is it a purposeful self-sacrifice?
Answer: When McMurphy supposedly oversleeps and is discovered, we must question the depth of his motivation to escape. McMurphy has found deep fulfillment in helping the men in the ward, especially Bromden, despite his increasing personal frustration. But he also has been letting his frustration distance himself somewhat from his initial efforts at leadership. McMurphy may well be the kind of person who is immoderate in his desires and who might end up oversleeping even while he might have preferred to escape.
What is the place of Nurse Ratched after McMurphy's lobotomy?
Answer: McMurphy has figuratively disrobed Nurse Ratched, disempowering her and because she has been exposed as human. Her power over the men is further broken, despite her clear victory over McMurphy as an individual. "Thoughts are free," but if part of one's brain has been removed, one does not even have much in the way of thoughts. Ratched has been stripped of much of her authority, her credibility in the overall institution has been further eroded, and Bromden finally gains the independence to escape.
Is Nurse Ratched the true villain of the story?
Answer: Nurse Ratched is nominally the villain, but she symbolizes a somewhat broken institutional system and the problems of a larger, repressive society that subjugates individualism to conformity. She is part of the Combine, and her place in the machine will likely be taken by another upon her demise. Still, she is particularly cruel at a level beyond that of the other doctors and nurses.
Chief Bromden, the narrator and a patient in a mental hospital near Portland, Oregon. At six feet, eight inches, this Native American is the largest and most physically powerful man in his ward. Other patients call him Chief Broom because he spends much of his time sweeping the floors. He has been forced to undergo numerous electroshock treatments over the years he has been in the hospital. He depends on sedatives to help him cope with his fears and feelings of estrangement from those around him, he refuses to talk, and he has convinced everyone who knows him that he is deaf. The son of an American Indian man and a white woman, he has witnessed his father’s decline into alcoholism after being defeated by an essentially white America and its amoral, homogenizing value system. In fact, he views the mental hospital as part of a huge American Combine that forces men into confinement and prescribed behavior, reducing them to little more than impotent automatons. Chief sees Nurse Ratched as the Combine’s evil, castrating agent against whom it is futile and self-destructive to fight—or so he believes until he changes through exposure to Randle McMurphy. Chief proves himself to be not only equal to McMurphy’s example but also equal to fighting defiantly against the Combine.
Randle McMurphy, a patient in the mental hospital, sent there from the Pendleton Farm of Correction by the state for diagnosis and possible treatment. He he makes it clear that he has feigned psychosis to avoid the physical labor required of him in Pendleton. McMurphy enters the hospital at the age of thirty-five with a history of arrests for street and barroom fights, drunkenness, disturbing the peace, and—among other things—statutory rape. He has fierce red hair and a broken-nosed smile. He is a big-talking, thigh-slapping, and jovial storyteller, but he is also fiercely independent and serves as a defiant role model for several of the other patients in the ward. He helps Chief Bromden to discover self-respect and courage, teaching him that a man’s intentions are more important than the outcome of his actions. He prepares Chief to be heroically self-reliant in the face of terrifying obstacles. From the moment McMurphy enters the ward and finds it run by totalitarian Nurse Ratched and her black attendants, he devotes himself to diminishing her power over the other men and implementing a democratic system of governance. Although he wins numerous small but significant battles against her, she ultimately has the official power to destroy him by means of a forced lobotomy. McMurphy’s indomitable spirit outlives his consciousness, however, as he has effectively created a disciple out of Chief Bromden.
Nurse Ratched, called Big Nurse, the head nurse on the acute ward of the mental hospital. Relying on rules, which she expects all of her patients to follow, Ratched is as mechanical, steel-cold, and unyielding as her name suggests, and she controls her ward so that it resembles an accurate, smooth-running, and efficient machine. To keep her patients obedient and predictable, she treats them like naughty children and browbeats them, has them spy on one another and report to her, and subjects those who cause trouble to electroshock treatments or, for extreme cases, lobotomies. Ultimately, she subjects McMurphy to both treatments, first to punish him and then to destroy him. His influence on the other patients is too great for Ratched to tolerate. His ribald sense of humor makes them laugh and reminds them of the large areas of their lives from which they have been cut off by oppressive rules, fear, and sedatives; he makes them feel ashamed for spying on one another, makes them see what Ratched pretends is a democracy on the ward is actually a dictatorship, offers them a glimpse of their unfettered potential, and shows them that Ratched is a woman hiding her fallible humanness beneath a tyrannical demeanor. Ratched has no qualms about destroying McMurphy, the antithesis to her prescriptive vision of her ward, the hospital, and the world.
Dale Harding, the most highly educated patient on the acute ward; he is extremely articulate. Having suffered impotence in his marriage and fearing that he may be homosexual, Harding is frequently racked by his insecurities and paranoia, all of which Nurse Ratched exacerbates verbally on a regular basis to control him. Although he has spent considerable time convincing himself that Big Nurse is trying to help him become healthy, McMurphy’s influence on the ward compels Harding to be honest about himself and Ratched.
Billy Bibbit, a thirty-one-year-old man whose crippling domination by his mother is made more acute in the hospital. She is the receptionist at the hospital, and Nurse Ratched is a close friend and neighbor to her. Nurse Ratched controls Billy by habitually threatening to report his behavior. He is driven to suicide by such a threat toward the novel’s end, after he is caught enjoying his first sexual encounter with a woman.