One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest: Summary and Psychological Influence

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest takes place in a mental institution in the Pacific Northwest. Chief Bromden, or Chief Broom, narrates the novel. Chief is large half-Indian who has been on the ward for 10 years and has led everyone to believe he is deaf and dumb. We immediately discover his paranoia, and learn he also suffers from hallucinations, including the Combine (a government-like assembly that controls society) and a mysterious fog that fills the ward. The institution is dominated by Nurse Ratched (Big Nurse), a cold, precise woman with calculated gestures and a calm, mechanical manner. When the novel opens, a new patient, Randall Patrick McMurphy, arrives at the ward. He is a self-professed 'gambling fool' who has just come from a work farm at Pendleton. He introduces himself to the other men on the ward, including Dale Harding, president of the patient's council, and Billy Bibbit, a patient who stutters and appears very young. Both of these men are members of the Acutes, a division of patients consisting of those who can be cured, rather than the Chronics who cannot be. Nurse Ratched immediately sizes McMurphy up and arrives at the decision that he is a trouble maker and a manipulator.

During the first group meeting, it is revealed that McMurphy has been convicted of statutory rape and that is why he was at the work farm. As the meeting continues, McMurphy witnesses the tearing to pieces of the patients by fellow patients, led by Nurse Ratched. This disgust him and he lets the patients know- calling them chickens. The patients admit to their fear of the Big Nurse. Being the gambling man he is, McMurphy then makes a wager with them that he can get Nurse Ratched to "crack" within the first week.

And so the battle begins. McMurphy taunts the Big Nurse and her staff whenever he finds a chance. Much to everyone's surprise, though, McMurphy is not sent to the Disturbed Ward, but Nurse Ratched keeps him on her ward, hoping to prove to the other patients...
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