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Facharbeit: “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” written by Ken Kesey

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1 Introduction

Presentation of the theme and my motive to choose it
I chose the subject about “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nestwritten by Ken Kesey in 1962 for my research paper because my mother told me years ago of the accompanying film and how interesting it is. Two years ago a friend of mine came back from his exchange programme in the United States of America. He told me that he and his theatre group there had performed this novel. He was and still is very enthusiastic about the theme and about the way it is written. Although I started reading the novel, I didn’t manage to finish it till the day we had to choose our subjects at school. When I saw this subject on the list, which we were given by our English teacher Mr Schäfer, I was interested immediately. So I chose it.

1.2 My procedure
After reading this novel and watching the film I went to the Braunschweig University Library, where I loaned books about Addiction to games of change, The American history in the sixties and The history of Red Indians to receive an insight into the life of the protagonist. With the use of the internet I got further information.
By choosing my subject I didn’t assume that it would be so difficult to describe Mac Murphy’s decline. I often thought that the psychological background – knowledge would have been helpful. After having written my keywords I didn’t know how to start with my formulations but finally I wrote and wrote and in the end I had too many pages. As a result I had to shorten my text which was more difficult than my first problem.

2 Summary of the novel
A half – Indian named Chief Bromden begins telling the reader about his experiences in an Oregon mental hospital. Head of this hospital is Nurse Ratched, also known as Big Nurse, “(…) a stern, controlling woman who behaves with a serene confidence”. She is the antagonist of the novel, manipulative and dictatorical, using any method to assert her power over the patients. In comparison to Randle Patrick Mac Murphy, the protagonist, she “(…) represents ideas of sexual repression, authoritarianism and conservatism”. The nurse and her new patient, who was admitted to the hospital by the state work farm for observation, are in every way opposed to each other - she demanding control, he revelling freedom.
Mac Murphy is claiming to be in the hospital only to enjoy an easier life than he had at the state work farm. He doesn’t seem crazy with his tales of fighting, gambling and lovemaking he brings laughter into the ward for the first time in years. Immediately he tries to make friends with the other patients. Therefore a confrontation between him and Nurse Ratched is inevitable. She asserts her power, he rebels against it, not realizing that the rebellion may be dangerous. She sees him as a competitor but he however overestimates his position as a competitor. Soon he learns the painful truth: He will not leave the hospital until Nurse Ratched agrees to release him, it doesn’t matter that the time in prison is over. Nervously he begins to obey her rules, but rapidly he enters into the struggle of power again because the inmates are already dependent on his leadership. Realizing this fact he tries to act on their behave and to teach them to think and act for themselves. After having had a serious talk with Nurse Ratched Billy committs suicide. As a resault of this Mac Murphy’s last step is an attack on Nurse Ratched – he attempts to rape her and shows her human weakness. However Mac Murphy will never know his victory. His example has given the patients enough courage to brave the outside world and has shown that the authority isn’t unshakeable but he returns from a lobotomy as a ruined man.
3 Institution

3.1 The cuckoo’s nest
The cuckoo’s nest is the psychiatric ward of the hospital. It is in a sense of a microcosms the faithful truth of the American history, of it’s ethical composition, hierarchy and structure of power. Acknowledged point of the ward is that it is a workshop of the society to cure the reformers of the system their harmfulness. By hard cases it takes electroshock treatment and lobotomy. It shouldn’t be forgotten here that apart from it’s function as hospital to improve and keep people who fouls the society’s nest it gives love and security for people who takes flight by themselves of the trouble of the “American Way of Life”. Behind all is in the function of a client a combination with all one’s social, economic and political force which determine who is crazy and who is normal. Crazy means no more than not to be adapt in the society. Representative of the cuckoo’s nest in the novel is Nurse Ratched.
4 Characterisation of Randle Patrick Mac Murphy
„Mac Murphy’s arms and neck and face are sunburned and bristled with curly orange hairs. He’s got tattoos on each big shoulder; one says `Fighting Leathernecks' and has a devil with a red eye and red horns and a M – 1 rifle, and the other is a poker hand fanned out across his muscle – aces and eights.” The imposing, red – headed Irishman R. P. Mac Murphy with a poorly-stitched gash across his cheekbone and nose, isn’t a typical character, he changes considerably during his time at the hospital. “Committed by the state from the Pendleton Farm for Correction. For diagnosis and possible treatment. Thirty – five years old. Never married. Distinguished Service Cross in Korea, for leading an escape from a communist prison camp. A dishonourable discharge, afterward, for insubordination. Followed by a history of street brawls and barroom fights and a series of arrests for Drunkenness, Assault and Battery, Disturbing the Peace, repeated gambling (…)” and last arrested for seduction of a fifteen year old girl. He is a passionate gambler, who wants to win in all situations and he also looks out primarily for his own self - interest. This is the reason he choose the institution as preferable when compared to the work farm where he would have been sentenced. He “(…) represents ideas of sexuality, freedom and self – determination against Nurse Ratched’s oppression”.
5 Mac Murpy’s decline
5.1 Confrontation of Mac Murphy and the patients
“Do I look like a sane man?” is the question Mac Murphy asks at his first group meeting and the reader thinks about this question while reading that book the whole time.
None of the patients has ever met a man like him before, except of Chief Bromden, a half – Indian, who sometimes recognizes that the Irishman has the courage and humour of his Indian father.
On the one hand there are the quiet, timid patients. Then there is the noisy, fond of life man, who isn’t afraid of anything. These can only giggle lowly, he shakes walls with his carefree laughing. They are all careworn, don’t dare to talk about sex, he on the other hand brags himself as a “Champion – Lover”. In his face you see the trace of a hard life in which he attempts to miss any authority and doesn’t want to adapt himself.
5.2 The past
Because of this facts I prefer to start with my report at the hospital but in Mac Murphy’s past.

5.2.1 Childhood and youth
His opinion is that his childhood was a nice time. Early, at the age of ten years old, he gathered his first sexual experiences. Then already he opposed to authoritarian persons. He lacks a college education, but he has native intelligence: he knows for example “a pecking party” when he sees one.

His carefree life ended with the war in Korea. In this war he accepted “law and order” first, received the Distinguished Service Cross, too. Later he remarked the nonsense of this war with its unconditional orders, the useless killing of women, children and elderly people, as well as the rape of women so he was dismissed afterwards for insubordination.

His life after the war
The once, a very good soldier, became a gambler. The reason for this could be that the protagonist couldn’t cope with the determining ideas of the society or rather he didn’t know how to fulfil these expectations. But he also wants to be the best in one field, so he becomes a gambler. This shows his human weakness and is flight from reality. Furthermore it also shows the social plight of the sixties and his attempt to reduce his individual conflicts.

His admission to hospital
The setting of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” is Oregon – America’s West. Contrasted to the open and free landscape is the dull and strict world of the hospital in which Mac Murphy is admitted. At this hospital he thinks to pass his remain prison sentence comparatively pleasant and quick. His statement “(…) I’m so crazy I plan to vote for Eisenhower again this November” show that he thinks to be outside of the hospital and the state work farm and again in a “normal” life next November. He meets the patients unconcerned, organizes card and basketball games and thus tries to brighten up the melancholic atmosphere and to lure the patients out of their apathy. Unintentionally he operates as a therapeutic. With his liberated mindset and vitality he represents the counterculture.
5.3.1 Friendship with Chief Bromden
In Chief Bromden Mac Murphy finds a good friend and he can see through him. He notices that he isn’t deaf and dumb learns that being struck is a retreat out of the society or a protest against the environment, because the red – Indians had to live in reservations they lost their rights, rituals and honour. The Chief had to see the development of his once mighty and big father He, a chief of a tribe who first fought against these suppressions, became a man without any honour and an alcoholic.
Defeats and victories

Law and order – first victory
Soon he learns, that there is law and order situated in the hospital too, like in the state work farm and in the military. All state institutions are alike: Power and subordination or adaptation. On the ward Nurse Ratched gets them with underhand resolution. The day of his admission to hospital the nurse and her two black assistants tell him to take a shower, they also want to take his temperature, because he took a shower at the state work farm before he refuses this order and tells them that he doesn’t take silly orders. With this statement he represents anarchy and disobedience. Instead of following the rules he greets all patients and introduces himself. Thus he doesn’t make a difference between the acute and chronic patients. He demonstrates his egoistic way, grapes for attention, behaving like a politician on a champion stop. This characteristic will cause Mac Murphy to be an easy target for those in the institution, particularly Nurse Ratched. On this day he has his first victory against the Nurse.

5.4.2 Medication time
At medication time all patients have to integrate into a roe without any contradiction, take their tablets of the Aides who observe that they swallow them with a gulp water. Questions to the sort of tablets aren’t answered, later seizure isn’t allowed and by contradiction they get it with violence. Mac Murphy gambles again, he pretends to swallow the tablets, too, but back at the table with his new friends where he feels safe he spits them out again. Although the others warn him that there are bugging systems and cameras overall he doesn’t listen to them because he is a gambler who thinks that he has everything under control.
5.4.3 The first Group Meeting and the bet
In his first group meeting Mac Murphy is startled about the timorousness and submissiveness of the other patients and the malicious destruction of their self–confidence, especially the way the others take apart each other and submit “soul – striptease” by Nurse Ratched, which he define as “pecking – party”. Furthermore he is startled, too, with regard to their sex lifes because in his opinion a wide sex life is the key to a healthy and powerful life. So he bets with the patients that he will outwit the Nurse with her own weapons. He thinks that he knows that the Nurse has a poor self – confidence and that she isn’t as mighty as she seems to be. The result of this bet is that she intensifies her aggressions and keeps the patients apathetic with drugs.

5.5 Declaration of war
At this point the fight between Mac Murphy, Nurse Ratched and her team of doctors, the state institution, starts officially and playfully. He doesn’t know her methods of bending the patients’ will at this time and he still thinks that nothing could happen to him because in sixty-five days he would be a free man again.
Another Group Meetings - defeat and victory
In another group meeting the medical corps of the ward, Doctor Spivey, announces that Mac Murphy and he went to the same highschool years ago. That announcement is a “homerun” for Mac Murphy in his game against the nurse and the others. In that meeting he puts watching the world Series TV to the vote but he doesn’t get enough votes. After that meeting he demonstrates how he might escape by tossing a control panel through a window. He fails, but his nerve inspires the group to vote with him on the next day. Needing one more vote he approaches the Chief, who, fearful of the freedom Mac Murphy offers, is cowering in an mental fog, so thick it threatens to engulf him forever. Mac Murphy’s force of personality pulls the Chief out of his illness. Although the Nurse still refuses to let them watch the matches, he comments on an imaginary match and by carrying away the others with his enthusiasm, he wins a point by making her lose control of temper and even wins the bet.

Meeting of the doctors
The nurse convenes a meeting with the doctors of the ward because she doesn’t know what to do any longer. The doctors have opinions like“(…) Mac Murphy was due to constitute a disturbance on the ward.”, “(…) He’s quite a disturbing influence (…)”, “(…) an actual danger”, “(…) This man is a Napoleon, a Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun.” Because of this agreements they believe it would be wise to send Mac Murphy to a secure ward. At this point Nurse Ratched brings herself into this discussion. She believes “(…) if he were sent up to Disturbed now it would be exactly what the patients would expect. He would be a martyr to them. They would never be given the opportunity to see that this man is not an ‘extraordinary person’.” With this statement she speaks out his death sentence indirectly.

Provocation is going on
After this victory he goes on provoking the nurse – he asks her about the size of her breasts, doesn’t clean the toilets correctly but pastes messages for her into them. Chief Bromden learns that the state institution, portrayed by Nurse Ratched, can’t change Mac Murphy. Since Mac Murphy strengthened the patients’ backs they criticise the nurse and her aides more and more.
5.5.4 The painful truth - a defeat
Soon Mac Murphy learns the painful truth: He will not leave the hospital until Nurse Ratched agrees to release him, it makes no difference that his prison time is nearly over. At this point he notices that he has lost the fight. Nervously he begins to obey her rules. He has raised hopes he can’t fulfil. Mac Murphy leaves the patients worse off than before: Cheswick, a patient, becomes so depressed and drowns himself.
Methods of submission and a possible solution – another kind of defeat
More and more Mac Murphy learns that the others require him and that he is their hero. There is no way out.
The patients tell him about the methods Nurse Ratched uses, the way to make them bend to her will, that she tortures them with electroshock treatments and required lobotomises them against their will. They want to warn him and although he doesn’t know he is on the right way to understand “(…) that it’s not just the Big Nurse by herself, but it’s the whole Combine, the nation – wide Combine that’s the really big force, and the nurse is just a high – ranking official for them” Mac Murphy also finds out that the nurse has got problems with her sexuality. Because of this he gets the idea that one of the patients should try to rape her to cure her “illness” and to show her human weakness. But he isn’t their man for that act.
5.7 Another painful truth and a victory in the end
Mac Murphy’s sense of entrapment grows when he learns that, in contrast to himself, most of the patients have voluntarily committed themselves to the hospital. Determined to destroy the fear that's been hammered into their heads, he smashes the nurses’ station window, a symbol of her control and his symbol that the fight goes on. But she doesn’t give up.
5.8 The ward goes on a trip

5.8.1 The fishing trip
Basking in the glory of another victory, Mac Murphy arranges a fishing trip for the ward, which is permitted by the institution. Long suspecting the Chief can talk and hear, Mac Murphy speaks to him, and the Chief breaks years of silence to answer. He describes the combine people, like Nurse Ratched, the government, his own mother destroy tradition, nature, and freedom in favour of machine like conformity. Like the combine had done it made the Chief "small" - for in his mind psychological defeat creates physical diminution. Mac Murphy strikes a deal: if the Chief promises to grow large enough to lift the control panel Mac Murphy wasn’t able to lift, Mac Murphy will let him go on the fishing trip for free. The first symbol for Chief Bromden’s growth is his erection in the night.
Because one car is missing Mac Murphy persuades Doctor Spivey to come along with them before going on the trip.
On the ocean, far from the influence of Nurse Ratched, the patients prove that they are more capable, more sane than they ever suspected. Mac Murphy arranges a date between Billy Bibbit and a prostitute, Candy Starr. While driving home, the Chief notices that the hospital has worn Mac Murphy as down as the patients he helped have grown. Mac Murphy is very tired. He drives along the house of his childhood and tells them about that time. He laughs and all of them envy him this life – he is their hero. Only Chief Bromden recognizes what’s going on with him: ”Then – as he was talking – a set of tail – lights going past lit up Mac Murphy’s face, and the windshield reflected an expression that was allowed only because he figured it’d be too dark for anybody in the car to see, dreadfully tired and strained and frantic, like there wasn’t enough time left for something he had to do …”.
5.8.2 Special showers with consequences
Nurse Ratched now turns Mac Murphy’s weakness as a gambler against him, convincing the ward’s patients he came not to help them but to win their money. Mac Murphy realizes that he must act like a hero the patients require: when an Aide abuses one of the patients, George Sorenson, in the shower Mac Murphy feels forced to go to George’s defence. Because of joining the fight and helping Mac Murphy the Chief is also sent to electroshock treatments. Thanks to Mac Murphy Chief Bromden is now strong enough to withstand the shock treatments. He doesn’t want to escape into the fog anylonger. When Mac Murphy is strapped to the treatment table, a parallel can be drawn between him and Christ: both sacrificed themselves for others.
5.8.3 Mac Murphy doesn’t give up to fight
Because this electroshock treatment won’t be the last one for Mac Murphy in the following days the Chief tells him to give up, but Mac Murphy doesn’t want to and still thinks he could win that fight in the end hoping he will leave the hospital soon.
His return on the ward
5.9.1 His plan of flight and his farewell party
After his return on the ward everyone of the patients helps to plan his flight but he wants to wait till Billy has had his date with Candy. So, one night Candy and her friend Sandy arrive on the ward and they all have a wild party. Mac Murphy is of the opinion that Billy will discharge himself on the next day when he has a wonderful night with Candy. For the reason of loosing his virginity he would get power and courage and when he’d begin with the discharge the others will do the same. So, Mac Murphy doesn’t escape in that night.

5.9.2 Billy’s suicide
The next morning Billy is found with Candy. Consequently the nurse gives him a guilty conscience. As a result of this he commits suicide. Thus the Chief remarks that the others require Mac Murphy.

5.9.3 Mac Murphy’s reaction
Mac Murphy’s last step is an attack on Nurse Ratched – he attempts to rape her. After his humiliation she will never regain control of the ward: her face has shown too much fear, her ripped uniform revealed the breasts that prove she is not an all – powerful machine but a woman.
5.10 The last victory over Nurse Ratched
However Mac Murphy will never know his victory. His example has given the patients enough courage to brave the outside world but he himself returns from a lobotomy as a ruined man.
Before the Chief walks to the control panel, for which, he is now “big” enough, throws it through the window and escapes, he smothers him with a pillow because he doesn’t want to leave his friend remarking in this pathetic condition.
6 Conclusion
What destroys R. P. Mac Murphy?
Summing up all these important steps of Mac Murphy’s development you can see that he is an egoistic in the first time. He wants to enjoy an easier life at the hospital than he had at the state work farm and he is the one who wants to watch the World Series on TV and so forth. He is a gambler who flees from the reality, suffers small defeats and is only interested in winning. He always looks into his future. But afterwards, when he remarks that the patients aren’t the really ill ones but the nurse for herself he helps them to get back their self – confidences to deal on their own and to stand up against the authority. He considers himself being the better therapist for the patients. He takes a couple of them on a fishing trip and organises a party in which Billy Bibbit, a shy, stuttering boy, loses his virginity. For the first time Billy is relaxed and doesn’t stutter. That shows that Mac Murphy is able to think of what is going on in the inner life of the patients and that he is apparently able to give them more effective help than the Nurse. This causes a problem because Nurse Ratched considers his behaviour as a rebellion against authority, for it is against her idea of running a ward. Doing that he doesn’t recognize that he destroys and sacrifices himself. Because of this you can draw a parallel in chapter 5.8.2 where he is sent with Chief Bromden to electroshock treatment between him and Christ: both scarified themselves for others. After his death the Chief is sane that he is able to escape out of the hospital. Many of the other patients discharge themselves or shift to other wards. All of them pass on his message as Petrus did, a disciple of Christ, that it is worth to stand up against oppressions and to criticise them. All in all Mac Murphy is a person who looks askance at rules and fights for things to change them if it is worth to do.
It is true that he was defeated by the modern science but his message, which I already mentioned, is passed on.
7 Bibliography
Daniel E. Moerman, “Native American Ethnobotany”
Timber Press, Inc., Hong Kong 1999
Dirk Rohwedder and Maria Hacks, “Exzessives Spielen”,
Schriftenreihe: Experten im Gespräch, Band 6
Wissenschaftsverlag Wellingsbüttel, Hamburg 1988
Gero von Wilpert, „Lexikon der Weltliteratur“,
Biographisch – bibliographisches Handwörterbuch nach Autoren und anonymen Werken A – K, Band 1
Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1997
Ken Kesey, “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
Penguin Books, New York 1976

Internetseiten im Anhang:
Literary Kicks, “Ken Kesey
“Biography of Ken Kesey”, Harvard College, 1999 - 2001
“Classic Note on One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – Character List”,
Harvard College, 1999 – 2001
Renato M.E. Sabbatini, “The History of Psychosurgery”,
State University of Campinas, Brazil, Published on
June 14, 1997

8 Versicherung
Hiermit versichere ich, dass ich die Arbeit selbstständig angefertig, keine anderen als die angegebenen Hilfsmittel benutzt und die Stellen der Facharbeit, die im Wortlaut oder im wesentlichen Inhalt aus anderen Werken entnommen wurden, mit genauer Quellenangabe kenntlich gemacht habe.
Verwendete Informationen aus dem Internet sind hinter der „Bibliography“ im Anhang vollständig beigelegt worden.
Desweiteren erkläre ich, dass ich damit einverstanden bin, wenn die von mir verfasste Facharbeit der schulinternen Öffentlichkeit zugängig gemacht wird.
Salzgitter, den 01.11.2001
Stella – Maren Klaue
Internet page, “Classic Note on One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – Character List, Nurse
a. a. O.
Lobotomy: cutting away a part of the brain in order to make violent persons calm
taken from Gero von Wilpert, „Lexikon der Weltliteratur“
Ken Kesey, “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”, page 81
a. a. O., page 42
a. a. O., page 25
Internet page, “Classic Note on One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – Character List, Randle
Patrick Mac Murphy”
Ken Kesey, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, page 45
a. a. O., page 244
a. a. O., page 147
a. a. O., page 55
a. a. O., page 42
Dirk Rohwedder und Maria Hacks, „Exzessives Spielen“
Ken Kesey, “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest“, page 20
taken from the internet page, “Biography of Ken Kesey
Ken Kesey, “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest“, page 9-24
it is a meeting in which the patients should talk about their problems
a. a. O., page 55
a. a. O., page 39-72
a. a. O., page 104 - 138
a. a. O., page 145 - 150
a. a. O., page 144 - 147
a. a. O., page 149
a. a. O., page 153
a. a. O., page 161 - 166
a. a. O., page 177 - 180
a. a. O., page 181
a. a. O., page 183
a. a. O., page 190
large doesn’t mean big but courageous
Ken Kesey, “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”, page 196 - 243
a. a. O., page 245
a. a. O., page 249 - 276
a. a. O., page 276
a. a. O., page 279 - 296
a. a. O., page 300 - 304
a. a. O., page 305
a. a. O., page 305 - 311
a. a. O., page 300
Facharbeit über das Werk "One Flew Over The Cuckoo"s Nest" von Ken Kesey auf Englisch!
Diese Facharbeit enthält an wichtigen Punkten:
- Summary of the novel
- What is the "The cuckoo’s nest"?
- Characterisation of Randle Patrick Mac Murphy
- Mac Murpy’s decline
- Defeats and victories
- What destroys R. P. Mac Murphy?
- Bibliography (4583 Wörter)
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