One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is narrated by Chief Bromden (also known as Chief Broom), a mute Indian known for mopping the mental institution where he is confined. The black boys in white suits who work in the ward mock Chief Broom; they think that he is deaf and dumb and cannot hear them. Nurse Ratched (also known as Big Nurse) enters. Her lips and her fingernails are both a funny color of orange, and she carries a woven wicker bag filled with pills, needles, wire and forceps. She moves with precise, automatic gestures. Her face is smooth and calculated, but she has large breasts that seem out of place.
She orders the black boys to shave Chief Bromden, who quickly disappears. As he hides, he thinks about his father and the Columbia River. One of the black boys finds him, and they start to shave him. He hallucinates that there is an Air Raid and that the fog machine starts again. In the first chapter, Kesey sets up the structure of the mental institution where the novel takes place. The authority figure is clearly Nurse Ratched, as yet known only as Big Nurse, a woman whose characteristics seem barely human. Kesey makes everything about Nurse Ratched mechanical and automated, such as her robotic movements and precise speech.
She is a symbol of bureaucracy and authority in general. However, even within this first chapter there are indications that behind this seemingly inhuman faade there is some great instability. Chief Bromden seems to believe that Nurse Ratched is ready to snap at the black boys at any moment, and her large breasts, the one incongruous part of her appearance, show that she is incapable of fully separating herself from normal human characteristics. The ‘black boys,’ the workers at the institution, serve Nurse Ratched out of fear; however, their most prominent characteristic is a complete hatred for all around them.
Unlike Nurse Ratched, they are sadistic, if only because Nurse Ratched is incapable of feeling any pleasure from the pain she inflicts. This makes them a more immediate danger to patients such as Chief Bromden, but also more vulnerable. They suffer from the same human failings that Nurse Ratched has suppressed. Although Chief Bromden is the narrator of the tale, his descriptions cannot be fully trusted. He is obviously unreliable, as shown when he hallucinates the Air Raid and the fog machine. The fog represents Bromden’s own mental clarity; it will recur whenever Chief Bromden becomes less stable and recede whenever he becomes more coherent.
It is significant that Chief Bromden is silent, for he represents the more passive elements of society that submit to authority (Nurse Ratched). When the fog clears, Chief Bromden realizes that he hasn’t been taken to the ‘Shock Shop’ for electroshock treatment. An escort brings in another patient for admission. Nurse Ratched orders the new patient to get a shower. This patient, Randall Patrick McMurphy, jokes about how every place he goes, whether the courthouse or the jail, he has to have a shower. He introduces himself as a ‘gambling fool’ and takes out a pack of cards. He tells them that he has come from the Pendleton.
Cheswick, another patient, gathers McMurphy’s cards. McMurphy has red hair, and wears pants and a shirt from a work-farm, as well as a leather jacket. McMurphy brags that he’s a psychopath. Randall Patrick McMurphy is the protagonist of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and is the antithesis of everything that Nurse Ratched represents. He is exuberant, vital and vulgar. Everything in his personality suggests great energy and lack of control. If Nurse Ratched represents a bureaucratic and corporate mindset, McMurphy represents the counterculture, with his liberated mindset and vitality.
Although McMurphy brags that he is a psychopath, this self-diagnosis already seems unlikely: he is clearly boisterous and entertaining, as he starts to con the other patients as soon as he enters, but the question of McMurphy’s sanity will be a major theme of the novel. The younger patients, known as Acutes because the doctors figure them still sick enough to be fixed, practice arm wrestling. Billy Bibbit tries to roll a cigarette, while Martini walks around. The Chronics are in the hospital for good, whether Walkers, like Chief Broom, for Vegetables. Some of the Chronics were once Acutes, but got fouled up by electroshock therapy.
Ruckly and Ellis are Chronics who were once Acute, but suffered greatly from shock treatment. Now Ruckly can only say “ffffcensored da wife” in a low, disturbing tone. Colonel Matterson is the oldest chronic, a World War I veteran, but Chief Broom has been there the longest. McMurphy goes around to the Acutes, asking which one is the craziest, the bull goose loony. Billy Bibbit, a young man who stutters, introduces McMurphy to Harding, the president of the patient’s council. Harding is a flat, nervous man, a college graduate. McMurphy tells Harding that there isn’t room enough for two bull goose loonies, and McMurphy will be it.
They compete to show their lunacy by claiming to vote for Eisenhower. McMurphy introduces himself to everybody, even the Chronics, and asks Chief Bromden what his story is. Harding tells McMurphy that Bromden is only half Indian, and that he’s deaf and dumb. Nurse Ratched summons McMurphy, and tells him that he must take his admission shower, for everybody must follow the rules. He says that’s what everyone tells him as soon as they figure he’s about to do the exact opposite. Having described the support staff of the hospital, Chief Bromden turns to the patients who inhabit the institution.
Most of the patients are Acutes, meaning that they have the possibility for rehabilitation and release, but Bromden makes the important point that they also have the possibility of becoming worse because of their stay at the hospital, as demonstrated by Ruckly and Ellis. Among the patients, Billy Bibbit and Harding stand out as important characters, both of whom will play major roles in the novel. The role of Billy Bibbit in the narrative will become clear in subsequent chapters, but Kesey makes the point that Harding is significant because of his role as the leader of the patients.
Harding leads the patient by the authority of his education, but McMurphy already begins to usurp his power through his charisma and ebullience. Kesey makes clear the lines of conflict between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched. Nurse Ratched represents rules and order, while McMurphy represents anarchy and disobedience. Yet a more important characteristic that McMurphy demonstrates is showmanship. In this chapter he grasps for attention, behaving like a politician on a campaign stop. This characteristic will cause McMurphy to be an easy target for those in the institution, particularly Nurse Ratched.
Nurse Ratched prepares hypodermic needles as a nurse asks her opinion of McMurphy. She claims McMurphy is a manipulator who will use everyone and everything to his own ends. She claims that sometimes a manipulator’s own ends are the actual disruption of the ward. The nurse, Miss Flinn, asks what his motive would be, but Nurse Ratched reminds her that his is an insane asylum. Chief Bromden notes how Nurse Ratched his complete control of the staff of the ward, which he calls the Combine. Even the doctors are obedient to her. She chooses the black boys for their hate.
The black boys soon come closer to Nurse Ratched’s frequency and need no instructions. Each morning Nurse Ratched dispenses medications. Mr. Taber demands to know what is in his medication, but she refuses to say. Instead she says that there are means to take the medicine other than orally. The black boys force him to take the medicine. Chief Bromden claims that the ward is a place to fix mistakes made in the neighborhoods, the schools and the churches. Kesey continues to portray Nurse Ratched as an unfeeling and bureaucratic woman.
She is dispassionate and analytical, concerned primarily with the smooth functioning of the ward over any personal concerns. Her main insecurity involves the balance of power in the asylum. McMurphy is a threat to Nurse Ratched because he proves dangerous to the autocratic control she exerts over the others. The black boys, the nurses and even the doctors are completely submissive to Nurse Ratched’s authority. It is notable that Nurse Ratched’s control is based as much on intimidation and hatred as efficiency, as demonstrated in this chapter by her threat against Mr. Taber.
Chief Bromden opens the critique of the mental institution in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to a larger societal critique. The social criticism of the events in the novel in general involves the idea that the institution is a microcosm for the rest of society, but Kesey also makes the explicit connection between the institution and other societal organizations. The mental institution is meant to repair damage done by churches, schools and families, but operates under the same conditions as these organizations and thus suffers the same problems. Nurse Ratched calls a meeting for the ward.
She interrupts Pete Bancini, who complains that he is tired, and tells the black boys to quiet him. Nobody will look at Nurse Ratched except for McMurphy, who still has his cap and deck of cards. Nurse Ratched starts the meeting by examining Harding’s problems. She reiterates how Harding is concerned about his well-endowed young wife and the attention she receives, as well as his own feelings of inferiority. Nurse Ratched asks for comments, and McMurphy raises his hand. He introduces himself as a Korea veteran dishonorably discharged for insubordination and convicted for statutory rape.
McMurphy argues with Dr. Spivey about who was the aggressor in that case, him or the young girl. Dr. Spivey questions whether McMurphy is merely a sane man feigning psychosis to escape the drudgery of farm work. Nurse Ratched tells McMurphy the theory of the Therapeutic Community, how a person has to learn to get along in a group before he will be able to function in a normal society. Bancini claims that he’s tired once again. He is a fifty year old man who has been a Chronic all of his life; his brain was damaged during childbirth. Nurse Ratched orders the black boys to take him for treatment after he starts ranting and raving.
After the meeting, McMurphy asks if the meeting procedure is always like a ‘pecking party,’ but Harding defends Nurse Ratched. He claims that she is a strict middle-aged lady, but no monster. McMurphy tells Harding that Ratched has him by the balls. Harding claims that Nurse Ratched is a ‘veritable angel of mercy’ who is ‘unselfish as the wind’ but finally admits that McMurphy is right, but nobody has come out and say it before. Harding relates how Dr. Spivey is exactly like the patients, afraid of Nurse Ratched, and is also addicted to Demerol.
Harding compares the patients to rabbits who cannot adjust to their rabbithood and need a strong wolf like Nurse Ratched to teach them their place. McMurphy tells the men that they are not crazy at all. Harding relates the tools that Ratched uses to gain submission from the patients, including domination and even electroshock therapy (EST). McMurphy bets the patients that he can get Nurse Ratched to show some vulnerability within a week. The ward meetings demonstrate the intimidation and domination techniques that Nurse Ratched uses to exert her control over the asylum inmates.
The meeting begins with Nurse Ratched selecting a patient and humiliating him by describing his personal and psychological problems, then with Nurse Ratched asking the other patients to comment on the problems she has described. The purpose of this is to pit the patients against one another, thus fostering a sense of discord among the patients so that they remain submissive to her. McMurphy accurately describes it as a pecking party, for the patients are to attack each other as a distraction from the control which she exerts over them.
The other patients, in particular Harding, realize Nurse Ratched’s domination, but blindly accept this as either necessary or unstoppable. They even show that Nurse Ratched has control over the doctors and administrative staff of the hospital. She is part of a matriarchy, an observation by Harding that relates to his earlier explained sexual difficulties. However, they accept Nurse Ratched’s control because they believe it to be necessary. This demonstrates the major problem that most of the patients face: they believe themselves to be weak and in need of an authority to control them, but in fact are capable of independent action.
McMurphy remains the exception to this; he alone resists Nurse Ratched’s control. This independence marks him as possibly sane, and even Dr. Spivey believe that McMurphy may be feigning insanity to keep out of the work-farm. Kesey clearly portrays McMurphy as sane, if dangerous and anarchic. Bromden relates how Nurse Ratched can set the wall clock at whatever speed she chooses just by turning a dial in the door. She generally slows things down. The speakers on the ceiling are playing music loudly, so McMurphy complains to Harding, who explains that they hear music nearly all the time, and never the news because that might not be therapeutic.
McMurphy goes into the Nurses’ Station to complain, and one of the nurses, Miss Pilbow, tells him to stay back, since she is a Catholic (she thinks that McMurphy is a sex maniac). He is merely picking up a watering can that the nurse dropped. McMurphy realizes that Chief Bromden is not deaf, because he jumps whenever McMurphy claims that one of the black boys is coming for him. Chief Bromden’s suggestion that Nurse Ratched can control the clocks at the ward show that Chief Bromden is often unreliable as a narrator, but nevertheless remains consistent with Ratched’s domineering and controlling character.
Harding continues to serve as an expository device; it is he who explains to McMurphy the reasons for many of the events at the institution, such as the music. Kesey develops another contrast between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched in this chapter. His confrontation with Nurse Pilbow underscores that Ratched represents sexuality, as compared to the passionless and repressed Nurse Ratched. For the first time in a long while Chief Bromden goes to sleep without taking the little red capsule usually given to him. That night Chief Bromden sees the workers lifting up Blasctic, one of the Vegetables, onto a hook and slicing him open with a scalpel.
No blood comes out, only glass, rust and ashes. Bromden thinks of waking up everyone, but thinks that the workers would do the same to him. Public Relation looks at Blastic and laughs as other strange things occur. Mr. Turkle pulls Bromden out of the fog, telling him that he was having a bad dream. This chapter once again serves to show that Chief Bromden is an unreliable narrator. Although some of the details of his observation are true, others are pure fantasy; Bromden fears that the workers are using the Vegetables for ghastly experiments and will do the same to him.
However, Kesey makes it indisputably clear that Bromden is having a hallucination in this chapter when Mr. Turkle, the night watchman, wakes him. The next morning, McMurphy is awake early, singing. Most of the people on the ward have not heard singing in years. Bromden wonders why the black boys let him make such news, but realizes that McMurphy is different. He may be as vulnerable, but the Combine didn’t get to him. McMurphy asks for toothpaste to brush his teeth, but the black boy tells him that it’s ward policy to have the toothpaste locked up, only to be used at a certain time.
McMurphy mocks the black boys question “what would it be like if everybody was to brush their teeth whenever they felt like it? ” Nurse Ratched arrives and the black boy tells him how Blastic died the night before and how McMurphy has been confrontational. Nurse Ratched hears McMurphy singing. He steps out of the shower in a towel and stands in front of her. She tells him he can’t run around here in a towel, and he prepares to drop it (he had shorts on the entire time).
He tells her that someone stole his clothes. She screams at Mr. Washington, one of the black boys, ordering him to get McMurphy a new set of clothes. McMurphy serves to expose some of the inanity of ward policies in this chapter; he places the workings of the ward in terms of a person’s ability to make rational decisions by demonstrating the absurdity of not allowing patients to brush their teeth whenever they choose. As Chief Bromden indicates, McMurphy is different from the other characters, not taken in by the Combine. McMurphy’s antisocial history may play a large part in this; he has not had the experience of drudge work and responsibility to subdue him.
This is a particular contrast to Hrading, whose sense of responsibility plays a large role in determining his difficulties. The confrontation between Nurse Ratched and McMurphy centers around sexual grounds; one of the major themes of the novel is the contrast between liberated and repressed sexuality. By appearing in front of Nurse Ratched wearing only a towel and threatening to lose even that covering, McMurphy confronts her with the sexuality she attempts to suppress. That McMurphy is wearing boxer shorts shows that he knows this is a particular vulnerability for Nurse Ratched.
Significantly, this is the first moment in which Nurse Ratched begins to show any sense of strain or tension. McMurphy thus begins his work to make Big Nurse unravel, as he had earlier bet the other patients he could do. McMurphy clowns around during breakfast, embarrassing Billy Bibbit by claiming that Billy is known as “Billy Club” Bibbit of the famous fourteen inches. McMurphy bets the other patients that he can fling a dab of butter in the center of the face of the clock. He appears to miss, but the butter slides down to the clock, hitting the face.
McMurphy complains to Nurse Ratched about the music, but she tells him that he is being selfish, for there are older men who couldn’t hear the radio at all if it were lower, and the music is all that they have. He suggests that the patients be allowed to take their card games someplace else, such as the room where the tables are stored, but she tells him that they do not have adequate personnel for two day rooms. McMurphy has an interview with the doctor, and during the daily meeting the doctor tells the patients that he and McMurphy went to the same high school, and were reminiscing about the school’s carnivals.
He suggests a similar carnival for the ward. The patients reluctantly like the idea. Nurse Ratched tells the doctor that an idea like this should be discussed in a staff meeting first. Dr. Spivey also mentions how McMurphy was concerned that the older fellows couldn’t hear the radio. When Dr. Spivey mentioned that the younger men complained about the noise, McMurphy then suggested opening a second day room, a game room. Dr. Spivey believes that there is sufficient staff to cover two rooms. When they return to the normal business of the meeting, Nurse Ratched’s hands seem to shake.
Chief Bromden thinks that she shows weakness or worry, but realizes that this makes no difference, for she has the Combine behind her. Although One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest can be construed as a parable pitting the counterculture (McMurphy) against the establishment (Ratched), to view the novel in these terms is too simplistic. If McMurphy is a challenge to the establishment, he nevertheless attempts to work within it. His request to have the music volume lowered is rational and diplomatic, while his counterproposal to open the tub room as a game room for the patients is also a viable option.
Nevertheless, Nurse Ratched is less interested in working with McMurphy than in demonstrating her dominance over him. She will not allow McMurphy these concessions, for to do so would empower him. Her interest is not in the patients, but rather in perpetuating her own sense of control, as shown by her apparent dislike of any idea that is not her own. It is only when McMurphy finds his proposals will be immediately dismissed that he manipulates the system by using Dr. Spivey, but even in this case he uses the established system, however instrumentally for his own ends, instead of challenging it.
This method is particularly infuriating to Nurse Ratched and the impetus for the sudden crack in her steel faade. McMurphy uses the system that Nurse Ratched manipulates against her. Nevertheless, Chief Bromden emphasizes that no matter what McMurphy gains, his struggles are inevitably in vain, for Nurse Ratched has the power of the Combine, thus society, behind her. McMurphy plays Monopoly with Harding, Martini, Scanlon and Cheswick. Martini hallucinates, thinking that he sees things on the board.
Even when McMurphy cannot gamble, he finds some way to ‘bet’ with the other patients and gain money, as this game of Monopoly demonstrates. McMurphy keeps high-class manners around the nurses and black boys in spite of what they might say to him, in spite of every trick they pull to get him to lose his temper. McMurphy begins to see how funny the rules are. McMurphy will be safe as long as he can laugh. Only once does he become angry: at one of the group meetings, he becomes angry at the other patients for acting too cagey and ‘chicken-censored.
McMurphy had wanted to change the schedule around so that the men could watch the World Series during the day and do the cleaning work at night. McMurphy expects the nurses to oppose him, but does not expect the Acutes to not say a thing. McMurphy attempts to round up a vote for a schedule change, but they fail to see the use in doing anything. He confronts Harding, for he believes his failure to support McMurphy indicates that he is afraid of Nurse Ratched. Billy Bibbit claims that nothing they could do will be of any use in the long run.
McMurphy claims that he’s going to break out of the institution by lifting up the control panel in the tub room and throwing it through the window. He tries to lift it, but it weighs far too much. Kesey moves the social criticism in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to a different level in this chapter by demonstrating that Nurse Ratched is not the only obstacle that McMurphy faces to effect social change. The apathy of the other patients proves a burden to McMurphy, for they do not have the energy to support changes in ward policy that they actually do want.
They take Billy Bibbit’s position that any action that they may take is useless. This chapter in particular suits a Marxist interpretation of the novel. If Nurse Ratched and the other administrative staff represent the ruling class in the institution, the patients are certainly the proletariat, an unformed mass that must be exhorted to collective action. McMurphy will serve as the driving force for creating this solidarity and will for action among the patients. The control panel in the tub room will prove significant later in the novel.
Kesey includes this early mention of it as foreshadowing for later events; although McMurphy cannot lift it, there may be others who can. Chapters Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen: Public Relation shows a visiting doctor the institution, and has him examine Chief Bromden. Public Relation claims that there would have to be something wrong with a man who would want to run away from a place as nice as this. The fog gets worse for Chief Bromden, who thinks that McMurphy cannot understand that the fog does keep the patients safe. One of the patients, Old Rawler, kills himself.
Kesey presents these chapters in short succession. Two of these contain little more than a paragraph. This serves to show the disjointed nature of Chief Bromden’s observations. He presents only brief glimpses of events that occur in the institution, none of which contain any great significance. Even the suicide of Old Rawler is largely inconsequential in terms of the plot and atmosphere of the novel. The most important point that Chief Bromden makes is that the ‘insanity’ as represented by the fog is a comfort for the patients.
It allows them to recede from the difficulties of reality that McMurphy wants them to face. Bromden relates how the fog machine operates. It is the same as the fog machines he saw during the war, which obscured the surroundings so that nobody could see anything in front of him. Bromden would get lost in the fog and always find himself at the same place. Chief Bromden waits for Nurse Ratched to fog them in again, for they are doing it more and more because McMurphy has nearly roused Cheswick and Harding to the point where they may actually stand up to the black boys.
Nurse Ratched discusses with a doctor whether or not McMurphy should be on the ward, for he is upsetting the patients. During the therapeutic meeting, they try to talk about how Billy Bibbit’s stutter came about. Billy tells about how he flunked out of college because he quit ROTC when he couldn’t answer to his own name, and recalls that the first word that he stuttered was ‘mama. ‘ Bromden watches Colonel Matterson ramble on about how “the flag is America” and “the cross is Mexico. ” Billy continues to talk about his stuttering, telling about how he flubbed a proposal to a girl because he stuttered.
Nurse Ratched tells him how his mother spoke about the girl to whom he proposed; this girl was quite beneath him. McMurphy brings up the World Series again, and Nurse Ratched reluctantly allows one more vote on the matter. McMurphy rouses all twenty Acutes to vote for him, but Nurse Ratched claims that this is insufficient, for none of the Chronics vote for him. McMurphy attempts to rouse at least one Chronic to vote for a schedule change, but none respond to anything he says. Finally McMurphy approaches Chief Bromden, who raises his hand.
Unfortunately, Nurse Ratched claims that the vote was decided and the meeting is closed. An hour later, it is time for the Series; McMurphy stops work and turns on the television. Nurse Ratched becomes angry and turns off the television from the controls in the Nurses’ Station, but McMurphy remains there. Finally Nurse Ratched approaches him and scolds him for not obeying her. Mr. Harding sits down beside McMurphy, and Cheswick, Scanlon, Billy Bibbit and the other Acutes join him. Chief Bromden himself joins them by the television.
Kesey uses Chief Bromden primarily as a narrator who describes external conditions, and rarely gives insight into Chief Bromden’s own psychology. However, in this chapter Kesey gives some indication of the origin of Chief Bromden’s psychological problems. Bromden relates the imaginary ‘fog machine’ of the mental institution to the fog that surrounded him during wartime. This indicates that Chief Bromden likely suffers from shell-shock caused by his war experience, and it is this shell-shock which prompted him to lose his grip on sanity.
Kesey also gives a similar psychological deconstruction of Billy Bibbit. The origin of Billy Bibbit’s problems lead to a strict Freudian interpretation. He is the product of a domineering mother who controls his every action, including deciding which woman is appropriate for him to marry. That the first word Billy Bibbit stuttered was ‘mama’ is a clear indication that she is the source of his problems. His mother’s apparent collaboration with Nurse Ratched is further evidence that Billy’s mother is the cause of most of his difficulties.
McMurphy assumes the role of a revolutionary in this chapter. When he rebels against Nurse Ratched by breaking from the established schedule to watch the World Series, McMurphy finally abandons the rules and regulations of the ward. This rebellion occurs, however, only after it is apparent that McMurphy cannot take part in the supposedly democratic system that Nurse Ratched controls. This is an important point, for it demonstrates that McMurphy is not a random anarchist bent on breaking down any system of governance, but rather a man driven to rebellion by an unfair system around him.
Despite Nurse Ratched’s claim that the vote is democratic, her vote includes the Chronics, who have no ability to make a rational choice required of voting. This ensures that Nurse Ratched can maintain the status quo, despite the obvious support for McMurphy. When McMurphy breaks from his schedule to watch the World Series, he makes a definitive break from the ‘government’ of Nurse Ratched. It is a revolutionary measure on the scale of the institution. The vote for the World Series is a turning point for Chief Bromden, for it is the first point during which he reasserts himself as a functioning person.
He does this through his vote for McMurphy, the first definitive, responsive action that Chief Bromden takes during the novel, and continues this pattern when he joins McMurphy and the other Acutes in their protest against Nurse Ratched. This underscores a major theme of the novel, the importance of rational choice. It is the ability to choose that determines one’s status as a rational human being. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in a very significant sense centers around the conflict between McMurphy, who represents this capability for choice, and Nurse Ratched, who does not allow persons to determine decisions for themselves.
Everyone watches Nurse Ratched, who is in the Nurses’ Station. There is no more fog in the place. A black boy prods Chief Bromden to continue with his duties, but Bromden doesn’t move until physically prodded to clean the staff room. Chief Bromden goes to the staff room; Nurse Ratched is there for a meeting. One doctor discusses the ‘revolution’ minutes before, and says that McMurphy is no ordinary man that they are dealing with. Another doctor suggests that McMurphy may be simply a shrewd con man and not mentally ill, but another one says that McMurphy is sick, definitively a Potential Assaultive.
The doctor worries that McMurphy may attack him during Individual Therapy. One of the doctors, Gideon, finally decides that they are not dealing with an ordinary man, but Nurse Ratched tells him that he is very, very wrong. She says that McMurphy is not extraordinary, but simply a man and no more subject to all the fears and cowardice and timidity that any other man is subject to, and can be controlled by them. One doctor worries that this could take weeks, but she reminds them that they have weeks, for McMurphy is committed and his time in the hospital is entirely up to them.
The fog that Chief Bromden claims to see is a symbol of his incoherence and inability to assert himself, thus when Bromden makes the decision to join the other men in protest of Nurse Ratched, the fog disappears. This decision comes at a cost, however; by making choices Chief Bromden becomes vulnerable, as he realizes. He loses the safety of the fog for the privileges of human choice. Chief Bromden’s choice to present himself once again as deaf and dumb is a tactical move that serves both himself and, for the narrative purposes of the story, Kesey.
Bromden uses the perception that he is deaf and dumb as a tactic to deflect harassment by the black boys, but this perception also allows Chief Bromden access to situations such as the staff meeting that would normally remain secretive. Kesey grants Bromden access to the staff meeting to gives greater insight into both Nurse Ratched and the perceptions of McMurphy. The staff meeting is ironic, for it shows the outright absurdity of the diagnoses of McMurphy. The various doctors use tortured doublespeak that is even internally contradictory, such as “definitely a Potential Assaultive.
They assert the possibility that McMurphy may be sane, perhaps the most accurate diagnosis of him, but conclude this based on the wrong evidence instead of on the correct appraisal that his ability to choose shows his sanity. The discussion of whether McMurphy is or is not ordinary is also ironic, for Nurse Ratched reaches the conclusion that he is ordinary for the wrong reasons. She believes that he is ordinary in the context of the ward because he is insane, but instead McMurphy is ordinary precisely because he is sane.