native American couple dancing
Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (extract)
"Nurse!" he yelled. "Good lord, nurse!"
She ran, and the three black boys ran, down the hall to where the doctor was still calling. But not a
patient got up. We knew there wasn't anything for us to do now but just sit tight and wait for her to
come to the day room to tell us what we all had known was one of the things that was bound to
She walked straight to McMurphy.
"He cut his throat," she said. She waited, hoping he would say something. He wouldn't look up. "He
opened the doctor's desk and found some instruments and cut his throat. The poor miserable,
misunderstood boy killed himself. He's there now, in the doctor's chair, with his throat cut." (...)
10 She turned and walked into the Nurses' Station and closed the door behind her, leaving a
I suddenly realized with a crystal certainty that neither I nor any of the half-
him. That Harding's arguing or my grabbing him from behind, or old Colonel Matterson's teaching or
Scanlon's griping, or all of us together couldn't rise up and stop him.
15 We couldn't stop him because we were the ones making him do it. It wasn't the nurse that was
forcing him, it was our need that was making him push himself slowly up from sitting, his big hands
driving down on the leather chair arms, pushing him up, rising and standing like one of those
making him go on for weeks, keeping him standing long after his feet and legs had given out, weeks
20 of making him wink and grin and laugh and go on with his act long after his humor had been
parched dry between two electrodes.
We made him stand and hitch up his black shorts like they were horsehide chaps, and push back
his cap with one finger like it was a ten-
walked across the floor you could hear the iron in his bare heels ring sparks out of the tile.
25 Only at the last-
terror forever ruining any other look she might ever try to use again, screaming when he grabbed for
her and ripped her uniform all the way down the front, screaming again when the two nippled circles
started from her chest and swelled out and out, bigger than anybody had ever even imagined, warm
and pink in the light -
30 going to do anything but stand and watch and they would have to beat him off without their help,
doctors and supervisors and nurses prying those heavy red fingers out of the white flesh of her
throat as if they were her neck bones, jerking him backward off of her with a loud heave of breath
only then did he show any sign that he might be anything other than a sane, willful, dogged man
performing a hard duty that finally just had to be done, like it or not.
35 He gave a cry. At the last, falling backward, his face appearing to us for a second upside down
before he was smothered on the floor by a pile of white uniforms, he let himself cry out:
A sound of cornered-
coon or cougar or lynx is like the last sound the treed and shot and falling animal makes as the dogs
get him, when he finally doesn't care any more about anything but himself and his dying.
40 The ward door opened, and the black boys wheeled in this Gurney with a chart at the bottom
that said in heavy black letters, MC MURPHY, RANDLE P. POST-
written in ink, LOBOTOMY.
They pushed it into the day room and left it standing against the wall, along next to the
Vegetables. We stood at the foot of the Gurney, reading the chart, then looked up to the other end
45 at the head dented into the pillow, a swirl of red hair over a face milk-
purple bruises around the eyes.
After a minute of silence Scanlon turned and spat on the floor. "Aaah, what's the old bitch tryin' to
put over on us anyhow, for crap sakes. That ain't him."
"Nothing like him," Martini said.
50 "How stupid she think we are?
"Oh, they done a pretty fair job, though," Martini said, moving up alongside the head and pointing
as he talked. "See. They got the broken nose and that crazy scar-
"Sure, Scanlon growled, "but hell!"
I pushed past the other patients to stand beside Martini.
55 "Sure, they can do things like scars and broken noses," I said. "But they can't do that look.
There's nothing in the face. Just like one of those store dummies, ain't that right Scanlon?
Scanlon spat again. "Damn right. Whole thing's, you know, too blank. Anybody can see that."
"Look here," one of the patients said, peeling back the sheet, "tattoos."
"Sure," I said, "they can do tattoos. But the arms, huh? The arms? They couldn't do those. His
60 arms were big!" (...)
1. Interpret this excerpt closely to the text, considering style, perspective of the narrator, language, and symbols.
2. What are the strengths and weaknesses of Kesey's use of Chief Bromden as narrator in the book? To what extent does the Chief's madness
interfere with the reader's understanding of what is actually happening at the beginning and here at the end of the novel? (Trace also his blackouts
throughout the novel.)
3. To what extent do the Chief's visions symbolically reinforce the themes of the novel? (Which are the main themes?)
4. One of Kesey's main goals in the novel is exploring other modes of consciousness. Which are they and how successful is he in establishing their
5. Is MacMurphy's attack on Miss Ratched a revenge on the American woman as such or is it just a personal revenge?
6. "Big Nurse killed President Kennedy" (Tom Wolfe). What does this statement mean considering the role of women in America and the established
political, social, and religious system? How does Ken Kesey generally see the role of the woman in the USA in his novel?
7. Compare the political and cultural situation of the Red Indians in the 1950s and 1960s with Kesey’s criticism expressed by the choice of Chief Bromden
as a victim of that time.