Study Guide

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

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Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

Anticipation Stage

All of the patients on the ward try to follow the rules as best they can until a new patient arrives and disrupts things.

Chief describes the order that prevails on the ward—every minutes is scheduled and the men go from one thing to the next in a fog that prevents them from thinking or rebelling. But then a new Admission arrives who is clearly different. This one seems to have some real life, spunk, and nerve to him.

Dream Stage

McMurphy makes a bet with the other men that he can break Nurse Ratched’s will without destroying himself.

McMurphy’s ego is his tragic flaw. He thinks he can win any gamble, including a gamble on his life. The stakes are this: he bets the men that he can break Nurse Ratched without destroying himself. So far, things seem to be going in McMurphy’s favor.

Frustration Stage

McMurphy realizes that if he keeps going the way he’s going, Nurse Ratched may be able to keep him in the asylum forever.

Although McMurphy seems to be winning the game, he doesn’t know all the rules. One day, he realizes that Nurse Ratched can keep him in the hospital forever. That’s the day McMurphy begins to conform to the rules, hoping that good behavior will earn him his freedom.

Nightmare Stage

McMurphy gives up and realizes that behaving good does no good. He launches a new attack on Nurse Ratched, which results in electroshock therapy.

When McMurphy fails to back Charles Cheswick up as he challenges one of the ward’s many rules, Cheswick loses hope and commits suicide. McMurphy realizes that he can’t let the men down again. When Nurse Ratched announces that the men will be punished for their rebellion, he smashes his hand through the window of the Nurses’ Station. After a fight with the orderlies a short while later, McMurphy ends up in the Disturbed Ward and undergoes electroshock therapy, but he refuses to give in and beg for mercy.

Destruction or Death Wish Stage

McMurphy attacks Nurse Ratched, who sends him to the hospital for a lobotomy.

After he returns to the ward, the other men encourage McMurphy to escape while he can. McMurphy doesn’t take the situation too seriously, and decides to throw a party before leaving. The men do have a great party and a great time—but the next day, Nurse Ratched’s discovery of their debauchery leads to Billy Bibbit’s suicide. McMurphy attacks Nurse Ratched. On the one hand, his ego wins out—he does demonstrate her weakness to all the men by showing them she is a woman after all when her uniform rips and exposes her rather large breasts. On the other hand, his ego destroys him—he is sent for a lobotomy. He returns to the ward with his spirit completely gone. Chief smothers him to death. Since his spirit has already been killed, what is the killing of the body? Then Chief escapes from the hospital and heads to Canada.

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