Study Guide

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: Manipulation Quotes

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Part I, Chapter One

They don't bother not talking out loud about their hate secrets when I'm nearby because they think I'm deaf and dumb. Everybody thinks so. I'm cagey enough to fool them that much. If my being half Indian ever helped me in any way in this dirty life, it helped me being cagey, helped me all these years. (1.17)

Because everybody assumes Chief is already crazy, he’s able to keep on fooling them about being deaf and unable to speak, too.

Part I, Chapter Two

Admission. Everybody stops playing cards and Monopoly, turns toward the day-room door. Most days I'd be out sweeping the hall and see who they're signing in, but this morning, like I explain to you, the Big Nurse put a thousand pounds down me and I can't budge out of the chair. Most days I'm the first one to see the Admission, watch him creep in the door and slide along the wall and stand scared till the black boys come sign for him and take him into the shower room, where they strip him and leave him shivering with the door open while they all three run grinning up and down the halls looking for the Vaseline. "We need that Vaseline," they'll tell the Big Nurse, "for the thermometer." She looks from one to the other: "I'm sure you do," and hands them a jar holds at least a gallon, "but mind you boys don't group up in there." Then I see two, maybe all three of them in there, in that shower room with the Admission, running that thermometer around in the grease till it's coated the size of your finger, crooning, "Tha's right, mothah, that's right," and then shut the door and turn all the showers up to where you can't hear anything but the vicious hiss of water on the green tile. I'm out there most days, and I see it like that. (1.2.5)

Controlling the asylum patient through fear and intimidation begins from the moment they arrive on the ward.

Part I, Chapter Four

What she [Nurse Ratched] dreams of there in the center of those wires is a world of precision efficiency and tidiness like a pocket watch with a glass back, a place where the schedule is unbreakable and all the patients who aren't Outside, obedient under her beam, are wheelchair Chronics with catheter tubes run direct from every pantleg to the sewer under the floor. Year by year she accumulates her ideal staff: doctors, all ages and types, come and rise up in front of her with ideas of their own about the way a ward should be run, some with backbone enough to stand behind their ideas, and she fixes these doctors with dry-ice eyes day in, day out, until they retreat with unnatural chills. "I tell you I don't know what it is," they tell the guy in charge of personnel. "Since I started on that ward with that woman I feel like my veins are running ammonia. I shiver all the time, my kids won't sit in my lap, my wife won't sleep with me. I insist on a transfer-neurology bin, the alky tank, pediatrics, I just don't care!"

She keeps this up for years. The doctors last three weeks, three months. Until she finally settles for a little man with a big wide forehead and wide jewly cheeks and squeezed narrow across his tiny eyes like he once wore glasses that were way too small, wore them for so long they crimped his face in the middle, so now he has glasses on a string to his collar button; they teeter on the purple bridge of his little nose and they are always slipping one side or the other so he'll tip his head when he talks just to keep his glasses level. That's her doctor.

Her three daytime black boys she acquires after more years of testing and ejecting thousands. They come at her in a long black row of sulky, big-nosed masks, hating her and her chalk doll whiteness from the first look they get. She appraises them and their hate for a month or so, then lets them go because they don't hate enough. When she finally gets the three she wants—gets them one at a time over a number of years, weaving them into her plan and her network—she's damn positive they hate enough to be capable. (1.4.12-14)

Though Big Nurse is not the most important, powerful person in the hospital, she’s manipulated her ward until she has a staff under her perfect control.

"What, Miss Ratched, is your opinion of this new patient? I mean, gee, he's good-looking and friendly and everything, but in my humble opinion he certainly takes over."

The Big Nurse tests a needle against her fingertip. "I'm afraid"—she stabs the needle down in the rubber-capped vial and lifts the plunger—"that is exactly what the new patient is planning: to take over. He is what we call a 'manipulator,' Miss Flinn, a man who will use everyone and everything to his own ends."

"Oh. But. I mean, in a mental hospital? What could his ends be?"

"Any number of things." She's calm, smiling, lost in the work of loading the needles. "Comfort and an easy life, for instance; the feeling of power and respect, perhaps; monetary gain—perhaps all of these things. Sometimes a manipulator's own ends are simply the actual disruption of the ward for the sake of disruption. There are such people in our society. A manipulator can influence the other patients and disrupt them to such an extent that it may take months to get everything running smooth once more. With the present permissive philosophy in mental hospitals, it's easy for them to get away with it. Some years back it was quite different. I recall some years back we had a man, a Mr. Taber, on the ward, and he was an intolerable Ward Manipulator. For a while." She looks up from her work, needle half filled in front of her face like a little wand. Her eyes get far-off and pleased with the memory. "Mistur Tay-bur," she says.

"But, gee," the other nurse says, "what on earth would make a man want to do something like disrupt the ward for, Miss Ratched? What possible motive ...?"

She cuts the little nurse off by jabbing the needle back into the vial's rubber top, fills it, jerks it out, and lays it on the tray. I watch her hand reach for another empty needle, watch it dart out, hinge over it, drop.

"You seem to forget, Miss Flinn, that this is an institution for the insane." (1.4.2-8)

Nurse Ratched and one of the junior nurses discuss the new Admission, Randle McMurphy, after he becomes top dog a few minutes after arriving. It’s interesting that although Nurse Ratched is talking about McMurphy, she might as well be talking about herself. She herself is a "manipulator" who uses "everyone and everything to [her] own ends." She seems to think that McMurphy is mentally ill for being a manipulator, so what does that say about her? Is Nurse Ratched mentally ill?

Part I, Chapter Five
Nurse Ratched (Big Nurse)

Once, just one time that I can remember, four or five years back, did it go any different. The doctor had finished his spiel, and the nurse had opened right up with, "Now. Who will start? Let out those old secrets." And she'd put all the Acutes in a trance by sitting there in silence for twenty minutes after the question, quiet as an electric alarm about to go off, waiting for somebody to start telling something about themselves. Her eyes swept back and forth over them as steady as a turning beacon. The day room was clamped silent for twenty long minutes, with all of the patients stunned where they sat. When twenty minutes had passed, she looked at her watch and said, "Am I to take it that there's not a man among you that has committed some act that he has never admitted?" She reached in the basket for the log book. "Must we go over past history?"

That triggered something, some acoustic device in the walls, rigged to turn on at just the sound of those words coming from her mouth. The Acutes stiffened. Their mouths opened in unison. Her sweeping eyes stopped on the first man along the wall.

His mouth worked. "I robbed a cash register in a service station."

She moved to the next man.

"I tried to take my little sister to bed."

Her eyes clicked to the next man; each one jumped like a shooting-gallery target. "I—one time—wanted to take my brother to bed."

"I killed my cat when I was six. Oh, God forgive me, I stoned her to death and said my neighbor did it."

"I lied about trying. I did take my sister!"

"So did I! So did I!"

"And me! And me!"

It was better than she'd dreamed. They were all shouting to outdo one another, going further and further, no way of stopping, telling things that wouldn't ever let them look one another in the eye again. The nurse nodding at each confession and saying, Yes, yes, yes.

Then old Pete was on his feet. "I'm tired!" was what he shouted, a strong, angry copper tone to his voice that no one had ever heard before.

Everyone hushed. They were somehow ashamed. It was as if he had suddenly said something that was real and true and important and it had put all their childish hollering to shame. The Big Nurse was furious. She swiveled and glared at him, the smile dripping over her chin; she'd just had it going so good.

"Somebody see to poor Mr. Bancini," she said. (1.5.75-89)

Big Nurse manipulates the men to spill all their secrets during Group Therapy. Part of her strategy is to turn the men against each other— but her purpose is foiled by the everyday needs of one of the men.

"No. She doesn't need to accuse. She has a genius for insinuation. Did you ever hear her, in the course of our discussion today, ever once hear her accuse me of anything? Yet it seems I have been accused of a multitude of things, of jealousy and paranoia, of not being man enough to satisfy my wife, of having relations with male friends of mine, of holding my cigarette in an affected manner, even—it seems to me—accused of having nothing between my legs but a patch of hair—and soft and downy and blond hair at that! Ball-cutter? Oh, you underestimate her!" (1.5.183)

One of Miss Ratched’s tactics to manipulate is to insinuate—not to outright accuse. It allows her to gain access to a person when their defenses are down.

Doctor Spivey

The doctor closes the folder when he gets to the end, and puts his glasses back in his pocket. He looks to where McMurphy is still leaned out at him from across the day room.

"You've—it seems—no other psychiatric history, Mr. McMurry?"

"McMurphy, Doc."

"Oh? But I thought—the nurse was saying—"

He opens the folder again, fishes out those glasses, looks the record over for another minute before he closes it, and puts his glasses back in his pocket. "Yes. McMurphy. That is correct. I beg your pardon."

"It's okay, Doc. It was the lady there that started it, made the mistake. I've known some people inclined to do that. I had this uncle whose name was Hallahan, and he went with a woman once who kept acting like she couldn't remember his name right and calling him Hooligan just to get his goat. It went on for months before he stopped her. Stopped her good, too."

"Oh? How did he stop her?" the doctor asks.

McMurphy grins and rubs his nose with his thumb. "Ah-ah, now, I can't be tellin' that. I keep Unk Hallahan's method a strict secret, you see, in case I need to use it myself someday."

He says it right at the nurse. She smiles right back at him… (1.5.38-46)

One of Nurse Ratched’s methods for getting under McMurphy’s skin is to call him by the wrong name. It doesn’t work. Instead, he uses it to get right back at her.

Randle McMurphy

[McMurphy:] "Is this the usual pro-cedure for these Group Ther'py shindigs? Bunch of chickens at a peckin' party?"


[Harding:]"A 'pecking party'? I fear your quaint down-home speech is wasted on me, my friend. I have not the slightest inclination what you're talking about."

"Why then, I'll just explain it to you." McMurphy raises his voice; though he doesn't look at the other Acutes listening behind him, it's them he's talking to. "The flock gets sight of a spot of blood on some chicken and they all go to peckin' at it, see, till they rip the chicken to shreds, blood and bones and feathers. But usually a couple of the flock gets spotted in the fracas, then it's their turn. And a few more gets spots and gets pecked to death, and more and more. Oh, a peckin' party can wipe out the whole flock in a matter of a few hours, buddy, I seen it. A mighty awesome sight. The only way to prevent it—with chickens—is to clip blinders on them. So's they can't see." (1.5.129-132)

McMurphy recognizes how Nurse Ratched manipulates the men by making them turn on each other and reveal things that shame them. It’s her method for emasculating them and puts them under her power and control. She attacks their manhood and they won’t go anywhere.

Part III, Chapter Two
Dale Harding

"No, my friend. We are lunatics from the hospital up the highway, psycho-ceramics, the cracked pots of mankind. Would you like me to decipher a Rorschach for you? No? You must burry on? Ah, he's gone. Pity." He turned to McMurphy. "Never before did I realize that mental illness could have the aspect of power, power. Think of it: perhaps the more insane a man is, the more powerful he could become. Hitler an example. Fair makes the old brain reel, doesn't it? Food for thought there." (3.2.102)

Harding realizes that mental illness has the power to invoke fear and, thus, to manipulate people.

Part IV, Chapter Four
Nurse Ratched (Big Nurse)

"What worries me, Billy," she said—I could hear the change in her voice—"is how your poor mother is going to take this."

She got the response she was after. Billy flinched and put his hand to his cheek like he'd been burned with acid.

"Mrs. Bibbit's always been so proud of your discretion. I know she has. This is going to disturb her terribly. You know how she is when she gets disturbed, Billy; you know how ill the poor woman can become. She's very sensitive. Especially concerning her son. She always spoke so proudly of you. She al—"

"Nuh! Nuh!" His mouth was working. He shook his head, begging her. "You d-don't n-n-need!"

"Billy Billy Billy," she said. "Your mother and I are old friends."

"No!" he cried. His voice scraped the white, bare walls of the Seclusion Room. He lifted his chin so he was shouting at the moon of light in the ceiling. "N-n-no!" We'd stopped laughing. We watched Billy folding into the floor, head going back, knees coming forward. He rubbed his hand up and down that green pant leg. He was shaking his head in panic like a kid that's been promised a whipping just as soon as a willow is cut. (4.4.32-37)

Nurse Ratched manipulates Billy’s confusion and shame to regain control over him, and then manipulates it to get back at McMurphy.

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