Study Guide

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Part I, Chapter Eight

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Part I, Chapter Eight

  • McMurphy has woken up before Chief, and he sings as he comes out of the latrine.
  • Nobody’s heard anyone sing in years and everybody is struck silent. How come the orderlies haven’t shut him up yet?
  • Everybody sees in an instant that McMurphy is different; he won’t shrivel up like the rest of the patients have.
  • Why’s he different? Because he doesn’t have anybody to care about, to make him worried, to bring him to his knees. At least that’s Chief’s theory.
  • Chief comes out of the dorm room just in time to see McMurphy leave the bathroom and ask an orderly for some toothpaste.
  • The orderly responds that it’s ward policy to lock up the toothpaste.
  • You might be wondering what’s so dangerous about toothpaste that it has to be locked up? McMurphy’s thinking the same thing.
  • The orderly’s only response is that locking up toothpaste is simply ward policy, end of story. After all, what would happen if everybody could brush their teeth whenever they wanted?
  • I see, McMurphy responds, I can see why that would be a real big problem. Why, people might be brushing their teeth at 6:10 or 6:20. They might even be brushing their teeth at 6:00!
  • McMurphy finds some soap powder and decides to use that instead.
  • The orderly stares at McMurphy, completely confused.
  • Chief watches McMurphy’s antics too and thinks that it’s doing him some good to see the new guy messing with the orderly. It reminds him of the time his father made fun of some government men and got the better of them.
  • Chief realizes that he’d forgotten what laughter can do for a person.
  • As soon as Big Nurse arrives, the orderly starts complaining to her about McMurphy. At just that moment, they both hear McMurphy singing.
  • At first, Nurse Ratched is confused. Then she gets mad.
  • With nostrils flaring, the control maniac Nurse Ratched heads toward McMurphy, who has just hopped out of the shower and is only wearing a towel.
  • Nurse Ratched insists that he can’t go around in only a towel.
  • McMurphy takes her literally and starts to take his towel off to see if his birthday suit pleases her better. Before there’s any exciting nude scenes, Nurse Ratched stops him from stripping. Still, he lets her know that his clothes were stolen in the night, so it’s either the towel or nothing.
  • Even though Nurse Ratched explains that McMurphy is supposed wear a green uniform like all the other asylum patients, he assures her that there was no green uniform to be found.
  • Getting frustrated, the Big Nurse starts yelling at orderlies until they finally locate a uniform for McMurphy.
  • An orderly hands the green outfit to McMurphy with a look of pure, clear hate.
  • That’s when Chief and Big Nurse realize that McMurphy was wearing his shorts with the white whales under his towel the whole time. The shorts make Big Nurse even more furious.
  • It takes her a minute to get herself under control.
  • Then she dispatches the two orderlies who are hanging around. Now out of view of any other staff members, the Big (angry) Nurse looks around for a victim on whom she can take out her rage. She sees Chiefbut some other patients have shown up, and she doesn’t want them to see her out of control.
  • Nurse Ratched pulls herself together and begins her usual morning routine of greeting each patient. Then she turns around and tells McMurphy that he should stop trying to show off his fine, manly physique and get into his greens.
  • McMurphy goes off singing.
  • Chief continues sweeping. When he’s sweeping under McMurphy’s bed, he smells a scent of the outsidethe smell of a man’s sweat and dirtwhich is so completely different from the sour smells of the asylum, with all of its germicide, zinc ointment, and powders.

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