Study Guide

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

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Part I, Chapter Three

  • While McMurphy looks around at the day room, Chief describes how the room is ordered, socially-speaking.
  • The Acutes move around a lot and tell jokes and spy on each other.
  • The Chronics aren’t there to get fixed, but simply to keep them off the streets. Chief acknowledges that he’s a Chronic.
  • The Chronics are further divided into the Walkers and the Vegetables. Chief’s a Walker.
  • Some people who are now Chronics used to be Acutes but they got mangled in the Shock Shopelectroshocked so badly that their brains are now fried. Ellis is one of those.
  • Ruckly was also an Acute who became a Chronic after they mangled him another way. Chief describes what happened to Ruckly, so we can figure out that the guy was lobotomized. A lobotomy is a surgical operation on the frontal lobe of the brain that was used back then to treat mental illness.
  • Colonel Matterson is the oldest Chronic. He’s a terrified cavalry soldier from the First War.
  • Chief has been in the ward the longest, though, ever since the Second World War. Big Nurse has been working at the asylum even longer than Chief has been there.
  • The Chronics and the Acutes don’t mingle. The Acutes claim it’s because of the Chronics’ stench, but the real reason is they’re scared they’ll end up that way too.
  • McMurphy figures out right away that he’s an Acute. He heads over there to greet everybody but he makes them nervous with his laughter. Finally, he realizes he’s making them upset and he starts telling them they don’t seem crazy to him.
  • He asks Billy Bibbit who is the "bull goose loony" here. In other words, he wants to know who’s top dog.
  • Billy stutters that he himself isn’t, but he’s in line for the spot.
  • McMurphy says that’s cool and all, but he thinks he’ll take over that job, thank you very much.
  • So McMurphy asks Billy to take him to their leader so they can figure out who's going to be boss around here.
  • Billy turns to Harding and says he guesses that Harding would be the man McMurphy is seeking.
  • Harding is president of the Patient’s Council and he always brags about his sexy wife.
  • Harding looks at the ceiling and asks if this "gentleman" has an appointment.
  • Billy asks McMurphy if he has an appointment.
  • McMurphy tells Billy that the hospital isn’t big enough for both him and Harding. Besides, he’s used to being top dog wherever he goes. So either Harding meets him "man to man" or he’s yellow and should leave town by sunset.
  • Harding tells Billy that this "young upstart" (meaning McMurphy) should know that he will meet him in the main hall at high noon and they’ll settle it once and for all.
  • McMurphy tells Billy that he should warn Harding that he’s so crazy that he even voted for Eisenhower.
  • Well, Harding tells Billy to tell McMurphy that he’s so crazy he voted for Eisenhower twice.
  • To one-up Harding, McMurphy instructs Billy to tell Harding that he’s so crazy he expects to vote for Eisenhower again this November.
  • Harding says, " I take off my hat."
  • Everybody knows McMurphy has won.
  • The Acutes wander over to learn about McMurphy. He tells them how he’s been in and out of jail here, there, and everywhere. Then he goes over to meet the Chronics.
  • None of the Chronics understand what he’s up to, but McMurphy keeps insisting that it’s important he meet everybody and know the men he’ll be dealing with.
  • When he reaches Chiefstrapped in his chair in the cornerMcMurphy leans back to laugh. Suddenly, Chief is scared that the reason McMurphy’s laughing is because he realizes Chief’s deaf-and-mute act is just thatan act.
  • McMurphy asks what’s his story and Billy Bibbit calls across the room and answers for Chief that his name is Chief Bromden but everybody calls him Chief Broom because the orderlies always make him sweep.
  • The patients start discussing Chief. Harding says he’s a Columbia Indian and that his father was the tribal leader. Also, he’s deaf.
  • McMurphy leans down to ask, "Is that right? Are you deaf?"
  • Billy tells the new leader that Chief’s deaf and dumb.
  • Well, he can still shake my hand, can’t he? McMurphy says, holding out his hand. Chief shakes his hand.
  • Then Nurse Ratched comes in and calls "Mr. McMurry" over. She says that she understands he’s being difficult about taking his shower, but everyone is required to follow the rules.
  • McMurphy and the Big Nurse look each other over and size each other up.
  • McMurphy points out that the only time that people remind him to follow the rules is when they expect him to break them.
  • Then he lets go of Chief’s hand.

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