Study Guide

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Part 2, Chapter 1 Summary

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Part II, Chapter One

  • Everybody’s watching Big Nurse to see what she’ll do.
  • Chief remembers he’s supposed to be cleaning the staff room, but he’s too afraid to move.
  • One of the orderlies, waiting near the door, watches Chief for a long time. Then he comes over, puts a bucket of soap and water on Chief’s arm, and tells Chief it’s time to get to work.
  • Chief doesn’t move. The bucket swings on his arm. The orderly helps Chief to his feet and down the hall.
  • Big Nurse goes into the day room.
  • Chief notices the light seeping out of the staff room, a green light. He says that whenever the staff meeting is over, there’s a green seepage all over the walls and chairs that he has to clean off. He says poisons seep right out of the staff’s skin. Chief’s job is to clean away the poison seepage.
  • Big Nurse lets Chief into the staff room and he notices that her face is back to normal.
  • Nurse Ratched glares at him and Chief knows she’s wondering how Chief heard McMurphy asking him to vote. None of the other Chronics had responded to McMurphy.
  • Chief turns his back to her and starts to clean off the green slime. He pretends not to be aware of her standing behind him, glaring away.
  • But then she realizes that the rest of the staff are staring at her.
  • The doctor starts the staff meeting. Notice how everyone assumes that Chief is totally deaf, which allows him to spy on the staff meeting.
  • The meeting is about McMurphy who, in Nurse Ratched’s words, is "a disturbance on the ward."
  • At this point in a normal staff meeting, Nurse Ratched usually takes over, but today she says nothing. The doctor is forced to continue the meeting his own.
  • The doctor admits that McMurphy is not a "normal" man and expresses Nurse Ratched’s desire to "unify" the staff’s opinions and actions toward him.
  • Still, Big Nurse doesn’t help him out.
  • So the doctor asks the rest of the nurses what they think.
  • They begin to discuss McMurphy. One of the orderlies suggests he isn’t mentally ill at all but a very shrewd man.
  • He makes a mistake saying that. Everybody stares at him and he’s rebuked for such an absurd idea. Anybody can see that McMurphy is not normal. He is a Napoleon, a Genghis Khan, an Attila the Hun.
  • The rest agree that he displays marked hostility and rebellionwhich is clearly a mark of being insane rather than being oppressed.
  • So the question becomes whether or not he should be sent upstairs to the Disturbed Ward.
  • Everybody comes to an agreement. Really, they just do what they think Nurse Ratched wants.
  • Finally, one of the staff members says that they are not dealing with an ordinary man.
  • This is when Big Nurse finally jumps in. She tells the staff member that he’s very wrong.
  • Now everybody’s confused. Wasn’t this what she wanted?
  • Big Nurse continues on to say that she doesn’t think McMurphy should be sent up to Disturbed Ward because that wouldn’t be fixing the problem, it would just be passing him along to another ward. Also, she doesn’t think he’s some kind of super psychopath.
  • Nobody wants to disagree with her. Chief thinks about the color of her lipstickred-orangeand thinks it can’t be lipstick. It’s fire and it’s part of her.
  • Nurse Ratched informs everyone that at first she thought he should go to the Disturbed Ward, but now she thinks it’s too late for that. She worries that by removing him, they’d be turning him into a martyr in the eyes of the other patients. In other words, the patients would never get the chance to see that he’s just an ordinary man, after all.
  • She thinks that if they keep him on the ward, his brashness and bravado will soon subside and everybody will begin to recognize that he’s not extraordinary at all.
  • She’s sure that McMurphy is too fond of himself to do anything to put himself in real danger.
  • Somebody points out that this scheme could take weeks.
  • Well, Big Nurse says, what’s the rush? Nurse Ratched points out that they (meaning she) is in control of how long he stays in the asylum, so it’s not like he’ll be leaving any time soon. She can take as long to break him as she wants.

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