Study Guide

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

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Part II, Chapter Three

  • Suddenly, the afternoon meetings have turned into gripe sessions. The men, who have long been silent, start to barrage Nurse Ratched with a list of complaints. They want to know why they can never be alone, or why they can’t sleep in late on the weekends like normal people do, or why she controls their cigarettes when they’ve bought the cigarettes themselves.
  • McMurphy is surprised that Nurse Ratched and the staff haven’t applied more pressure on him to stop creating this rebellion of the Acutes.
  • But Wednesday of the next week, things change. Wednesday is the day when everybody is packed up and taken to the swimming pool, regardless of whether they want to go or not.
  • Chief is scared of water, so he stays close to McMurphy while the orderlies herd everybody into the water.
  • McMurphy is treading water (while Chief is just standing) and talking to the lifeguard. (Gives you an idea of how tall Chief must be.)
  • McMurphy tells the lifeguard that the hospital is better than prison, but the lifeguard isn’t so sure. According to the lifeguard, at least when you go to jail, you know when you’re going to be let out.
  • McMurphy stops splashing around suddenly and asks, "And if you’re committed?"
  • That’s when he finds out that the lifeguard was picked up for being drunk and disorderlyand now he’s been committed for eight years. Nurse Ratched just keeps telling the doctor that he isn’t ready to leave.
  • McMurphy begins think about the lifeguard’s argument. He’d had a six month sentence at the farm (kind of a forced labor jail) with only four months to go. He’d been in the asylum for a month.
  • McMurphy swims to the shallow end of the pool and frowns as he thinks to himself. Suddenly, Chief is afraid.
  • The next day, McMurphy gets up early and polishes the bathroom until it shines, just as the orderlies requested. He surprises everybodyexcept for Big Nurse.
  • When Cheswick complains about the cigarette situation during the afternoon meeting, he asks McMurphy to back him up. McMurphy remains silent.
  • Cheswick starts to throw a temper tantrum and the orderlies drag him away.
  • Nurse Ratched asks if anybody else wants to discuss the cigarettes. Everybody is silent.
  • Some of the Acutes decide that McMurphy is still outsmarting the Big Nurse, even though he’s stopped standing up for them. They speculate that he’s planning something big or that he’s trying to avoid getting sent to the Disturbed Ward.
  • In reality, Nurse Ratched has scored another point, and the score is tied at 3 for McMurphy and 3 for Ratched, but it just doesn’t seem like a game anymore.
  • Chief knows the deal. McMurphy is giving in because it’s the smart thing to do. Unlike in his jail sentence, Nurse Ratched can hold McMurphy in the asylum indefinitely.
  • Then one day, everybody knows all at once why McMurphy has given in. They don’t hold it against him, but they wish it didn’t have to be that way.
  • Cheswick tells McMurphy that he understands. But he still wishes something could be done.
  • That same day, when the group goes to the pool, Cheswick dives down to the bottom and grabs onto the grate so no one can pull him out. He drowns.

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