Study Guide

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Part 3, Chapter 1 Summary

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Part III, Chapter One

  • Nurse Ratched leaves McMurphy alone for a long time after that, biding her time. But everybody knows she isn’t about to recommend that he be released from the asylum.
  • McMurphy’s now making things "pretty interesting" on the ward. He starts a basketball team, to which Big Nurse objects. However, the doctor points that it’s good for the men to be part of a team sport.
  • The doctor is also showing a little spirit, of which Nurse Ratched takes note.
  • Whenever Nurse Ratched and McMurphy speak to each other, they are extremely polite. He starts to request an Unaccompanied Leave, which he’s allowed to do after one month, but Big Nurse keeps turning him down.
  • Finally, McMurphy calmly puts his fist through the glass window in the Nurses’ Station again.
  • The Acutes’ basketball team plays against a team made up of aides and orderlies.
  • McMurphy is full of tricks to try to get under Big Nurse’s skin and the other Acutes begin to imitate his behavior. Big Nurse has a full-scale rebellion on her hands.
  • McMurphy tries to get a pass to leave the ward and go fishing. Even though it passes in the group, Big Nurse reads a newspaper clipping that says the ocean is dangerous this time of year and that McMurphy should rethink the fishing trip.
  • McMurphy thinks about it and decides is a great time for fishing because it will allow men to be men and brave the dangers of the sea.
  • So the next day, he gets the patients to start signing up to go on the trip. At the same time, Big Nurse continues to bring in clippings about wrecked ships.
  • These clippings scare the men. They’re not used to the Outside world and Nurse Ratched knows that. They’ve been trained to be intimidated.
  • Chief wants to sign up to go, but if he does, then that's practically admitting to everyone that he can hear. He thinks about it at night, wondering if he can act any way other than the way he’s been acting the last ten years.
  • Chief remembers that he wasn’t the one who started acting deaf—other people just started acting like Chief was too dumb to understand.
  • At this point, Chief tells a story within a story about some white people coming into his tribe’s town. They were hoping to build a hydroelectric dam on the tribal land. We enter into a flashback:
  • Two men and an old woman show up in the tribe’s town. They blabber on and on about how they find it unbelievable that people can live like this, even going so far as to call Chief’s father’s house a "hovel." They refuse to go inside the house to talk business with Chief’s father.
  • These people are essentially talking as if they assume that Chief doesn’t understand English.
  • Chief lets them talk for awhile before speaking up to say that their house is a lot cooler than houses in town.
  • The men act like they don’t hear him at all.
  • As he watches the men ignoring him, it’s like time stops. Then a hen walks by them and time begins moving again.
  • One of the men says that whatever offer they make on "this… metropolis" will be "quite sufficient."
  • One of the men says he still thinks they should make an effort to speak with the Chief.
  • The old woman with them says, "No," the same way as the Big Nurse does. She thinks they should spread the word about the advantages of the hydroelectric dam and everything will fall into place.
  • They get back in their car and drive away. Chief wonders if they even saw him.
  • The flashback ends here.
  • Chief lies awake and realizes that he hears a sound under his bed. He looks and sees one of the orderlies scraping the gum off the underside of Chief’s bed.
  • Chief jerks back into bed, afraid the orderly will realize that he’s not deaf (because he was startled by the scraping noise).
  • McMurphy wakes up and asks the orderly what the devil he’s doing at his time of night.
  • The orderly admits he’s been watching Chief for years, wondering where the guy got his gum since he never buys any in the canteen. And now he’s found Chief’s stash.
  • McMurphy giggles.
  • When the orderly leaves, McMurphy whispers to Chief to tell him something and he starts singing him a hillbilly song about the Spearmint gum.
  • At first, Chief gets mad, thinking McMurphy is making fun of him. Then he realizes that it is funny and he wants to laugh at himself. Finally, he starts to chuckle.
  • McMurphy jumps right up and Chief stops. Then McMurphy hands him some Juicy Fruit gum.
  • Chief says, "Thank you."
  • McMurphy just watches him. Then he tells Chief his voice sounds out of practice, but that Chief is welcome to practice speaking because they’ve got until 6:30am to chat.
  • McMurphy sees that Chief can’t talk, so he starts the conversation himself.
  • He tells Chief about a time when he was the only kid among a group of workers and nobody would listen to him. So he stopped talking for four weeks. After that, the other men forgot McMurphy could talk at all. On the last day, he opened his mouth and told them what a bunch of farts they were, and how they betrayed each other and talked about each other behind their backs. Then they listened to him!
  • McMurphy wants to know if Chief is just waiting until the time is right to lay into everyone too?
  • Chief says no. He insists that he’s not big and tough like McMurphy.
  • McMurphy says that’s ridiculous because Chief is physically way larger than everyone else on the ward.
  • Chief says that he used to be big, but now he’s half McMurphy’s size. He explains how his mother used to be little and his father was as large as Chief himself. Eventually, though, his mother managed to get to be bigger than both father and son put together. Chief is talking psychologically here, not physically.
  • Chief tells McMurphy that everybody worked on his father just like they’re working on McMurphy. That’s how his father got to be so small.
  • That’s why you shouldn’t have broken the window, Chief says. They see you’re big now and they have to bust you. They’ll work on you in ways that you can’t fight. They install machinery until you’re fixed.
  • Then he says that his father finally took to the drink. They didn’t kill him, he says, they did something else.
  • Then he asks McMurphy if he’s talking crazy. McMurphy says yes—but that doesn’t mean that what he said didn’t make sense.
  • McMurphy stops talking.
  • Chief stares at McMurphy and wants to touch him. At first Chief’s worried that he’s gay for wanting to touch another man, but then he thinks, "If I was one of these queers I'd want to do other things with him. I just want to touch him because he's who he is."
  • McMurphy invites him to go on the fishing trip, but Chief says he’s broke and can’t afford it.
  • Then McMurphy asks Chief if he could lift the control panel in the tub room (the one that McMurphy was totally unable to pick up) back when he was in his prime. Chief says he thinks so.
  • McMurphy again asks whether Chief could pick up that panel if he got to be big again, the size he was when he was younger. Again, Chief says yes.
  • McMurphy says he'll pay for Chief to come on the fishing trip if Chief can lift that panel. But let’s keep it a secret, he says.
  • McMurphy says they’ll have a real trip. He gets up and says he’s going out right this minute to sign Chief’s name up to the fishing trip list. He also tells says that Chief has grown half a foot already.

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