Study Guide

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Madness

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Although most of the characters in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest are considered mentally ill, the plot of the novel suggests that there’s a thin line between "normal" and "abnormal." Much of the difference between the normal and the abnormal consists of fear. As one of the patients in the asylum suggests, he could live in the Outside world if only he had the guts. He doesn’t have the guts, so he finds safety in being institutionalized and considered "crazy."

Questions About Madness

  1. Is McMurphy mentally ill or just a schemer who rebels against authority?
  2. Which of the characters in the novel do you think have mental illnesses? Which ones don’t? What’s your definition of a mental illness anyway?
  3. In what ways does this novel challenge you to reconsider your notion of who is and who isn’t suffering from a mental illness?
  4. How does society view mental illness in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? How does the medical establishment view it? Are there conflicting viewpoints expressed in the book and, if so, what are they?

Chew on This

Though Chief Bromden is schizophrenic, it is possible to argue he is one of the sanest people in the book.

Though Nurse Ratched is seen as normal and McMurphy is seen as mentally ill, the nurse is actually the psychopath.

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