Study Guide

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Language and Communication

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Language and Communication

Ratched: He also thinks he may have given her reason to seek sexual attention elsewhere, but he wasn't able to say how.

Mr. Harding is hesitant to say why he thinks his wife might have wanted sex from other men. It might be because Harding is secretly gay or because he doesn't think much of his own sexual abilities. The truth is we'll never know because he's unwilling (or unable) to communicate his deepest doubts.

Mr. Harding: The only thing I can really speculate on, Nurse Ratched, is the very existence of my life with or without my wife in terms of the human relationships, the juxtaposition of one person to another. The form, the content.

Whenever he's presented with a stressful question, Harding tends to revert to a bunch of intellectual nonsense that doesn't really mean anything. But he seems totally convinced that he's speaking clearly, which leads to a lot of misunderstandings between him and the other patients.

Max Taber: Harding, why don't you knock off that bulls*** and get to the point?

Max Taber doesn't have much patience for the times when Harding goes off on his intellectual nonsense rants. He snaps and tells Harding to get to the point. We can already see communication breaking down because of vagueness on Harding's side and frustration on Taber's side.

Mr. Harding: I'm not just talking about my wife. I'm talking about my life. I can't seem to get that through to you."

Harding believes that he's being totally clear when he talks about his life. But he doesn't realize that no one else can understand what he's saying. And that's the general dynamic of all the relationships in the mental hospital. People can't tell each other what they need or want. It's an all around bummer.

Mr. Harding: I'm not just talking about one person. I'm talking about everybody.

Harding can't talk about his own problems without making them part of some huge commentary about all of humanity. You might think of this as a sort of dodge to keep from feeling vulnerable. If his problems are the problems of all humanity, then Harding never needs to feel like he's alone with his pain. We can also imagine that this conversational tick would get pretty annoying after awhile. The poor guy can't see the trees for the forest (see what we did there?).

Cheswick: You just don't want to learn anything. You just don't want to listen to anybody.

Cheswick gets fed up with the other patients always giving Harding a hard time. He tries to stick up for Harding by telling the others they need to listen more. But it's no use. Communication isn't going to happen anytime soon. Maybe that's because Harding isn't getting the help he needs under the Ratched regime.

Mr. Harding: Is that your idea of communicating something to me?

Eventually, Harding's attempts to communicate to the group of patients fall apart. He goes off on a paranoid tangent because he thinks the men are accusing him of being gay, which he says might be true. But the others have no clue what he's talking about.

Mr. Washington: What the hell are you talking to him for? He can't hear a thing.

Chief Bromden is supposedly deaf and dumb, which is why the orderly Mr. Washington gets frustrated when McMurphy keeps talking to him. But McMurphy says it doesn't hurt anyone for him to talk, so Mr. Washington should mind his own business.

McMurphy: You fooled them, Chief. You fooled them. You fooled them all!

McMurphy nearly falls over with glee when he finds out that Chief Bromden has been fooling everyone in the mental hospital to think he's a deaf mute. For him, this is the greatest victory of all against Nurse Ratched's endless efforts to get the men to communicate their thoughts. Chief can communicate, he just chooses not to, maybe because he knows the game is rigged.

Chief Bromden: I'm not going without you, Mac. I wouldn't leave you here this way.

When Chief Bromden realizes that McMurphy has had a lobotomy, he decides that he can't possibly let him live out such a shameful existence. So he grabs a pillow and smothers the dude to death. In his mind, this is much better than letting Mac live like a zombie.

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