Study Guide

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Power

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McMurphy: She likes a rigged game, you know what I mean?

McMurphy can see through Nurse Ratched's manipulative tricks even if the other mental patients can't. He knows that Nurse Ratched will never allow a situation to arise if she can't control its outcome. That's what he means when he says Ratched likes "a rigged game." She holds all the cards—all the power.

Nurse Ratched: The patients are not allowed in the nurses' station. All right?

Ratched speaks to McMurphy like a child when she tells him to leave the nurses' station, which is a shortcut to showing him who's in charge. McMurphy is quick to obey, but because he doesn't yet understand how manipulative Ratched can be.

McMurphy: Do you think it might be possible to turn the music down so maybe a couple of the boys could talk?

How very polite. McMurphy quickly recognizes that the inability to communicate is what keeps many of the patients from connecting, and it certainly doesn't help that Nurse Ratched is always blaring classical music over the PA system. But when he asks her to turn it down, she refuses.

Nurse Ratched: That music is for everyone, Mr. McMurphy.

When she's asked to turn down the music on the ward, Nurse Ratched replies that she's not going to change things just to suit McMurphy's preferences. She wants to teach him to respect the needs of others just as much as his own. But that's probably not going to happen. This is less about everyone else's needs, and more about Nurse Ratched's desire to control every corner of the ward.

Nurse Ratched: Your hand is staining my window.

When McMurphy presses his point too much, Nurse Ratched's trick is to focus on something concrete that she can call him out on. A little misdirection always does the trick. So she points out the fact that his hand is leaving a print on her nurse station window. This trick puts her on the high ground while distracting McMurphy from what he's trying to say.

Harding: Don't! Mac!

McMurphy finally snaps when he realizes that he'll never be able to outsmart Nurse Ratched. So he attacks her and tries to kill her. And he ends up getting part of his brain taken out for his trouble. Even Harding, who can never quite say what's on his mind, is totally clear here: McMurphy's gone over the line.

Nurse Ratched: The best thing we can do is go on with our daily routine.

Nurse Ratched is certain that even after a patient has committed suicide, the best thing for the patients of the hospital to do is continue on with their daily routine. This insistence on unchanging routine is one of the greatest sources of her power.

Doctor: Of course, it's true that you went in for statutory rape.

McMurphy's no stranger to wanting to be in control. After all, the dude's a convicted rapist. It's important not to forget this when you see him chafing at the fact that he's being bossed around by Nurse Ratched.

Doctor: You've got at least five arrests for assault.

On top of his rape charge, McMurphy has five arrests for assault. That basically means that the guy has issues when it comes to control. Rape and assault are both crimes where the criminal wants to feel powerful. That's why it makes total sense that McMurphy would eventually try to kill the person who has total power over him—Nurse Ratched.

McMurphy: Well, as near as I can figure out, it's 'cause I fight and f*** too much."

McMurphy knows that his society can't tolerate the kind of life he wants to live. If he'd been born in the Old West, he might have been a pretty normal guy. But he's living in modern society instead and there's no room for his aggressive personality and lack of concern for other people.

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