Study Guide

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Freedom and Confinement

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Freedom and Confinement

McMurphy wants only one thing out of life, and that's to be free. That's why he nearly falls over when he finds out that many of the other patients in the mental ward are living there voluntarily. He can't imagine why a person would ever willingly give up their freedom, but that's one of the reasons why he'll never understand his fellow patients. In his mind, the only purpose of life is to do what you want on your own terms. But the other men find comfort in giving up their freedom and letting someone else manage their lives for them. And this difference leads to a lot of the conflict we find in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Questions About Freedom and Confinement

  1. How do you interpret the ending of this movie? Does Chief Bromden achieve freedom? Does McMurphy? Why or why not? Is it a triumph or a tragedy? Maybe a little of both? 
  2. Which characters in this movie want to be in the mental hospital? Why? 
  3. How does McMurphy break the other patients out of the hospital? Do he have any hope of a permanent escape? Why or why not? 
  4. How is this movie's title connected to the theme of freedom and confinement? Is it a pessimistic title or an optimistic one? Why?

Chew on This

Many of the patients' personal lives tell us that freedom is often more painful than confinement.

According to McMurphy's example, we must pursue freedom at any cost, even if that cost is death.

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