Study Guide

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Rules and Order

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Rules and Order

It's fair to say that Nurse Ratched runs a tight ship in the mental hospital. Or at least she does until R.P. McMurphy shows up. Then things go totally haywire and Nurse Ratched decides she'll do whatever it takes to restore order to her hospital. That means teaching McMurphy how to behave and follow the rules. But here's the thing: McMurphy doesn't like to follow the rules… like, ever. That's one of the things that got him into the mental hospital to begin with. And that's the really the struggle that happens in the One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: McMurphy represents the individual's desire to do whatever he wants and Ratched represents society's desire for conformity and discipline.

Questions About Rules and Order

  1. Do you think that Nurse Ratched is successful in imposing rules on her hospital? Why or why not? 
  2. What are McMurphy's punishments for breaking the rules all the time? Does he eventually give in to the rules? Why or why not? 
  3. What would the mental hospital look like without any rules? Would it make the patients' lives easier or harder? Why? 
  4. In what ways do the ward's rules resemble those of society?

Chew on This

Some people will never be able to fit into a world of strict rules.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest shows us that free spirits will always be crushed by society's rules.

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