Part 2: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
At this point I’ve basically reached the halfway point of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and it is still very hard to tell where exactly the book is going to lead. Kesey divides the book up in what I feel is a strange way. He choses not to use chapter numbers but instead divides the pages up by moments or thoughts that Chief is either having or witnessing. He has however divided the book into four parts and, as I enter into Part 2, can’t help but feel that these specifically noted divisions are meant to signal that change is coming or the plot is going to shift, especially given that they are the only type of “section markers” that Kesey has chosen to include.
In these last 75 pages, Kesey has shifted his focus. While the first 75 pages dealt with establishing characters and introducing a feel for life on the ward, this last section dealt a little bit more with the contrast of the characters not only against each other, but with their environment. The section opens on McMurphy’s first full day in the ward, having spent the night on the day of his admission. McMurphy is up bright and early stirring up trouble with Nurse Ratched over “ward protocol” and stating that someone took all of his clothes, leading to an uncomfortable half-naked confrontation between the two. The main element of McMurphy’s plot during this section consists of him trying to persuade the ward patients and overseeing doctor to follow his lead in order to irritate Nurse Ratched and make her feel inferior in some regard. For example, throughout the section McMurphy is able to set up a separate room for Acute patients to play cards, get (somewhat) rid of what he considers annoying music and convinces the head doctor to allow the patients to hold a “therapeutic carnival”.
All the while while McMurphy is causing trouble, Nurse Ratched is very careful not to let it show that she is becoming irritated or frustrated by anything. Here, Kesey is showing us what will ultimately probably be the downfall of this character and it is easy to allude that Nurse Ratched will ultimately break and thus the power of the ward will shift back to the hands of the patients. Chief further describes Nurse Ratched’s power by saying that not even the clocks move without her say so and that she has the power to control how fast the time goes by or how agonizingly slow the seconds pass, meaning that nothing is certain for the patients in the ward.The final pages in this section set up a nice shift into part two, which I’m assuming will contain some sort of “authoritative power downfall”. McMurphy has requested that the patients be allowed to watch the World Series games outside of scheduled television time, however Nurse Ratched does not approve. McMurphy sits down to watch the game anyways and Nurse Ratched turns off the TV leaving him sitting staring at a fuzzy gray screen. Slowly the other patients being to join McMurphy in staring at the screen and soon all the Acutes are gathered around acting like a “bunch of loons”. However, Kesey is showing us that the patients on the ward are finally coming together and acting for themselves. They don’t want to be restrained by the authority around them and they are looking for some change or some sort of power that they can hold onto. They are all searching for one little piece of hope in a place where hope has virtually been stripped away.
Meanwhile, Kesey also allows the reader to have a more indepth look at the ward as seen through Chief’s eyes as he makes commentary on what he really thinks is going on. One night, Chief forgoes his sleeping pill and ends up lying awake listening and watching the ward as it closes up for the night. He sees the black boys and the nurses leave and head out, leaving him alone to ponder the sounds he hears around him. Then his commentary turns dark. He describes a fog filling the room and seeing men working around machinery type equipment with one man even dying while on duty and the other workers throwing him into a furnace to burn, thus not to hinder their work. Chief also describes one of the Vegetable patients on the ward being hung from the back of his ankles by hooks and hanging in the air. Of course I thought that this was all a dream until Chief says that early the next morning that same patient was seen being wheeled out with a sheet laid over his body. At this point I still question whether or not Chief is a reliable narrator but maybe that’s the point. Maybe Kesey wants me to be questioning the thoughts of these men because while some men seem sane they are admitted to a psychiatric institution for some reason. Maybe Kesey wants the reader to feel that these men are never really out of harm’s way, whether that be the harm they are physically feeling through words or shocking or the harm that haunts their thoughts and distorts their perception. While Chief has not said any verbal words in the last 145 pages, he does say a lot with the mental images he details. Chief describes a recurring fog that strangely makes him feel safe, despite his fear of being lost and alone. This fog has come to symbolize a omnipotent force that conquers the ward and somewhat empowers and protects the characters wrapped up in it, although Chief is the only one who can see it. His commentary relies a lot on mechanical and machinery related metaphors, mostly referring to wires and pumps and things of that nature. This makes me think that right now, everything is being very meticulously controlled and adapted just as copper wires and machines are fixed and polished to perform at their best. However, this makes it feel as though a screw will come loose (either metaphorically or in reference to the common loony expression) and everything will come collapsing down. I feel that this first part of the book really sets up the ward and describes its inner workings in order to completely demolish it in the upcoming pages.
Word Count: 1,057