McMurphy vs. Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

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  • 0:04 McMurphy vs. Ratched
  • 0:51 Challenges & Consequences
  • 4:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joe Ricker
In Ken Kesey's 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,' Randle McMurphy, a patient in a psychiatric hospital, challenges the authoritarian rule of Nurse Ratched, a former military nurse who maliciously dominates the patients, leaving them fearful of her power.

McMurphy vs. Ratched

From the beginning of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, when Randle McMurphy makes his entrance into the psychiatric hospital, it's apparent that there will be tension. McMurphy is a self-proclaimed gambler who loves cards and money; he likes taking chances and pushing the limits. Nurse Ratched is a former military nurse who dominates the disturbed ward with her authoritarian rule.

Like any good poker player, McMurphy watches his opponent to size her up. He sees that Nurse Ratched's control over the men is not helping them get better, but keeping them in a low emotional state. After his first group meeting, in which McMurphy witnesses Nurse Ratched's malicious and calculated control over the other patients, he decides that something needs to be done, and a literary 'rumble in the jungle' begins.

Challenges & Consequences

After the group meeting, Randle bets the other men on the ward that he can break Nurse Ratched's stern and controlled demeanor and cause her to lose her temper without being removed, lobotomized, or given electroshock therapy.

Round 1

McMurphy begins prodding her, committing himself to slight insubordinations. Then, he attempts to hold a vote to see if the other men want to watch the world series instead of doing clean-up. Nurse Ratched refuses to allow this, so McMurphy protests by refusing to do his chores and sitting in front of the blank screen on the television. Other men join him, and Nurse Ratched loses her temper and engages in a screaming match with McMurphy and the other residents.

Round 2

McMurphy's slightly victorious feeling is short lived, however. He quickly learns that his release from the psychiatric hospital is at the discretion of the staff. McMurphy has little choice but to fall in line and submit to Nurse Ratched's control, which proves unfortunate for another patient.

Having been influenced by McMurphy's resistance to Nurse Ratched, a patient named Cheswick protests against her with the expectation that McMurphy and the other patients will join him. But McMurphy, who now realizes he has to be on good behavior if he ever wants to get out, does not join with Cheswick, and neither do the other patients. Sadly, Cheswick dies in the pool in what is suspected as a suicide.

Round 3

After Cheswick's death, McMurphy seizes an opportunity to redeem himself. He stands up for George, another patient in the ward, and with the help of Chief Bromden (another patient and the narrator) engages in a fistfight with some of the orderlies. Subsequently, McMurphy and Bromden are sent to receive electroshock therapy.

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