AnnotationOne Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Boisterous, ribald, and ultimately shattering, this is the unforgettable story of a mental ward and its inhabitants, especially the tyrannical Big Nurse Ratched and Randle Patrick McMurphy, the brawling, fun-loving new inmate who resolves to oppose her. We see the struggle through the eyes of Chief Bromden, the seemingly mute half-Indian patient who witnesses and understands McMurphy’s heroic attempt to do battle with the awesome power of the Combine. Hailed upon its publication as “a glittering parable of good and evil” (The New York Times Book Review) and “a roar of protest against middlebrow society’s Rules and the invisible Rulers who enforce them” (Time), this powerful book is as bracing and insightful today as it was in the 1960s.
by Ken Kesey
…one flew east, one flew west,
One flew over the cuckoo’s nest.
Children’s folk rhyme
They’re out there.
Black boys in white suits up before me to commit sex acts in the hall and get it mopped up before I can catch them.
They’re mopping when I come out the dorm, all three of them sulky and hating everything, the time of day, the place they’re at here, the people they got to work around. When they hate like this, better if they don’t see me. I creep along the wall quiet as dust in my canvas shoes, but they got special sensitive equipment detects my fear and they all look up, all three at once, eyes glittering out of the black faces like the hard glitter of radio tubes out of the back of an old radio.
“Here’s the Chief. The
–pah Chief, fellas. Ol’ Chief Broom. Here you go, Chief Broom…”
Stick a mop in my hand and motion to the spot they aim for me to clean today, and I go. One swats the backs of my legs with a broom handle to hurry me past.
“Haw, you look at ‘im shag it? Big enough to eat apples off my head an’ he mine me like a baby.”
They laugh and then I hear them mumbling behind me, heads close together. Hum of black machinery, humming hate and death and other hospital secrets. They don’t bother not talking out loud about their hate secrets when I’m nearby because they think I’m deaf and dumb. Everybody thinks so. I’m cagey enough to fool them that much. If my being half Indian ever helped me in any way in this dirty life, it helped me being cagey, helped me all these years.
I’m mopping near the ward door when a key hits it from the other side and I know it’s the Big Nurse by the way the lockworks cleave to the key, soft and swift and familiar she been around locks so long. She slides through the door with a gust of cold and locks the door behind her and I see her fingers trail across the polished steel—tip of each finger the same color as her lips. Funny orange. Like the tip of a soldering iron. Color so hot or so cold if she touches you with it you can’t tell which.
She’s carrying her woven wicker bag like the ones the Umpqua tribe sells out along the hot August highway, a bag shape of a tool box with a hemp handle. She’s had it all the years I been here. It’s a loose weave and I can see inside it; there’s no compact or lipstick or woman stuff, she’s got that bag full of thousand parts she aims to use in her duties today—wheels and gears, cogs polished to a hard glitter, tiny pills that gleam like porcelain, needles, forceps, watchmakers’ pliers, rolls of copper wire…
She dips a nod at me as she goes past. I let the mop push me back to the wall and smile and try to foul her equipment’ up as much as possible by not letting her see my eyes—they can’t tell so much about you if you got your eyes closed.
In my dark I hear her rubber heels hit the tile and the stuff in her wicker bag clash with the jar of her walking as she passes me in the hall. She walks stiff. When I open my eyes she’s down the hall about to turn into the glass Nurses’ Station where she’ll spend the day sitting at her desk and looking out her window and making notes on what goes on out in front of her in the day room during the next eight hours. Her face looks pleased and peaceful with the thought.
Then… she sights those black boys. They’re still down there together, mumbling to one another. They didn’t hear her come on the ward. They sense she’s glaring down at them now, but it’s too late. They should of knew better’n to group up and mumble together when she was due on the ward. Their faces bob apart, confused. She goes into a crouch and advances on where they’re trapped in a huddle at the end of the corridor. She knows what they been saying, and I can see she’s furious clean out of control. She’s going to tear the black bastards limb from limb, she’s so furious. She’s swelling up, swells till her back’s splitting out the white uniform and she’s let her arms section out long enough to wrap around the three of them five, six times. She looks around her with a swivel of her huge head. Nobody up to see, just old Broom Bromden the half-breed Indian back there hiding behind his mop and can’t talk to call for help. So she really lets herself go and her painted smile twists, stretches to an open snarl, and she blows up bigger and bigger, big as a tractor, so big I can smell the machinery inside the way you smell a motor pulling too big a load. I hold my breath and figure, My God this time they’re gonna do it! This time they let the hate build up too high and overloaded and they’re gonna tear one another to pieces before they realize what they’re doing!
But just as she starts crooking those sectioned arms around the black boys and they go to ripping at her underside with the mop handles, all the patients start coming out of the dorms to check on what’s the hullabaloo, and she has to change back before she’s caught in the shape of her hideous real self. By the time the patients get their eyes rubbed to where they can halfway see what the racket’s about, all they see is the head nurse, smiling and calm and cold as usual, telling the black boys they’d best not stand in a group gossiping when it
Monday morning and there
such a lot to get done on the first morning of the week…
“…mean old Monday morning, you know, boys…”
“Yeah, Miz Ratched…
“…and we have quite a number of appointments this morning, so perhaps, if your standing here in a group talking isn’t
“Yeah, Miz Ratched…”
She stops and nods at some of the patients come to stand around and stare out of eyes all red and puffy with sleep. She nods once to each. Precise, automatic gesture. Her face is smooth, calculated, and precision-made, like an expensive baby doll, skin like flesh-colored enamel, blend of white and cream and baby-blue eyes, small nose, pink little nostrils—everything working together except the color on her lips and fingernails, and the size of her bosom. A mistake was made somehow in manufacturing, putting those big, womanly breasts on what would of otherwise been a perfect work, and you can see how bitter she is about it.
The men are still standing and waiting to see what she was onto the black boys about, so she remembers seeing me and says, “And since it
Monday, boys, why don’t we get a good head start on the week by shaving poor Mr. Bromden first this morning, before the after-breakfast rush on the shaving room, and see if we can’t avoid some of the—ah—disturbance he tends to cause, don’t you think?”
Before anybody can turn to look for me I duck back in the mop closet, jerk the door shut dark after me, hold my breath. Shaving before you get breakfast is the worst time. When you got something under your belt you’re stronger and more wide awake, and the bastards who work for the Combine aren’t so apt to slip one of their machines in on you in place of an electric shaver. But when you shave
breakfast like she has me do some mornings—six-thirty in the morning in a room all white walls and white basins, and long-tube-lights in the ceiling making sure there aren’t any shadows, and faces all round you trapped screaming behind the mirrors—then what chance you got against one of their machines?
I hide in the mop closet and listen, my heart beating in the dark, and I try to keep from getting scared, try to get my thoughts off someplace else—try to think back and remember things about the village and the big Columbia River, think about ah one time Papa and me were hunting birds in a stand of cedar trees near The Dalles… But like always when I try to place my thoughts in the past and hide there, the fear close at hand seeps in through the memory. I can feel that least black boy out there coming up the hall, smelling out for my fear. He opens out his nostrils like black funnels, his outsized head bobbing this way and that as he sniffs, and he sucks in fear from all over the ward. He’s smelling me now, I can hear him snort. He don’t know where I’m hid, but he’s smelling and he’s hunting around. I try to keep still…
(Papa tells me to keep still, tells me that the dog senses a bird somewheres right close. We borrowed a pointer dog from a man in The Dalles. All the village dogs are no-‘count mongrels, Papa says, fish-gut eaters and no class a-tall; this here dog, he got
I don’t say anything, but I already see the bird up in a scrub cedar, hunched in a gray knot of feathers. Dog running in circles underneath, too much smell around for him to point for sure. The bird safe as long as he keeps still. He’s holding out pretty good, but the dog keeps sniffing and circling, louder and closer. Then the bird breaks, feathers springing, jumps out of the cedar into the birdshot from Papa’s gun.)
The least black boy and one of the bigger ones catch me before I get ten steps out of the mop closet, and drag me back to the shaving room. I don’t fight or make any noise. If you yell it’s just tougher on you. I hold back the yelling. I hold back till they get to my temples. I’m not sure it’s one of those substitute machines and not a shaver till it gets to my temples; then I can’t hold back. It’s not a will-power thing any more when they get to my temples. It’s a…
, pushed, says Air Raid Air Raid, turns me on so loud it’s like no sound, everybody yelling at me, hands over their ears from behind a glass wall, faces working around in talk circles but no sound from the mouths. My sound soaks up all other sound. They start the fog machine again and it’s snowing down cold and white all over me like skim milk, so thick I might even be able to hide in it if they didn’t have a hold on me. I can’t see six inches in front of me through the fog and the only thing I can hear over the wail I’m making is the Big Nurse whoop and charge up the hall while she crashes patients outta her way with that wicker bag. I hear her coming but I still can’t hush my hollering. I holler till she gets there. They hold me down while she jams wicker bag and all into my mouth and shoves it down with a mop handle.
(A bluetick hound bays out there in the fog, running scared and lost because he can’t see. No tracks on the ground but the ones he’s making, and he sniffs in every direction with his cold red-rubber nose and picks up no scent but his own fear, fear burning down into him like steam.) It’s gonna burn me just that way, finally telling about all this, about the hospital, and her, and the guys—and about McMurphy. I been silent so long now it’s gonna roar out of me like floodwaters and you think the guy telling this is ranting and raving my2
; you think this is too horrible to have really happened, this is too awful to be the truth! But, please. It’s still hard for me to have a clear mind thinking on it. But it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen.
When the fog clears to where I can see, I’m sitting in the day room. They didn’t take me to the Shock Shop this time. I remember they took me out of the shaving room and locked me in Seclusion. I don’t remember if I got breakfast or not. Probably not. I can call to mind some mornings locked in Seclusion the black boys keep bringing seconds of everything—supposed to be for me, but they eat it instead—till all three of them get breakfast while I lie there on that pee-stinking mattress, watching them wipe up egg with toast. I can smell the grease and hear them chew the toast. Other mornings they bring me cold mush and force me to eat it without it even being salted.
This morning I plain don’t remember. They got enough of those things they call pills down me so I don’t know a thing till I hear the ward door open. That ward door opening means it’s at least eight o’clock, means there’s been maybe an hour and a half I was out cold in that Seclusion Room when the technicians could of come in and installed anything the Big Nurse ordered and I wouldn’t have the slightest notion what.