Part Two – The Cuckoo’s Nest

Part II is the shortest part of the novel. This section begins with the patients still sitting in front of the television, staring at the blank screen, an act that they continue to do for the rest of the week. As a result of McMurphy’s influence over the patients, the staff meets to discuss him but they argue about his motivations. Nurse Ratched believes McMurphy is just an ordinary patient who can be controlled like all the others. However, McMurphy continues to irritate Nurse Ratched. Chief Bromden is amazed at McMurphy’s influence and power. He cannot believe that anyone can be brave enough to just be himself, like McMurphy does.

The main purpose of Part II is to show the process that McMurphy goes through in deciding to dedicate himself to the survival and wellbeing of his fellow patients. At first, he is just having fun with Nurse Ratched, trying to annoy her with one little thing after another, battling her however he can. McMurphy’s actions unite the patients, and they begin coming to him for advice. Although he has not openly accepted the role, he has unconsciously taken on the role of guide and leader for the whole group. The Chief is particularly affected as he sees McMurphy’s as a big powerful man that the Combine has not been able to destroy. In the Chief’s eyes he is larger than life. This is important as when the Chief looks at his own reflection in the mirror he knows that his big, strong Native American face is just a mask; he is in reality weak and intimidated.

In Part II, McMurphy finds out that a patient who has been involuntarily placed in the hospital just like he has, cannot leave unless Nurse Ratched thinks he is fit to go. This changes McMurphy’s whole outlook. If he is ever to leave the hospital, he must change. McMurphy tries not to cause any more trouble. Nurse Ratched is pleased that McMurphy is finally settling down and she feels like she is winning the battle. The patients know what McMurphy is doing and resent him for it. The Chief’s paranoid hallucinations return, and Cheswick drowns himself in despair.

When McMurphy sees how Harding, is treated by his wife, who like Nurse Ratched is totally domineering he is shocked. He realises that men like Harding don’t stand a chance. Inside the hospital, Harding is dominated by Nurse Ratched; outside, he is dominated by his wife. McMurphy’s realises that he must do something to help the patients. He even has nightmares about their situation. McMurphy also knows that if he fights for their rights, he will lose his own.

To fight against McMurphy’s increasing influence, Nurse Ratched takes away the patients game room, saying it is for their own good. This is the last straw for McMurphy. Everyone is looking to him to retaliate, and he is forced into making a final decision about saving himself or saving the patients. When McMurphy breaks the glass of the Nurse’s station, he makes his statement. The war against Nurse Ratched and the repressive society has now seriously begun. McMurphy will do everything that he can to empower the patients to act as individuals and have faith in themselves, even if he is destroyed in the process.

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