One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest Quotes

     "Across the room from the Acutes are the culls of the Combine's product, the Chronics. Not in the hospital, these, to get fixed, but just to keep them from walking around the streets giving the product a bad name. Chronics are in for good, the staff concedes. Chronics are divided into Walkers like me, can still get around if you keep them fed, and Wheelers and Vegetables. What the Chronics are - or most of us - are machines with flaws inside that can't be repaired, flaws born in, or flaws beat in over so many years of the guy running head-on into solid things that by the time the hospital found him he was bleeding rust in some vacant lot." (Part I)

     From early on in the novel, this quote illustrates Chief Bromden's idea of the Combine as all-controlling, and the patients as flawed machines. It also helps to explain the difference between Acute and Chronic patients, and how the hospital is a warehouse for people more than a rehabilitation centre.

     "Under her rule the ward Inside is almost completely adjusted to surroundings. But the thing is she can't be on the ward all the time. She's got to spend time Outside. So she works with an eye to adjusting the Outside world too. Working alongside others like her who I call the "Combine," which is a huge organization that aims to adjust the Outside as well as she has the Inside, has made her a real veteran at adjusting things. She was already the Big Nurse in the old place when I came in from the Outside so long back, and she'd been dedicating herself to adjustment for God knows how long." (Part I)

     An explanation of how Chief Bromden sees Nurse Ratched and the Combine, and how her control of the ward is all encompassing.

     "The flock gets sight of a spot of blood on some chicken and they all go to peckin' at it, see, till they rip the chicken to shreds, blood and bones and feathers. But usually a couple of the flock gets spotted in the fracas, then it's their turn. And a few more gets spots and gets pecked to death, and more and more. Oh, a peckin' party can wipe out the whole flock in a matter of a few hours, buddy, I seen it. A mighty awesome sight. The only way to prevent it-with chickens-is to clip blinders on them. So's they can't see." (Part I)

     This dialogue from McMurphy is his analogy of the group meetings as led by Nurse Ratched, where the patients cruelly dissect each other's personal problems. This speech marks the beginning of McMurphy convincing the patients that they are only hurting themselves and each other, and that there is a way to live outside of Nurse Ratched's control.

     "So you see my friend, it is somewhat as you stated: man has but one truly effective weapon against the juggernaut of modern matriarchy, but it certainly is not laughter. One weapon, and with every passing year in this hip, motivationally researched society, more and more people are discovering how to render that weapon useless and conquer those who have hitherto been conquerors -" (Part I)

     Spoken by Harding in discussion with McMurphy about Nurse Ratched, this quote exemplifies the idea of women as castrators, and that a man's only weapon against this is his sexual power, possibly by rape. A discussion follows about how the men have no sexual attraction towards Nurse Ratched, and the idea that this is the essence of her power over them.

     "He opens his eyes and looks around at us. One by one he looks at the guys - even me - then he fishes in his pockets for all the IOUs he won the last few days at poker. He bends over the table and tries to sort them, but his hands are froze into red claws, and he can't work the fingers.

     Finally he throws the whole bundle on the floor - probably forty of fifty dollars worth from each man - and turns to walk out of the tub room. he stops at the door and looks back at everybody standing around.

     'But I tried, thought,' he says. 'Goddammit, I sure as hell did that much, now, didn't I?'

     And walks out and leaves those stained pieces of paper on the floor for whoever wants to sort through them." (Part I)

     The moment when McMurphy tries to lift the control panel in the tub room, this event foreshadows Chief Bromden's eventual escape from the hospital, and is symbolic of who McMurphy becomes to the rest of the patients. His willingness to try something seemingly impossible is in direct opposition to their complacency and belief that they belong in the hospital under Nurse Ratched's control.

     "There's a shipment of frozen parts come in downstairs - hearts and kidneys and brains and the like. I can hear them rumble into cold storage down the coal chute. A guy sitting in the room someplace I can't see is talking about a guy up on Disturbed killing himself. Old Rawler. Cut both nuts off and bled to death, sitting wright on the can in the latrine, half a dozen people in there with him didn't know it till he fell off to the floor, dead.

     What makes people so impatient is what I can't figure; all the guy had to do was wait" (Part I)

     Describing a patient who died of literal castration, this quote illustrates the idea that eventually all of the patients come to be symbolically castrated by Nurse Ratched and the institutional system.

     "I lay in bed the night before the fishing trip and thought it over, about my being deaf, about the years of not letting on I heard what was said, and I wondered if I could ever act any other way again. But I remembered one thing: it wasn't me that started acting deaf; it was people that first started acting like I was too dumb to hear or see or say anything at all." (Part III)

     Reflecting on how he came to be thought of as deaf and dumb, this quote shows an awakening in Chief Bromden, and the realization that feeling marginalized led to him retreating into himself. It also reflects the idea that in order to regain control of his life, the Chief needs to start speaking again.

     "I think McMurphy knew better than we did that our tough looks were all show, because he still wasn't able to get a real laugh out of anybody. Maybe he couldn't understand why we weren't able to laugh yet, but he knew you can't really be strong until you can see a funny side to things. In fact, he worked so hard at pointing out the funny side of things that I was wondering a little if maybe he was blind to the other side, if maybe he wasn't able to see what it was that parched laughter deep inside your stomach. Maybe the guys weren't able to see it either, just feel the pressures of the different beams and frequencies coming from all directions, working to push and bend you one way or another, feel the Combine at work - but I was able to see it." (Part III)

     One of Chief Bromden's reflections during the fishing trip, this quote illustrates the importance of humor to well-being and sanity, while questioning if there are forces in the world designed to beat the laughter out of people. The Chief isn't sure if McMurphy's ability to laugh means he is stronger than the rest of the patients or more naive to the way the world works.

Related Links:

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest Summary
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest Quiz
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest Part IV Summary
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest Part I Summary
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest Part II Summary
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest Important Characters
Literature Summaries

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