In One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, discuss a quotation from Part 2 or 3 that is an example of the use of characterization.

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Although McMurphy falls into the "fog" of loss of memory with the other patients, he continues to make efforts to undermine the control that Nurse Ratched has upon the ward. In Chapter 10, for example, McMurphy tries to elicit the men's support in voting to watch the World Series on the television. One method of characterization is, of course, the speech and actions of a character, and the responses of the men to McMurphy indicate well their characters. For instance, when McMurphy criticizes Harding for not raising his hand in a "yes" vote, Harding reveals his weakness and conformity.

"I tell ya, I can't figure it out, Harding, what's wrong with you, for crying out loud?  You're afraid if you raise your hand that old buzzard'll cut it off."

Harding lifts one thin eyebrow. "Perhaps I am....It's still a risk....She always has the capacity to make things worse for us."

Earlier, in Chapter 4, Harding has explained to McMurphy that he is a "rabbit" who understands his role in society, and his refusal to vote underscores this psychological submission. After Harding's response, McMurphy turns to Billy, asking him if he, too, is afraid of the same thing.

"No.  I don't think she'd d-d-do anything, but"--he shrugs and sighs and climbs up on the big panel that controls the nozzles on the shower, perches up there like a monkey--"but I just don't think a vote wu-wu-would do any good.  Not in the l-long run. It's just no use, M-Mack."

This speech clearly indicates Billy's weakness and fears.  Dominated by his mother, Billy allows Nurse Ratched to continue his emasculation and lives in terror of her as indicated by his words and his action of climbing higher "like a monkey" as a psychological method of escaping.

In his disgust of their submissive conformity, McMurphy tells those who are afraid to vote that when he and Cheswick break out of the ward,

"...I'm gonna nail the door shut behind me.  You guys better stay behind; your mamma probably wouldn't let you cross the street."

McMurphy's response indicates that even though he is "foggy" at times, his individuality has not yet been taken from him, and he still refuses to conform.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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A very revealing quote about the character of McMurphy comes during the fishing trip that he manages to organise. What is so fascinating about this trip is the way that it enables the other patients of the ward to laugh again, which Bromden sees as the mark of healthiness. The following quote is therefore interesting because of what it reveals about both McMurphy and also Bromden, who interprets McMurphy's actions:

While McMurphy laughs. Rocking farther and farther backward against the cabin top, spreading his laugh out across the water—laughing at the girl, the guys, at George, at me sucking my bleeding thumb, at the captain back at the pier and the bicycle rider and the service-station guys and the five thousand houses and the Big Nurse and all of it. Because he knows you have to laugh at the things that hurt you just to keep yourself in balance, just to keep the world from running you plumb crazy.

Initially, McMurphy's action in laughing at the chaos of the fishing trip could be interpreted as the action of a psychopath. After all, he looks at the chaos that is surrounding him and responds to it through laughter. However, again and again, McMurphy is a character who is defined by his action of laughing--it is this sound that the other characters hear first before they even see McMurphy, and Bromden certainly interprets his laughter at this point in the novel as a sign of strength and relentless bravery in the face of what the world can throw at humans. Bromden goes on to discuss how laughter is actually a powerful force against insanity, as if somebody is able to laugh at their misfortunes, they can express their feelings and are able to prevent themselves from going "plumb crazy." This is of course precisely what Bromden has been unable to do for the previous ten years, and it is his new-found ability to do this now that marks his return to health.


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