Illustration of Nurse Ratched

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

by Ken Kesey

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Harding has been humiliated by the others concerning his wife and her affairs. How does McMurphy describe what happened at the group meeting?

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During McMurphy's first group therapy session, he passively watches as the Acutes proceed to discuss Harding's relationship and question him about his sexual desires and his inability to please his wife. The Acutes embarrass and harass Harding, who feels defenseless and emasculated by the end of the meeting. Following the meeting, the Acutes feel ashamed at how they treated Harding and sheepishly avoid him. After Harding explains to McMurphy that he witnessed a typical group therapy session, McMurphy describes the meeting as one big "peckin’ party." McMurphy explains to the men what a peckin' party is by saying,

"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" (Kesey, 44).

McMurphy's analogy is accurate and illustrates how all the Acutes unfairly ganged up on Harding, who was defenseless and embarrassed during the entire session. McMurphy then comments that Nurse Ratched is the first to peck and calls her a "ball-cutter." Essentially, McMurphy explains to the men how Nurse Ratched pits them against each other during the meetings in order to watch them self-destruct. Nurse Ratched facilitates the abusive group therapy sessions to control and oppress the patients.

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McMurphy calls what happened at the group meeting a "pecking party".  A pecking party is when a group of chickens get together and literally peck the eyes out of a hen for seemingly no reason.  Just like those chickens, the other men in the ward gang up and pick on Harding, even though they all feel remorse for their viciousness after the act.  He also warns that a pecking party can soon wipe out the entire flock, meaning no one will survive if they all turn on each other.  McMurphy, being the new guy, is the observer in this section of the novel.  He just sits back and watches all of this happen.  He is also quick to point out to Harding that Nurse Ratched is the one who started this pecking party.  Nurse Ratched has also attempted to cut McMurphy down a few notches by making him disclose some of his own "weaknesses", but instead of becoming embarrassed, McMurphy turns the situation into a comical one, even getting the doctor to laugh at his ridiculousness. 

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