In One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, what would happen if the Chief lost himself in the fog? What happens to Nurse Ratched when the men watch TV?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the Chief, a war veteran, remembers that during the war, the soldiers would cause fog to spread over the field to confuse the enemy. He now believes that Nurse Ratched "fogs" the ward when she wants to confuse the men, and he chooses to lose himself in the fog rather than fight against the authorities on the ward. Chief thinks to himself:

"I’d wander for days in the fog, scared I’d never see another thing, then there’d be that door, opening to show me the mattress padding on the other side to stop out the sounds, the men standing in a line like zombies among shiny copper wires and tubes pulsing light, and the bright scrape of arcing electricity" (Part I, Chapter 15).

When Chief loses himself in the fog, he is brought to a room to receive electroshock therapy. The men he refers to in this quote are the doctors and orderlies who administer the electroshock therapy to him.

Later in this chapter, McMurphy insists that Big Nurse take a revote on his proposal to postpone cleaning chores so the men on the ward can watch the World Series on TV. When the men vote, the nurse says that they failed to win a majority, so they can't watch the World Series. Nevertheless, McMurphy turns on the TV at the appointed time, and the nurse flips a switch to turn it off. Then, the men gather in front of the blank screen and cheer just as if they were actually watching the game, while the nurse continues to yell at them. Chief thinks:

"If somebody’d of come in and took a look, men watching a blank TV, a fifty-year-old woman hollering and squealing at the back of their heads about discipline and order and recriminations, they’d of thought the whole bunch was crazy as loons."

The nurse continues to yell at the men, but they do not listen.

ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The fog represents the mental confusion the Chief feels. If he lost himself in the fog, it would represent losing his sanity completely. The Chief is constantly fighting to maintain that sanity which is threatened by the "machine" of Nurse Ratched and her insistence on total control of the ward. By not allowing the men to make their own decisions, they are unable to break away from her control and return to the normal world. McMurphy, with his defiance of the Big Nurse, gives the chief an example to watch and then hope that he can escape the fog. The Chief sees what happens to the Big Nurse when the men defy her and watch the TV when nothing is on. She is livid and upset that she is losing control. She blames McMurphy for destroying her tightly controlled world and begins to seek revenge.

Read the study guide:
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

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