Illustration of Nurse Ratched

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

by Ken Kesey

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In chapter 8 of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, how does McMurphy manipulate Spivey?

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In chapter 8 of Ken Kesey's One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, Randle McMurphy manipulates Doctor Spivey by getting the doctor to propose changes to the ward that McMurphy desires himself. Specifically, McMurphy wants to be able to get away from the radio that is played on the ward at high volumes at all times while the patients are awake. The noise is annoying. For instance, one evening when McMurphy is playing cards with Harding, McMurphy complains about the radio. McMurphy says,

That damned radio. Boy. It’s been going ever since I come in this morning. And don’t come on with some baloney that you don’t hear it.

McMurphy wants to escape from the noise, and he would also appreciate having another day room. When “the Big Nurse” is about to end the ward meeting, McMurphy raises his hand to discuss one more point. However, when she calls on him, McMurphy says,

Not me, Doctor Spivey has. Doc, tell ’em what you come up with about the hard-of-hearing guys and the radio.

It is obvious that the nurse is unhappy about how McMurphy seems to be hijacking the meeting, but she does not have the authority to ignore Doctor Spivey and must allow him to speak. From his remarks, it is clear that McMurphy has gotten the doctor to unwittingly request a change that McMurphy wants implemented. Doctor Spivey says,

In our talk, however, McMurphy and I did happen to come up with an idea which might make things more pleasant for both age groups. McMurphy mentioned that he had noticed some of the old fellows seemed to have difficulty hearing the radio. He suggested the speaker might be turned up louder so the Chronics with auditory weaknesses could hear it. A very humane suggestion, I think.

The reader knows that McMurphy does not want the radio louder. He wants it lower or turned off completely. We know this because of the remarks he made to Harding. However, by having Doctor Spivey request that the volume on the radio be turned up so that the geriatric patients can hear it, McMurphy obtains a separate recreation room for the younger patients who want to avoid the radio.

Doctor Spivey continues,

But I told him I had received previous complaints from some of the younger men that the radio is already so loud it hinders conversation and reading. McMurphy said he hadn’t thought of this.

We know that McMurphy had thought of this because the radio was deafening when he was playing cards and it made it difficult for him to concentrate. Therefore, McMurphy was able to manipulate Doctor Spivey successfully. As he told Harding earlier,

The secret of being a top-notch con man is being able to know what the mark wants, and how to make him think he’s getting it.

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Hopelessly addicted to opiates, Dr. Spivey is in a vulnerable position with regards to both patients and fellow members of staff at the institution. Nurse Ratched already has the whip hand over him. Should Spivey ever fail to do her bidding, Nurse Ratched will immediately see to it that he's given his marching orders. And now it's McMurphy's turn to manipulate the hapless medic for his own ends.

Randle knows that Dr. Spivey has become invigorated by his—McMurphy's—appearance on the ward. Whatever Nurse Ratched might think, Randle's a breath of fresh air and gives Spivey an opportunity to try out some radical ideas for therapy, such as putting together a basketball team for the patients.

Once Spivey does this, an encouraged Randle starts pushing the envelope to see how far he can manipulate the good doctor. He's pretty sure that Spivey will be amenable to the idea of converting the disused tub room into a games room for the patients. He also knows that Nurse Ratched will shoot down the idea at the first opportunity.

So in putting forward his suggestion, McMurphy isn't just manipulating Spivey but Nurse Ratched too. He's playing one against the other in the hope that their little power struggle will make it more difficult for them to keep an eye on him and his various shenanigans.

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This event clearly indicates the way that the conflict between Nurse Ratched and McMurphy spreads out to involve others and in particular, in this case, Spivey. After McMurphy has asked Nurse Ratched if the music can be turned down to allow those who want to read or play games to do so without having to listen to the same music that the Chronics "enjoy," and her refusal, McMurphy goes to Spivey and makes a suggestion that is only announced by him at the next meeting when he offers the old tub room as a games room for the group:

We don't use the room at all otherwise; there's no longer a need for the hydrotherapy it was designed for, now that we have the new drugs. So how would the group like to have that room as a sort of second day room, a game room, shall we say?

Even though Nurse Ratched tries to stall this idea by bringing up problems of staffing, it becomes clear that McMurphy has anticipated her, discussing precisely this issue with Spivey so he has an answer all prepared. However, Nurse Ratched is able to show her own manipulation of Spivey when she announces at the end of Part II that, as a punishment for not keeping to the cleaning schedule, the games room is to be closed.

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