Illustration of Nurse Ratched

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

by Ken Kesey

Start Free Trial

Student Question

What is the "peckin' party" in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest?

Quick answer:

The "peckin' party" is a group therapy session for the patients that McMurphy takes part in.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

After he experiences one of the regular group sessions for the patients run by Nurse Ratched, McMurphy asks Harding if what he has witnessed is "the usual pro-cedure." During these therapy sessions, the patients are encouraged to discuss one another's various problems, from Harding's insecurities about the size of his wife's breasts to the causes of Billy Bibbit's stutter. The idea is that the "sins" of all the patients should be brought "into the open where they can be washed by the sight of all." The patients are also encouraged to record "in the log book for the staff to see" anything strange that they might hear one of their fellow patients say during the course of a day. This log book then provides the talking points for the group therapy sessions.

McMurphy describes the patients at these therapy sessions as a "Bunch of chickens at a peckin' party." He explains that a "peckin' party" is when "The flock gets sight of a spot of blood on some chicken and they all go to peckin' at it ... till they rip the chicken to shreds." In other words, McMurphy thinks that the patients are guilty, in these group therapy sessions, of attacking one another—of metaphorically tearing one another apart.

McMurphy later says that Nurse Ratched wants the group therapy sessions to be like this because she wants to emasculate the men so as to better control them. Indeed, McMurphy tells Harding that Nurse Ratched is "a ball-cutter" who is trying to make the patients weak so that she can get them "to toe the line, to follow [her] rules." McMurphy insults the patients by comparing them to chickens at "a peckin' party" because he is upset that they unwittingly help Nurse Ratched to make themselves weaker and are thus complicit in their own emasculation.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial