Tuesday, March 1, 2011


She asks for a cigarette, and Harding dips his fingers in his pocket again and it’s empty. “We’ve
been rationed,” he says, folding his thin shoulders forward like he was trying to hide the halfsmoked
cigarette he was holding, “to one pack a day. That doesn’t seem to leave a man any margin
for chivalry, Vera my dearest.”
“Oh Dale, you never do have enough, do you?”
His eyes take on that sly, fevered skittishness as he looks at her and smiles. “Are we speaking
symbolically, or are we still dealing with the concrete here-and-now cigarettes? No matter; you know
the answer to the question, whichever way you intended it.”
“I didn’t intend nothing by it except what I said, Dale—”
[159] “You didn’t intend anything by it, sweetest; your use of ‘didn’t’ and ‘nothing’ constitutes a
double negative. McMurphy, Vera’s English rivals yours for illiteracy. Look, honey, you understand
that between ‘no’ and ‘any’ there is—”
“All right! That’s enough! I meant it both ways. I meant it any way you want to take it. I meant
you don’t have enough of nothing period!”
“Enough of anything, my bright little child.”
She glares at Harding a second, then turns to McMurphy sitting beside her. “You, Mack, what
about you. Can you handle a simple little thing like offering a girl a cigarette?”
His package is already lying in his lap. He looks down at it like he wishes it wasn’t, then says,
“Sure, I always got cigarettes. Reason is, I’m a bum. I bum them whenever I get the chance is why
my pack lasts longer than Harding’s here. He smokes only his own. So you can see he’s more likely
to run out than—”
“You don’t have to apologize for my inadequacies, my friend. It neither fits your character nor
complements mine.”
“No, it doesn’t,” the girl says. “All you have to do is light my cigarette.”
And she leans so far forward to his match that even clear across the room I could see down her
She talks some more about some of Harding’s friends who she wishes would quit dropping
around the house looking for him. “You know the type, don’t you, Mack?” she says. “The hoitytoity
boys with the nice long hair combed so perfectly and the limp little wrists that flip so nice.”
Harding asks her if it was only him that they were dropping around to see, and she says any man
that drops around to see her flips more than his damned limp wrists.
She stands suddenly and says it’s time for her to go. She takes McMurphy’s hand and tells him
she hopes she sees him again sometime and she walks out of the library. McMurphy can’t say a
word. At the clack of her high heels everybody’s head comes up again, and they watch her walk
down the hall till she turns out of sight.
“What do you think?” Harding says.
McMurphy starts. “She’s got one hell of a set of chabobs,” is all he can think of. “Big as Old
Lady Ratched’s.”
“I didn’t mean physically, my friend, I mean what do you—”
“Hell’s bells, Harding!” McMurphy yells suddenly. “I don’t know what to think! What do you
want out of me? A marriage counsellor? All I know is this: nobody’s very big in the first place, and it
looks to me like everybody spends their whole life tearing everybody else down. I know what you
want me to [160] think; you want me to feel sorry for you, to think she’s a real bitch. Well, you
didn’t make her feel like any queen either. Well, screw you and ‘what do you think?’ I’ve got worries
of my own without getting hooked with yours. So just quit!” He glares around the library at the
other patients. “Alla you! Quit bugging me, goddammit!”
And sticks his cap back on his head and walks back to his cartoon magazine across the room. All
the Acutes are looking at each other with their mouths open. What’s he hollering at them about?
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
Nobody’s been bugging him. Nobody’s asked him for a thing since they found out that he was
trying to behave to keep his commitment from being extended. Now they’re surprised at the way he
just blew up at Harding and can’t figure the way he grabs the book up from the chair and sits down
and holds it up close in front of his face—either to keep people from looking at him or to keep
from having to look at people.
That night at supper he apologizes to Harding and says he don’t know what hung him up so at
the library. Harding says perhaps it was his wife; she frequently hangs people up. McMurphy sits
staring into his coffee and says, “I don’t know, man. I just met her this afternoon. So she sure the
hell isn’t the one’s been giving me bad dreams this last miserable week.”
“Why, Mis-tur McMurphy,” Harding cries, trying to talk like the little resident boy who comes to
the meetings, “you simply must tell us about these dreams. Ah, wait until I get my pencil and pad.”
Harding is trying to be funny to relieve the strain of the apology. He picks up a napkin and a spoon
and acts like he’s going to take notes. “Now. Pre-cisely, what was it you saw in these—ah—
McMurphy don’t crack a smile. “I don’t know, man. Nothing but faces, I guess—just faces.”
The next morning Martini is behind the control panel in the tub room, playing like he’s a jet pilot.
The poker game stops to grin at his act.
“EeeeeeaahHOOoomeerr. Ground to air, ground to air: object sighted four-oh-sixteenhundred—
appears to be enemy missile. Proceed at once! EeeahhOOOmmmm.”
Spins a dial, shoves a lever forward and leans with the bank of the ship. He cranks a needle to
“ON FULL” at the side of the panel, but no water comes out of the nozzles set around the square tile
booth in front of him. They don’t use hydrotherapy any more, and nobody’s turned the water on.
Brand-new chrome equipment and steel panel never been used. Except for the chrome the panel
and shower look just like the [161] hydrotherapy outfits they used at the old hospital fifteen years
ago: nozzles capable of reaching parts of the body from every angle, a technician in a rubber apron
standing on the other side of the room manipulating the controls on that panel, dictating which
nozzles squirt where, how hard, how hot—spray opened soft and soothing, then squeezed sharp as a
needle-you hung up there between the nozzles in canvas straps, soaked and limp and wrinkled while
the technician enjoyed his toy.
“EeeeaaooOOOoommm. ... Air to ground, air to ground: missile sighted; coming into my sights
now. ...
Martini bends down and aims over the panel through the ring of nozzles. He closes one eye and
peeps through the ring with the other eye.
“On target! Ready … Aim ... Fi—!”
His hands jerk back from the panel and he stands bolt upright, hair flying and both eyes bulging
out at the shower booth so wild and scared all the card-players spin around in their chairs to see if
they can see it too—but they don’t see anything in there but the buckles hanging among the nozzles
on stiff new canvas straps.
Martini turns and looks straight at McMurphy. No one else. “Didn’t you see thum? Didn’t you?”
“See who, Mart? I don’t see anything.”
“In all those straps? Didn’t you?”
McMurphy turns and squints at the shower. “Nope. Not a thing.”
“Hold it a minute. They need you to see thum,” Martini says.
“Damn you, Martini, I told you I can’t see them! Understand? Not a blessed thing!”
“Oh,” Martini says. He nods his head and turns from the shower booth. “Well, I didn’t see thum
either. I’s just kidding you.”
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
McMurphy cuts the deck and shuffles it with a buzzing snap. “Well—I don’t care for that sort of
kiddin’, Mart.” He cuts to shuffle again, and the cards splash everywhere like the deck exploded
between his two trembling hands.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
I remember it was a Friday again, three weeks after we voted on TV, and everybody who could
walk was herded over to Building One for what they try to tell us is chest X-rays for TB, which I
know is a check to see if everybody’s machinery is functioning up to par.
We’re benched in a long row down a bail leading to a door marked X-RAY. Next to X-ray is a
door marked EENT where they check our throats during the winter. Across the hall from us is
another bench, and it leads to that metal door. With the line of rivets. And nothing marked on it at
all. Two guys are dozing on the bench between two black boys, while another victim inside is getting
his treatment and I can hear him screaming. The door opens inward with a whoosh, and I can see
the twinkling tubes in the room. They wheel the victim out still smoking, and I grip the bench where
I sit to keep from being sucked through that door. A black boy and a white one drag one of the
other guys on the bench to his feet, and he sways and staggers under the drugs in him. They usually
give you red capsules before Shock. They push him through the door, and the technicians get him
under each arm. For a second I see the guy realizes where they got him, and he stiffens both heels
into the cement floor to keep from being pulled to the table—then the door pulls shut, phumph,
with metal hitting a mattress, and I can’t see him any more.
“Man, what they got going on in there?” McMurphy asks Harding.
“In there? Why, that’s right, isn’t it? You haven’t had the pleasure. Pity. An experience no human
should be without.” Harding laces his fingers behind his neck and leans back to look at the door.
“That’s the Shock Shop I was telling you about some time back, my friend, the EST, Electro-Shock
Therapy. Those fortunate souls in there are being given a free trip to the moon. No, on second
thought, it isn’t completely free. You pay for the service with brain cells instead of money, and
everyone has simply billions of brain cells on deposit. You won’t miss a few.”
He frowns at the one lone man left on the bench. “Not a very large clientele today, it seems,
nothing like the crowds [163] of yesteryear. But then, c’est la vie, fads come and go. And I’m afraid we
are witnessing the sunset of EST. Our dear head nurse is one of the few with the heart to stand up
for a grand old Faulknerian tradition in the treatment of the rejects of sanity: Brain Burning.”
The door opens. A Gurney comes whirring out, nobody pushing it, takes the corner on two
wheels and disappears smoking up the hall. McMurphy watches them take the last guy in and close
the door.
“What they do is”—McMurphy listens a moment—“take some bird in there and shoot electricity
through his skull?”
“That’s a concise way of putting it.”
“What the hell for?”
“Why, the patient’s good, of course. Everything done here is for the patient’s good. You may
sometimes get the impression, having lived only on our ward, that the hospital is a vast efficient
mechanism that would function quite well if the patient were not imposed on it, but that’s not true.
EST isn’t always used for punitive measures, as our nurse uses it, and it isn’t pure sadism on the
staff’s part, either. A number of supposed Irrecoverables were brought back into contact with shock,
just as a number were helped with lobotomy and leucotomy. Shock treatment has some advantages;
it’s cheap, quick, entirely painless. It simply induces a seizure.”
“What a life,” Sefelt moans. “Give some of us pills to stop a fit, give the rest shock to start one.”
Harding leans forward to explain it to McMurphy. “Here’s how it came about: two psychiatrists
were visiting a slaughterhouse, for God knows what perverse reason, and were watching cattle being
killed by a blow between the eyes with a sledgehammer. They noticed that not all of the cattle were
killed, that some would fall to the floor in a state that greatly resembled an epileptic convulsion. ‘Ah,
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
zo,’ the first doctor says. ‘Ziz is exactly vot ve need for our patients—zee induced fit!’ His colleague
agreed, of course. It was known that men coming out of an epileptic convulsion were inclined to be
calmer and more peaceful for a time, and that violent cases completely out of contact were able to
carry on rational conversations after a convulsion. No one knew why; they still don’t. But it was
obvious that if a seizure could be induced in non-epileptics, great benefits might result. And here,
before them, stood a man inducing seizures every so often with remarkable aplomb.”
Scanlon says he thought the guy used a hammer instead of a bomb, but Harding says he will
ignore that completely, and he goes ahead with the explanation. [164] “A hammer is what the
butcher used. And it was here that the colleague had some reservations. After all, a man wasn’t a
cow. Who knows when the hammer might slip and break a nose? Even knock out a mouthful of
teeth? Then where would they be, with the high cost of dental work? If they were going to knock a
man in the head, they needed to use something surer and more accurate than a hammer; they finally
settled on electricity.”
“Jesus, didn’t they think it might do some damage? Didn’t the public raise Cain about it?”
“I don’t think you fully understand the public, my friend; in this country, when something is out
of order, then the quickest way to get it fixed is the best way.”
McMurphy shakes his head. “Hoo-wee! Electricity through the head. Man, that’s like electrocuting
a guy for murder.”
“The reasons for both activities are much more closely related than you might think; they are
both cures.”
“And you say it don’t hurt?”
“I personally guarantee it. Completely painless. One flash and you’re unconscious immediately.
No gas, no needle, no sledgehammer. Absolutely painless. The thing is, no one ever wants another
one. You … change. You forget things. It’s as if”—he presses his hands against his temples, shutting
his eyes—“it’s as if the jolt sets off a wild carnival wheel of images, emotions, memories. These
wheels, you’ve seen them; the barker takes your bet and pushes a button. Chang! With light and
sound and numbers round and round in a whirlwind, and maybe you win with what you end up with
and maybe you lose and have to play again. Pay the man for another spin, son, pay the man.”
“Take it easy, Harding.”
The door opens and the Gurney comes back out with the guy under a sheet, and the technicians
go out for coffee. McMurphy runs his hand through his hair. “I don’t seem able to get all this stuff
that’s happening straight in my mind.”
“What’s that? This shock treatment?”
“Yeah. No, not just that. All this ...” He waves his hand in a circle. “All these things going on.”
Harding’s hand touches McMurphy’s knee. “Put your troubled mind at ease, my friend. In all
likelihood you needn’t concern yourself with EST. It’s almost out of vogue and only used in the
extreme cases nothing else seems to reach, like lobotomy.”
“Now lobotomy, that’s chopping away part of the brain?”
“You’re right again. You’re becoming very sophisticated in [165] the jargon. Yes; chopping away
the brain. Frontal-lobe castration. I guess if she can’t cut below the belt she’ll do it above the eyes.”
“You mean Ratched.”
“I do indeed.”
“I didn’t think the nurse had the say—so on this kind of thing.”
“She does indeed.”
McMurphy acts like he’s glad to get off talking about shock and lobotomy and get back to talking
about the Big Nurse. He asks Harding what he figures is wrong with her. Harding and Scanlon and
some of the others have all kinds of ideas. They talk for a while about whether she’s the root of all
the trouble here or not, and Harding says she’s the root of most of it. Most of the other guys think
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
so too, but McMurphy isn’t so sure any more. He says he thought so at one time but now he don’t
know. He says he don’t think getting her out of the way would really make much difference; he says
that there’s something bigger making all this mess and goes on to try to say what he thinks it is. He
finally gives up when he can’t explain it.
McMurphy doesn’t know it, but he’s onto what I realized a long time back, that it’s not just the
Big Nurse by herself, but it’s the whole Combine, the nation-wide Combine that’s the really big
force, and the nurse is just a high-ranking official for them.
The guys don’t agree with McMurphy. They say they know what the trouble with things is, then
get in an argument about that. They argue till McMurphy interrupts them.
“Hell’s bells, listen at you,” McMurphy says. “All I hear is gripe, gripe, gripe. About the nurse or
the staff or the hospital. Scanlon wants to bomb the whole outfit. Sefelt blames the drugs.
Fredrickson blames his family trouble. Well, you’re all just passing the buck.”
He says that the Big Nurse is just a bitter, icy-hearted old woman, and all this business trying to
get him to lock horns with her is a lot of bull—wouldn’t do anybody any good, especially him.
Getting shut of her wouldn’t be getting shut of the real deep-down hang-up that’s causing the gripes.
“You think not?” Harding says. “Then since you are suddenly so lucid on the problem of mental
health, what is this trouble? What is this deep-down hang-up, as you so cleverly put it.”
“I tell you, man, I don’t know. I never seen the beat of it.” He sits still for a minute, listening to
the hum from the X-ray [166] room; then he says, “But if it was no more’n you say, if it was, say, just
this old nurse and her sex worries, then the solution to all your problems would be to just throw her
down and solve her worries, wouldn’t it?”
Scanlon claps his hands. “Hot damn! That’s it. You’re nominated, Mack, you’re just the stud to
handle the job.”
“Not me. No sir. You got the wrong boy.”
“Why not? I thought you’s the super-stud with all that whambam.”
“Scanlon, buddy, I plan to stay as clear of that old buzzard as I possibly can.”
“So I’ve been noticing,” Harding says, smiling. “What’s happened between the two of you? You
had her on the ropes for a period there; then you let up. A sudden compassion for our angel of
“No; I found out a few things, that’s why. Asked around some different places. I found out why
you guys all kiss her ass so much and bow and scrape and let her walk all over you. I got wise to
what you were using me for.”
“Oh? That’s interesting.”
“You’re blamed right it’s interesting. It’s interesting to me that you bums didn’t tell me what a
risk I was running, twisting her tail that way. Just because I don’t like her ain’t a sign I’m gonna bug
her into adding another year or so to my sentence. You got to swallow your pride sometimes and
keep an eye out for old Number One.”
“Why, friends, you don’t suppose there’s anything to this rumor that our Mr. McMurphy has
conformed to policy merely to aid his chances of an early release?”
“You know what I’m talking about, Harding. Why didn’t you tell me she could keep me
committed in here till she’s good and ready to turn me loose?”
“Why, I had forgotten you were committed.” Harding’s face folds in the middle over his grin. “Yes.
You’re becoming sly. Just like the rest of us.”
“You damn betcha I’m becoming sly. Why should it be me goes to bat at these meetings over
these piddling little gripes about keeping the dorm door open and about cigarettes in the Nurses’
Station? I couldn’t figure it at first, why you guys were coming to me like I was some kind of savior.
Then I just happened to find out about the way the nurses have the big say as to who gets
discharged and who doesn’t. And I got wise awful damned fast. I said, ‘Why, those slippery bastards
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
have conned me, snowed me into holding their bag. If that don’t beat all, conned ol’ R. P.
McMurphy.’ “ He tips his head [167] back and grins at the line of us on the bench. “Well, I don’t
mean nothing personal, you understand, buddies, but screw that noise. I want out of here just as
much as the rest of you. I got just as much to lose hassling that old buzzard as you do.”
He grins and winks down his nose and digs Harding in the ribs with his thumb, like he’s finished
with the whole thing but no hard feelings, when Harding says something else.
“No. You’ve got more to lose than I do, my friend.”
Harding’s grinning again, looking with that skitterish sideways look of a jumpy mare, a dipping,
rearing motion of the head. Everybody moves down a place. Martini comes away from the X-ray
screen, buttoning his shirt and muttering, “I wouldn’t of believed it if I hadn’t saw it,” and Billy
Bibbit goes to the black glass to take Martini’s place.
“You have more to lose than I do,” Harding says again. “I’m voluntary. I’m not committed.”
McMurphy doesn’t say a word. He’s got that same puzzled look on his face like there’s something
isn’t right, something he can’t put his finger on. He just sits there looking at Harding, and Harding’s
rearing smile fades and he goes to fidgeting around from McMurphy staring at him so funny. He
swallows and says, “As a matter of fact, there are only a few men on the ward who are committed.
Only Scanlon and—well, I guess some of the Chronics. And you. Not many commitments in the
whole hospital. No, not many at all.”
Then he stops, his voice dribbling away under McMurphy’s eyes. After a bit of silence McMurphy
says softly, “Are you bullshitting me?” Harding shakes his head. He looks frightened. McMurphy
stands up in the hall and says, “Are you guys bullshitting me!”
Nobody’ll say anything. McMurphy walks up and down in front of that bench, running his hand
around in that thick hair. He walks all the way to the back of the line, then all the way to the front,
to the X-ray machine. It hisses and spits at him.
“You, Billy—you must be committed, for Christsakes!”
Billy’s got his back to us, his chin up on the black screen, standing on tiptoe. No, he says into the
“Then why? Why? You’re just a young guy! You oughta be out running around in a convertible,
bird-dogging girls. All of this”—he sweeps his hand around him again—”why do you stand for it?”
Billy doesn’t say anything, and McMurphy turns from him to another couple of guys.
“Tell me why. You gripe, you bitch for weeks on end about [168] how you can’t stand this place,
can’t stand the nurse or anything about her, and all the time you ain’t committed. I can understand it
with some of those old guys on the ward. They’re nuts. But you, you’re not exactly the everyday man
on the street, but you’re not nuts.”
They don’t argue with him. He moves on to Sefelt.
“Sefelt, what about you? There’s nothing wrong with you but you have fits. Hell, I had an uncle
who threw conniptions twice as bad as yours and saw visions from the Devil to boot, but he didn’t
lock himself in the nuthouse. You could get along outside if you had the guts—”
“Sure!” It’s Billy, turned from the screen, his face boiling tears. “Sure!” he screams again. “If we
had the g-guts! I could go outside to-today, if I had the guts. My m-m-mother is a good friend of MMiss
Ratched, and I could get an AMA signed this afternoon, if I had the guts!”
He jerks his shirt up from the bench and tries to pull it on, but he’s shaking too hard. Finally he
slings it from him and turns back to McMurphy.
“You think I wuh-wuh-wuh-want to stay in here? You think I wouldn’t like a con-con-vertible
and a guh-guh-girl friend? But did you ever have people l-l-laughing at you? No, because you’re so
b-big and so tough! Well, I’m not big and tough. Neither is Harding. Neither is F-Fredrickson.
Neither is SuhSefelt. Oh—oh, you—you t-talk like we stayed in here because we liked it! Oh—it’s nno
use …”
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
He’s crying and stuttering too hard to say anything else, and he wipes his eyes with the backs of
his hands so he can see. One of the scabs pulls off his hand, and the more he wipes the more he
smears blood over his face and in his eyes. Then he starts running blind, bouncing down the hall
from side to side with his face a smear of blood, a black boy right after him.
McMurphy turns round to the rest of the guys and opens his mouth to ask something else, and
then closes it when he sees how they’re looking at him. He stands there a minute with the row of
eyes aimed at him like a row of rivets; then he says, “Hell’s bells,” in a weak sort of way, and he puts
his cap back on and pulls it down hard and goes back to his place on the bench. The two technicians
come back from coffee and go back in that room across the hall; when the door whooshes open you
can smell the acid in the air like when they recharge a battery. McMurphy sits there, looking at that
“I don’t seem able to get it straight in my mind. ...”
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
Crossing the grounds back to the ward, McMurphy lagged back at the tail end of the bunch with
his hands in the pockets of his greens and his cap tugged low on his head, brooding over a cold
cigarette. Everybody was keeping pretty quiet. They’d got Billy calmed down, and he was walking at
the front of the group with a black boy on one side and that white boy from the Shock Shop on the
other side.
I dropped back till I was walking beside McMurphy and I wanted to tell him not to fret about it,
that nothing could be done, because I could see that there was some thought he was worrying over
in his mind like a dog worries at a hole he don’t know what’s down, one voice saying, Dog, that hole
is none of your affair—it’s too big and too black and there’s a spoor all over the place says bears or
something just as bad. And some other voice coming like a sharp whisper out of way back in his
breed, not a smart voice, nothing cagey about it, saying, Sic ‘im, dog, sic ‘im!
I wanted to tell him not to fret about it, and I was just about to come out and say it when he
raised his head and shoved his hat back and speeded up to where the least black boy was walking
and slapped him on the shoulder and asked him, “Sam, what say we stop by the canteen here a
second so I can pick me up a carton or two of cigarettes.”
I had to hurry to catch up, and the run made my heart ring a high, excited pitch in my head. Even
in the canteen I still heard that sound my heart had knocked ringing in my head, though my heart
had slowed back to normal. The sound reminded me of how I used to feel standing in the cold fall
Friday night out on a football field, waiting for the ball to be kicked and the game to get going. The
ringing would build and build till I didn’t think I could stand still any longer; then the kick would
come and it would be gone and the game would be on its way. I felt that same Friday-night ringing
now, and felt the same wild, stomping-up-and-down impatience. And I was seeing sharp and highpitched
too, the way I did before a game and the way I did looking out of the dorm window a while
back: everything was sharp and clear and solid like I forgot [170] it could be. Lines of toothpaste and
shoelaces, ranks of sunglasses and ballpoint pens guaranteed right on them to write a lifetime on
butter under water, all guarded against shoplifters by a big-eyed force of Teddy bears sitting high on
a shelf over the counter.
McMurphy came stomping up to the counter beside me and hooked his thumbs in his pockets
and told the salesgirl to give him a couple of cartons of Marlboros. “Maybe make it three cartons,”
he said, grinning at her. “I plan to do a lot of smokin’.”
The ringing didn’t stop until the meeting that afternoon. I’d been half listening to them work on
Sefelt to get him to face up to the reality of his problems so he could adjust (“It’s the Dilantin!” he
finally yells. “Now, Mr. Sefelt, if you’re to be helped, you must be honest,” she says. “But, it’s got to
be the Dilantin that does it; don’t it make my gums soft?” She smiles. “Jim, you’re forty-five years old
…”) when I happened to catch a look at McMurphy sitting in his corner. He wasn’t fiddling with a
deck of cards or dozing into a magazine like he had been during all the meetings the last two weeks.
And he wasn’t slouched down. He was sitting up stiff in his chair with a flushed, reckless look on his
face as he looked back and forth from Sefelt to the Big Nurse. As I watched, the ringing went
higher. His eyes were blue stripes under those white eyebrows, and they shot back and forth just the
way he watched cards turning up around a poker table. I was certain that any minute he was going to
do some crazy thing to get him up on Disturbed for sure. I’d seen the same look on other guys
before they’d climbed all over a black boy. I gripped down on the arm of my chair and waited,
scared it would happen, and, I began to realize, just a little scared it wouldn’t.
He kept quiet and watched till they were finished with Sefelt; then he swung half around in his
chair and watched while Fredrickson, trying some way to get back at them for the way they had
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
grilled his friend, griped for a few loud minutes about the cigarettes being kept in the Nurses’
Station. Fredrickson talked himself out and finally flushed and apologized like always and sat back
down. McMurphy still hadn’t made any kind of move. I eased up where I’d been gripping the arm of
the chair, beginning to think I’d been wrong.
There was just a couple of minutes left in the meeting. The Big Nurse folded up her papers and
put them in the basket and set the basket off her lap on the floor, then let her eyes swing to
McMurphy for just a second like she wanted to check if he was awake and listening. She folded her
hands in her lap and [171] looked down at the fingers and drew a deep breath, shaking her head.
“Boys, I’ve given a great deal of thought to what I am about to say. I’ve talked it over with the
doctor and with the rest of the staff, and, as much as we regretted it, we all came to the same
conclusion—that there should be some manner of punishment meted out for the unspeakable
behavior concerning the house duties three weeks ago.” She raised her hand and looked around.
“We waited this long to say anything, hoping that you men would take it upon yourselves to
apologize for the rebellious way you acted. But not a one of you has shown the slightest sign of
Her hand went up again to stop any interruptions that might come—the movement of a tarotcard
reader in a glass arcade case.
“Please understand: We do not impose certain rules and restrictions on you without a great deal
of thought about their therapeutic value. A good many of you are in here because you could not
adjust to the rules of society in the Outside World, because you refused to face up to them, because
you tried to circumvent them and avoid them. At some time—perhaps in your childhood—you may
have been allowed to get away with flouting the rules of society. When you broke a rule you knew it.
You wanted to be dealt with, needed it, but the punishment did not come. That foolish lenience on
the part of your parents may have been the germ that grew into your present illness. I tell you this
hoping you will understand that it is entirely for your own good that we enforce discipline and order.”
She let her head twist around the room. Regret for the job she has to do was worked into her
face. It was quiet except for that high fevered, delirious ringing in my head.
“It’s difficult to enforce discipline in these surroundings. You must be able to see that. What can
we do to you? You can’t be arrested. You can’t be put on bread and water. You must see that the
staff has a problem; what can we do?”
Ruckly had an idea what they could do, but she didn’t pay any attention to it. The face moved
with a ticking noise till the features achieved a different look. She finally answered her own question.
“We must take away a privilege. And after careful consideration of the circumstances of this
rebellion, we’ve decided that there would be a certain justice in taking away the privilege of the tub
room that you men have been using for your card games during the day. Does this seem unfair?”
Her head didn’t move. She didn’t look. But one by one [172] everybody else looked at him sitting
there in his corner. Even the old Chronics, wondering why everybody had turned to look in one
direction, stretched out their scrawny necks like birds and turned to look at McMurphy—faces
turned to him, full of a naked, scared hope.
That single thin note in my head was like tires speeding down a pavement.
He was sitting straight up in his chair, one big red finger scratching lazily at the stitchmarks run
across his nose. He grinned at everybody looking at him and took his cap by the brim and tipped it
politely, then looked back at the nurse.
“So, if there is no discussion on this ruling, I think the hour is almost over …”
She paused again, took a look at him herself. He shrugged his shoulders and with a loud sigh
slapped both hands down on his knees and pushed himself standing out of the chair. He stretched
and yawned and scratched the nose again and started strolling across the day-room floor to where
she sat by the Nurses’ Station, heisting his pants with his thumbs as he walked. I could see it was too
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
late to keep him from doing whatever fool thing he had in mind, and I just watched, like everybody
else. He walked with long steps, too long, and he had his thumbs hooked in his pockets again. The
iron in his boot heels cracked lightning out of the tile. He was the logger again, the swaggering
gambler, the big redheaded brawling Irishman, the cowboy out of the TV set walking down the
middle of the street to meet a dare.
The Big Nurse’s eyes swelled out white as he got close. She hadn’t reckoned on him doing
anything. This was supposed to be her final victory over him, supposed to establish her rule once
and for all. But here he comes and he’s big as a house!
She started popping her mouth and looking for her black boys, scared to death, but be stopped
before he got to her. He stopped in front of her window and he said in his slowest, deepest drawl
how he figured he could use one of the smokes he bought this mornin’, then ran his hand through
the glass.
The glass came apart like water splashing, and the nurse threw her hands to her ears. He got one
of the cartons of cigarettes with his name on it and took out a pack, then put it back and turned to
where the Big Nurse was sitting like a chalk statue and very tenderly went to brushing the slivers of
glass off her hat and shoulders.
“I’m sure sorry, ma’am,” he said. “Gawd but I am. That window glass was so spick and span I
com-pletely forgot it was there.”
[173] It took just a couple of seconds. He turned and left her sitting there with her face shifting
and jerking and walked back across the day room to his chair, lighting up a cigarette.
The ringing that was in my head had stopped.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
part 3
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
After that, McMurphy had things his way for a good long while. The nurse was biding her time
till another idea came to her that would put her on top again. She knew she’d lost one big round and
was losing another, but she wasn’t in any hurry. For one thing, she wasn’t about to recommend
release; the fight could go on as long as she wanted, till he made a mistake or till he just gave out, or
until she could come up with some new tactic that would put her back on top in everybody’s eyes.
A good lot happened before she came up with that new tactic. After McMurphy was drawn out
of what you might call a short retirement and had announced he was back in the hassle by breaking
out her personal window, he made things on the ward pretty interesting. He took part in every
meeting, every discussion—drawling, winking, joking his best to wheedle a skinny laugh out of some
Acute who’d been scared to grin since he was twelve. He got together enough guys for a basketball
team and some way talked the doctor into letting him bring a ball back from the gym to get the team
used to handling it. [175] The nurse objected, said the next thing they’d be playing soccer in the day
room and polo games up and down the hall, but the doctor held firm for once and said let them go.
“A number of the players, Miss Ratched, have shown marked progress since that basketball team
was organized; I think it has proven its therapeutic value.”
She looked at him a while in amazement. So he was doing a little muscle-flexing too. She marked
the tone of his voice for later, for when her time came again, and just nodded and went to sit in her
Nurses’ Station and fiddle with the controls on her equipment. The janitors had put a cardboard in
the frame over her desk till they could get another window pane cut to fit, and she sat there behind
it every day like it wasn’t even there, just like she could still see right into the day room. Behind that
square of cardboard she was like a picture turned to the wall.
She waited, without comment, while McMurphy continued to run around the halls in the
mornings in his white-whale shorts, or pitched pennies in the dorms, or ran up and down the hall
blowing a nickel-plated ref’s whistle, teaching Acutes the fast break from ward door to the Seclusion
Room at the other end, the ball pounding in the corridor like cannon shots and McMurphy roaring
like a sergeant, “Drive, you puny mothers, drive!”
When either one spoke to the other it was always in the most polite fashion. He would ask her
nice as you please if he could use her fountain pen to write a request for an Unaccompanied Leave
from the hospital, wrote it out in front of her on her desk, and handed her the request and the pen
back at the same time with such a nice, “Thank you,” and she would look at it and say just as polite
that she would “take it up with the staff”—which took maybe three minutes—and come back to tell
him she certainly was sorry but a pass was not considered therapeutic at this time. He would thank
her again and walk out of the Nurses’ Station and blow that whistle loud enough to break windows
for miles, and holler, “Practice, you mothers, get that ball and let’s get a little sweat rollin’.”
He’d been on the ward a month, long enough to sign the bulletin board in the hall to request a
hearing in group meeting about an Accompanied Pass. He went to the bulletin board with her pen
and put down under TO BE ACCOMPANIED BY: “A twitch I know from Portland named Candy
Starr.”—and ruined the pen point on the period. The pass request was brought up in group meeting
a few days later, the same day, in fact, that workmen put a new glass window in front of the Big
Nurse’s [176] desk, and after his request had been turned down on the grounds that this Miss Starr
didn’t seem like the most wholesome person for a patient to go pass with, he shrugged and said
that’s how she bounces I guess, and got up and walked to the Nurses’ Station, to the window that
still had the sticker from the glass company down in the corner, and ran his fist through it again—
explained to the nurse while blood poured from his fingers that he thought the cardboard had been
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
left out and the frame was open. “When did they sneak that danged glass in there? Why that thing is
a menace!”
The nurse taped his hand in the station while Scanlon and Harding dug the cardboard out of the
garbage and taped it back in the frame, using adhesive from the same roll the nurse was bandaging
McMurphy’s wrist and fingers with. McMurphy sat on a stool, grimacing something awful while he
got his cuts tended, winking at Scanlon and Harding over the nurse’s head. The expression on her
face was calm and blank as enamel, but the strain was beginning to show in other ways. By the way
she jerked the adhesive tight as she could, showing her remote patience wasn’t what it used to be.
We got to go to the gym and watch our basketball team—Harding, Billy Bibbit, Scanlon,
Fredrickson, Martini, and McMurphy whenever his hand would stop bleeding long enough for him
to get in the game—play a team of aides. Our two big black boys played for the aides. They were the
best players on the court, running up and down the floor together like a pair of shadows in red
trunks, scoring basket after basket with mechanical accuracy. Our team was too short and too slow,
and Martini kept throwing passes to men that nobody but him could see, and the aides beat us by
twenty points. But something happened that let most of us come away feeling there’d been a kind of
victory, anyhow: in one scramble for the ball our big black boy named Washington got cracked with
somebody’s elbow, and his team had to hold him back as he stood straining to where McMurphy
was sitting on the ball—not paying the least bit of heed to the thrashing black boy with red pouring
out of his big nose and down his chest like paint splashed on a blackboard and hollering to the guys
holding him, “He beggin’ for it! The sonabitch jus’ beggin’ for it!”
McMurphy composed more notes for the nurse to find in the latrine with her mirror. He wrote
long outlandish tales about himself in the log book and signed them Anon. Sometimes he slept till
eight o’clock. She would reprimand him, without heat at all, and he would stand and listen till she
was finished and then destroy her whole effect by asking something [177] like did she wear a B cup,
he wondered, or a C cup, or any ol’ cup at all?
The other Acutes were beginning to follow his lead. Harding began flirting with all the student
nurses, and Billy Bibbit completely quit writing what he used to call his “observations” in the log
book, and when the window in front of her desk got replaced again, with a big X across it in
whitewash to make sure McMurphy didn’t have any excuse for not knowing it was there, Scanlon
did it in by accidentally bouncing our basketball through it before the whitewashed X was even dry.
The ball punctured, and Martini picked it off the floor like a dead bird and carried it to the nurse in
the station, where she was staring at the new splash of broken glass all over her desk, and asked
couldn’t she please fix it with tape or something? Make it well again? Without a word she jerked it
out of his hand and stuffed it in the garbage.
So, with basketball season obviously over, McMurphy decided fishing was the thing. He
requested another pass after telling the doctor he had some friends at the Siuslaw Bay at Florence
who would like to take eight or nine of the patients out deep-sea fishing if it was okay with the staff,
and he wrote on the request list out in the hall that this time he would be accompanied by “two
sweet old aunts from a little place outside of Oregon City.” In the meeting his pass was granted for
the next weekend. When the nurse finished officially noting his pass in her roll book, she reached
into her wicker bag beside her feet and drew out a clipping that she had taken from the paper that
morning, and read out loud that although fishing off the coast of Oregon was having a peak year,
the salmon were running quite late in the season and the sea was rough and dangerous. And she
would suggest the men give that some thought.
“Good idea,” McMurphy said. He closed his eyes and sucked a deep breath through his teeth.
“Yes sir! The salt smell o’ the poundin’ sea, the crack o’ the bow against the waves—braving the
elements, where men are men and boats are boats. Miss Ratched, you’ve talked me into it. I’ll call
and rent that boat this very night. Shall I sign you on?”
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
Instead of answering she walked to the bulletin board and pinned up the clipping.
The next day he started signing up the guys that wanted to go and that had ten bucks to chip in
on boat rent, and the nurse started steadily bringing in clippings from the newspapers that told
about wrecked boats and sudden storms on the coast. [178] McMurphy pooh-poohed her and her
clippings, saying that his two aunts had spent most of their lives bouncing around the waves in one
port or another with this sailor or that, and they both guaranteed the trip was safe as pie, safe as
pudding, not a thing to worry about. But the nurse still knew her patients. The clippings scared them
more than McMurphy’d figured. He’d figured there would be a rush to sign up, but he’d had to talk
and wheedle to get the guys he did. The day before the trip he still needed a couple more before he
could pay for the boat.
I didn’t have the money, but I kept getting this notion that I wanted to sign the list. And the
more he talked about fishing for Chinook salmon the more I wanted to go. I knew it was a fool
thing to want; if I signed up it’d be the same as coming right out and telling everybody I wasn’t deaf.
If I’d been hearing all this talk about boats and fishing it’d show I’d been hearing everything else
that’d been said in confidence around me for the past ten years. And if the Big Nurse found out
about that, that I’d heard all the scheming and treachery that had gone on when she didn’t think
anybody was listening, she’d hunt me down with an electric saw, fix me where she knew I was deaf
and dumb. Bad as I wanted to go, it still made me smile a little to think about it: I had to keep on
acting deaf if I wanted to hear at all.
I lay in bed the night before the fishing trip and thought it over, about my being deaf, about the
years of not letting on I heard what was said, and I wondered if I could ever act any other way again.
But I remembered one thing: it wasn’t me that started acting deaf; it was people that first started
acting like I was too dumb to hear or see or say anything at all.
It hadn’t been just since I came in the hospital, either; people first took to acting like I couldn’t
hear or talk a long time before that. In the Army anybody with more stripes acted that way toward
me. That was the way they figured you were supposed to act around someone looked like I did. And
even as far back as grade school I can remember people saying that they didn’t think I was listening,
so they quit listening to the things I was saying. Lying there in bed, I tried to think back when I first
noticed it. I think it was once when we were still living in the village on the Columbia. It was
summer. ...
… and I’m about ten years old and I’m out in front of the shack sprinkling salt on salmon for the
racks behind the house, when I see a car turn off the highway and come lumbering across the ruts
through the sage, towing a load of red dust behind it as solid as a string of boxcars.
[179] I watch the car pull up the hill and stop down a piece from our yard, and the dust keeps
coming, crashing into the rear of it and busting in every direction and finally settling on the sage and
soapweed round about and making it look like chunks of red, smoking wreckage. The car sits there
while the dust settles, shimmering in the sun. I know it isn’t tourists with cameras because they
never drive this close to the village. If they want to buy fish they buy them back at the highway; they
don’t come to the village because they probably think we still scalp people and burn them around a
post. They don’t know some of our people are lawyers in Portland, probably wouldn’t believe it if I
told them. In fact, one of my uncles became a real lawyer and Papa says he did it purely to prove he
could, when he’d rather poke salmon in the fall than anything. Papa says if you don’t watch it people
will force you one way or the other, into doing what they think you should do, or into just being
mule-stubborn and doing the opposite out of spite.
The doors of the car open all at once and three people get out, two out of the front and one out
of the back. They come climbing up the slope toward our village and I see the first two are men in
blue suits, and the behind one, the one that got out of the back, is an old white-haired woman in an
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
outfit so stiff and heavy it must be armor plate. They’re puffing and sweating by the time they break
out of the sage into our bald yard.
The first man stops and looks the village over. He’s short and round and wearing a white Stetson
hat. He shakes his head at the rickety clutter of fishracks and secondhand cars and chicken coops
and motorcycles and dogs.
“Have you ever in all your born days seen the like? Have you now? I swear to heaven, have you
He pulls off the hat and pats his red rubber ball of a head with a handkerchief, careful, like he’s
afraid of getting one or the other mussed up—the handkerchief or the dab of damp stringy hair.
“Can you imagine people wanting to live this way? Tell me, John, can you?” He talks loud on
account of not being used to the roar of the falls.
John’s next to him, got a thick gray mustache lifted tight up under his nose to stop out the smell
of the salmon I’m working on. He’s sweated down his neck and cheeks, and he’s sweated clean out
through the back of his blue suit. He’s making notes in a book, and he keeps turning in a circle,
looking at our shack, our little garden, at Mama’s red and green and yellow Saturday-night dresses
drying out back on a stretch [180] of bedcord—keeps turning till he makes a full circle and comes
back to me, looks at me like he just sees me for the first time, and me not but two yards away from
him. He bends toward me and squints and lifts his mustache up to his nose again like it’s me
stinking instead of the fish.
“Where do you suppose his parents are?” John asks. “Inside the house? Or out on the falls? We
might as well talk this over with the man while we’re out here.”
“I, for one, am not going inside that hovel,” the fat guy says.
“That hovel,” John says through his mustache, “is where the Chief lives, Brickenridge, the man
we are here to deal with, the noble leader of these people.”
“Deal with? Not me, not my job. They pay me to appraise, not fraternize.”
This gets a laugh out of John.
“Yes, that’s true. But someone should inform them of the government’s plans.”
“If they don’t already know, they’ll know soon enough.”
“It would be very simple to go in and talk with him.”
“Inside in that squalor? Why, I’ll just bet you anything that place is acrawl with black widows.
They say these ‘dobe shacks always house a regular civilization in the walls between the sods. And
hot, lord-a-mercy, I hope to tell you. I’ll wager it’s a regular oven in there. Look, look how overdone
little Hiawatha is here. Ho. Burnt to a fair turn, he is.”
He laughs and dabs at his head and when the woman looks at him he stops laughing. He clears
his throat and spits into the dust and then walks over and sits down in the swing Papa built for me
in the juniper tree, and sits there swinging back and forth a little bit and fanning himself with his
What he said makes me madder the more I think about it. He and John go ahead talking about
our house and village and property and what they are worth, and I get the notion they’re talking
about these things around me because they don’t know I speak English. They are probably from the
East someplace, where people don’t know anything about Indians but what they see in the movies. I
think how ashamed they’re going to be when they find out I know what they are saying.
I let them say another thing or two about the heat and the house; then I stand up and tell the fat
man, in my very best schoolbook language, that our sod house is likely to be cooler than any one of
the houses in town, lots cooler! “I know for a fact that it’s cooler’n that school I go to and even
cooler’n that movie house in The Dalles that advertises on that sign drawn with icicle letters that it’s
‘cool inside’!”
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
[181] And I’m just about to go and tell them, how, if they’ll come on in, I’ll go get Papa from the
scaffolds on the falls, when I see that they don’t look like they’d heard me talk at all. They aren’t
even looking at me. The fat man is swinging back and forth, looking off down the ridge of lava to
where the men are standing their places on the scaffolding in the falls, just plaidshirted shapes in the
mist from this distance. Every so often you can see somebody shoot out an arm and take a step
forward like a swordfighter, and then hold up his fifteen-foot forked spear for somebody on the
scaffold above him to pull off the flopping salmon. The fat guy watches the men standing in their
places in the fifty-foot veil of water, and bats his eyes and grunts every time one of them makes a
lunge for a salmon.
The other two, John and the woman, are just standing. Not a one of the three acts like they heard
a thing I said; in fact they’re all looking off from me like they’d as soon I wasn’t there at all.
And everything stops and hangs this way for a minute.
I get the funniest feeling that the sun is turned up brighter than before on the three of them.
Everything else looks like it usually does—the chickens fussing around in the grass on top of the
‘dobe houses, the grasshoppers batting from bush to bush, the flies being stirred into black clouds
around the fish racks by the little kids with sage flails, just like every other summer day. Except the
sun, on these three strangers, is all of a sudden way the hell brighter than usual and I can see the ...
seams where they’re put together. And, almost, see the apparatus inside them take the words I just
said and try to fit the words in here and there, this place and that, and when they find the words
don’t have any place ready-made where they’ll fit, the machinery disposes of the words like they
weren’t even spoken.
The three are stock still while this goes on. Even the swing’s stopped, nailed out at a slant by the
sun, with the fat man petrified in it like a rubber doll. Then Papa’s guinea hen wakes up in the
juniper branches and sees we got strangers on the premises and goes to barking at them like a dog,
and the spell breaks.
The fat man hollers and jumps out of the swing and sidles away through the dust, holding his hat
up in front of the sun so’s he can see what’s up there in the juniper tree making such a racket. When
he sees it’s nothing but a speckled chicken he spits on the ground and puts his hat on.
[182] “I, myself, sincerely feel,” he says, “that whatever offer we make on this ... metropolis will be
quite sufficient.”
“Could be. I still think we should make some effort to speak with the Chief—”
The old woman interrupts him by taking one ringing step forward. “No.” This is the first thing
she’s said. “No,” she says again in a way that reminds me of the Big Nurse. She lifts her eyebrows
and looks the place over. Her eyes spring up like the numbers in a cash register; she’s looking at
Mamma’s dresses hung so careful on the line, and she’s nodding her head.
“No. We don’t talk with the Chief today. Not yet. I think . that I agree with Brickenridge for
once. Only for a different reason. You recall the record we have shows the wife is not Indian but
white? White. A woman from town. Her name is Bromden. He took her name, not she his. Oh, yes,
I think if we just leave now and go back into town, and, of course, spread the word with the
townspeople about the government’s plans so they understand the advantages of having a
hydroelectric dam and a lake instead of a cluster of shacks beside a falls, then type up an offer—and
mail it to the wife, you see, by mistake? I feel our job will be a great deal easier.”
She looks off to the men on the ancient, rickety, zigzagging scaffolding that has been growing
and branching out among the rocks of the falls for hundreds of years.
“Whereas if we meet now with the husband and make some abrupt offer, we may run up against
an untold amount of Navaho stubbornness and love of—I suppose we must call it home.”
I start to tell them he’s not Navaho, but think what’s the use if they don’t listen? They don’t care
what tribe he is.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
The woman smiles and nods at both the men, a smile and a nod to each, and her eyes ring them
up, and she begins to move stiffly back to their car, talking in a light, young voice.
“As my sociology professor used to emphasize, ‘There is generally one person in every situation
you must never underestimate the power of.’ ”
And they get back in the car and drive away, with me standing there wondering if they ever even
saw me.
I was kind of amazed that I’d remembered that. It was the first time in what seemed to me
centuries that I’d been able to remember much about my childhood. It fascinated me to discover I
could still do it. I lay in bed awake, remembering other happenings, and just about that time, while I
was half in a kind of dream, I heard a sound under my bed like a mouse [183] with a walnut. I leaned
over the edge of the bed and saw the shine of metal biting off pieces of gum I knew by heart. The
black boy named Geever had found where I’d been hiding my chewing gum; was scraping the pieces
off into a sack with a long, lean pair of scissors open like jaws.
I jerked back up under the covers before he saw me looking. My heart was banging in my ears,
scared he’d seen me. I wanted to tell him to get away, to mind his own business and leave my
chewing gum alone, but I couldn’t even let on I heard. I lay still to see if he’d caught me bending
over to peek under the bed at him, but he didn’t give any sign—all I heard was the zzzth-zzzth of
his scissors and pieces falling into the sack, reminded me of hailstones the way they used to rattle on
our tar-paper roof. He clacked his tongue and giggled to himself.
“Um-ummm. Lord Bawd amighty. Hee. I wonder how many times this muthuh chewed some o’
this stuff? Just as hard.”
McMurphy heard the black boy muttering to himself and woke and rolled up to one elbow to
look at what he was up to at this hour down on his knees under my bed. He watched the black boy a
minute, rubbing his eyes to be sure of what he was seeing, just like you see little kids rub their eyes;
then he sat up completely.
“I will be a sonofabitch if he ain’t in here at eleven-thirty at night, fartin’ around in the dark with
a pair of scissors and a paper sack.” The black boy jumped and swung his flashlight up in
McMurphy’s eyes. “Now tell me, Sam: what the devil are you collectin’ that needs the cover of
“Go back to sleep, McMurphy. It don’t concern nobody else.”
McMurphy let his lips spread in a slow grin, but he didn’t look away from the light. The black
boy got uneasy after about half a minute of shining that light on McMurphy sitting there, on that
glossy new-healed scar and those teeth and that tattooed panther on his shoulder, and took the light
away. He bent back to his work, grunting and puffing like it was a mighty effort prying off dried
“One of the duties of a night aide,” he explained between grunts, trying to sound friendly, “is to
keep the bedside area cleaned up.”
“In the dead of night?”
“McMurphy, we got a thing posted called a Job Description, say cleanliness is a twenty-fo’-hour job!”
“You might of done your twenty-four hours’ worth before we got in bed, don’t you think, instead
of sittin’ out there [184] watching TV till ten-thirty. Does Old Lady Ratched know you boys watch
TV most of your shift? What do you reckon she’d do if she found out about that?”
The black boy got up and sat on the edge of my bed. He tapped the flashlight against his teeth,
grinning and giggling. The light lit his face up like a black jack o’lantern.
“Well, let me tell you about this gum,” he said and leaned close to McMurphy like an old chum.
“You see, for years I been wondering where Chief Bromden got his chewin’ gum—never havin’ any
money for the canteen, never havin’ anybody give him a stick that I saw, never askin’ Public
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
Relations—so I watched, and I waited. And look here.” He got back on his knees and lifted the edge of
my bedspread and shined the light under. “How ‘bout that? I bet they’s pieces of gum under here
been used a thousand times!”
This tickled McMurphy. He went to giggling at what he saw. The black boy held up the sack and
rattled it, and they laughed some more about it. The black boy told McMurphy good night and
rolled the top of the sack like it was his lunch and went off somewhere to hide it for later.
“Chief?” McMurphy whispered. “I want you to tell me something.” And he started to sing a little
song, a hillbilly song, popular a long time ago: “ ‘Oh, does the Spearmint lose its flavor on the
bedpost overnight?’ “
At first I started getting real mad. I thought he was making fun of me like other people had.
“ ‘When you chew it in the morning,’ ” he sang in a whisper, “ ‘will it be too hard to bite?’ ”
But the more I thought about it the funnier it seemed to me. I tried to stop it but I could feel I
was about to laugh—not at McMurphy’s singing, but at my own self.
“ ‘This question’s got me goin’, won’t somebody set me right; does the Spearmint lose its flavor
on the bedpost o-ver niiiite?’ ”
He held out that last note and twiddled it down me like a feather. I couldn’t help but start to
chuckle, and this made me scared I’d get to laughing and not be able to stop. But just then
McMurphy jumped off his bed and went to rustling through his nightstand, and I hushed. I clenched
my teeth, wondering what to do now. It’d been a long time since I’d let anyone hear me do any
more than grunt or bellow. I heard him shut the bedstand, and it echoed like a boiler door. I heard
him say, “Here,” and something lit on my bed. Little. Just the size of a lizard or a snake ...
“Juicy Fruit is the best I can do for you at the moment, [185] Chief. Package I won off Scanlon
pitchin’ pennies.” And he got back in bed.
And before I realized what I was doing, I told him Thank you.
He didn’t say anything right off. He was up on his elbow, watching me the way he’d watched the
black boy, waiting for me to say something else. I picked up the package of gum from the bedspread
and held it in my hand and told him Thank you.
It didn’t sound like much because my throat was rusty and my tongue creaked. He told me I
sounded a little out of practice and laughed at that. I tried to laugh with him, but it was a squawking
sound, like a pullet trying to crow. It sounded more like crying than laughing.
He told me not to hurry, that he had till six-thirty in the morning to listen if I wanted to practice.
He said a man been still long as me probably had a considerable lot to talk about, and he lay back on
his pillow and waited. I thought for a minute for something to say to him, but the only thing that
came to my mind was the kind of thing one man can’t say to another because it sounds wrong in
words. When he saw I couldn’t say anything he crossed his hands behind his head and started
talking himself.
“Ya know, Chief, I was just rememberin’ a time down in the Willamette Valley—I was pickin’
beans outside of Eugene and considering myself damn lucky to get the job. It was in the early
thirties so there wasn’t many kids able to get jobs. I got the job by proving to the bean boss I could
pick just as fast and clean as any of the adults. Anyway, I was the only kid in the rows. Nobody else
around me but grown-ups. And after I tried a time or two to talk to them I saw they weren’t for
listening to me—scrawny little patchquilt redhead anyhow. So I hushed. I was so peeved at them not
listening to me I kept hushed the livelong four weeks I picked that field, workin’ right along side of
them, listening to them prattle on about this uncle or that cousin. Or if somebody didn’t show up
for work, gossip about him. Four weeks and not a peep out of me. Till I think by God they forgot I
could talk, the mossbacked old bastards. I bided my time. Then, on the last day, I opened up and
went to telling them what a petty bunch of farts they were. I told each one just how his buddy had
drug him over the coals when he was absent. Hooee, did they listen then! They finally got to arguing
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
with each other and created such a shitstorm I lost my quarter-cent-a-pound bonus I had comin’ for
not missin’ a day because I already had a bad reputation around town and the bean boss claimed the
disturbance was likely my fault even if he couldn’t [186] prove it. I cussed him out too. My shootin’
off my mouth that time probably cost me twenty dollars or so. Well worth it, too.”
He chuckled a while to himself, remembering, then turned his head on his pillow and looked at
“What I was wonderin’, Chief, are you biding your time towards the day you decide to lay into
“No,” I told him. “I couldn’t.”
“Couldn’t tell them off? It’s easier than you think.”
“You’re … lot bigger, tougher’n I am,” I mumbled.
“How’s that? I didn’t get you, Chief.”
I worked some spit down in my throat. “You are bigger and tougher than I am. You can do it.”
“Me? Are you kidding? Criminy, look at you: you stand a head taller’n any man on the ward.
There ain’t a man here you couldn’t turn every way but loose, and that’s a fact!”
“No. I’m way too little. I used to be big, but not no more. You’re twice the size of me.”
“Hoo boy, you are crazy, aren’t you? The first thing I saw when I came in this place was you
sitting over in that chair, big as a damn mountain. I tell you, I lived all over Klamath and Texas and
Oklahoma and all over around Gallup, and I swear you’re the biggest Indian I ever saw.”
“I’m from the Columbia Gorge,” I said, and he waited for me to go on. “My Papa was a full
Chief and his name was Tee Ah Millatoona. That means The-Pine-That-Stands-Tallest-on-the-
Mountain, and we didn’t live on a mountain. He was real big when I was a kid. My mother got twice
his size.”
“You must of had a real moose of an old lady. How big was she?”
“Oh—big, big.”
“I mean how many feet and inches?”
“Feet and inches? A guy at the carnival looked her over and says five feet nine and weight a
hundred and thirty pounds, but that was because he’d just saw her. She got bigger all the time.’”
“Yeah? How much bigger?”
“Bigger than Papa and me together.”
“Just one day took to growin’, huh? Well, that’s a new one on me: I never heard of an Indian
woman doing something like that.”
“She wasn’t Indian. She was a town woman from The Dalles.”
“And her name was what? Bromden? Yeah, I see, wait a minute.” He thinks for a while and says,
“And when a town [187] woman marries an Indian that’s marryin’ somebody beneath her, ain’t it?
Yeah, I think I see.”
“No. It wasn’t just her that made him little. Everybody worked on him because he was big, and
wouldn’t give in, and did like he pleased. Everybody worked on him just the way they’re working on
“They who, Chief?” he asked in a soft voice, suddenly serious.
“The Combine. It worked on him for years. He was big enough to fight it for a while. It wanted
us to live in inspected houses. It wanted to take the falls. It was even in the tribe, and they worked
on him. In the town they beat him up in the alleys and cut his hair short once. Oh, the Combine’s
big—big. He fought it a long time till my mother made him too little to fight any more and he gave
McMurphy didn’t say anything for a long time after that. Then he raised up on his elbow and
looked at me again, and asked why they beat him up in the alleys, and I told him that they wanted to
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
make him see what he had in store for him only worse if he didn’t sign the papers giving everything
to the government.
“What did they want him to give to the government?”
“Everything. The tribe, the village, the falls ...”
“Now I remember; you’re talking about the falls where the Indians used to spear salmon—long
time ago. Yeah. But the way I remember it the tribe got paid some huge amount.”
“That’s what they said to him. He said, What can you pay for the way a man lives? He said, What
can you pay for what a man is? They didn’t understand. Not even the tribe. They stood out in front
of our door all holding those checks and they wanted him to tell them what to do now. They kept
asking him to invest for them, or tell them where to go, or to buy a farm. But he was too little
anymore. And he was too drunk, too. The Combine had whipped him. It beats everybody. It’ll beat
you too. They can’t have somebody as big as Papa running around unless he’s one of them. You can
see that.”
“Yeah, I reckon I can.”
“That’s why you shouldn’t of broke that window. They see you’re big, now. Now they got to bust
“Like bustin’ a mustang, huh?”
“No. No, listen. They don’t bust you that way; they work on you ways you can’t fight! They put
things in! They install things. They start as quick as they see you’re gonna be big and go to working
and installing their filthy machinery when you’re little, and keep on and on and on till you’re fixed!”
[188] “Take ‘er easy, buddy; shhh.”
“And if you fight they lock you someplace and make you stop—”
“Easy, easy, Chief. Just cool it for a while. They heard you.” He lay down and kept still. My bed
was hot, I noticed. I could hear the squeak of rubber soles as the black boy came in with a flashlight
to see what the noise was. We lay still till he left.
“He finally just drank,” I whispered. I didn’t seem to be able to stop talking, not till I finished
telling what I thought was all of it. “And the last I see him he’s blind in the cedars from drinking and
every time I see him put the bottle to his mouth he don’t suck out of it, it sucks out of him until he’s
shrunk so wrinkled and yellow even the dogs don’t know him, and we had to cart him out of the
cedars, in a pickup, to a place in Portland, to die. I’m not saying they kill. They didn’t kill him. They
did something else.”
I was feeling awfully sleepy. I didn’t want to talk any more. I tried to think back on what I’d been
saying, and it didn’t seem like what I’d wanted to say.
“I been talking crazy, ain’t I?”
“Yeah, Chief”—he rolled over in his bed—“you been talkin’ crazy.”
“It wasn’t what I wanted to say. I can’t say it all. It don’t make sense.”
“I didn’t say it didn’t make sense, Chief, I just said it was talkin’ crazy.”
He didn’t say anything after that for so long I thought he’d gone to sleep. I wished I’d told him
good night. I looked over at him, and he was turned away from me. His arm wasn’t under the
covers, and I could just make out the aces and eights tattooed there. It’s big, I thought, big as my
arms used to be when I played football. I wanted to reach over and touch the place where he was
tattooed, to see if he was still alive. He’s layin’ awful quiet, I told myself, I ought to touch him to see
if he’s still alive. ...
That’s a lie. I know he’s still alive. That ain’t the reason I want to touch him.
I want to touch him because he’s a man.
That’s a lie too. There’s other men around. I could touch them.
I want to touch him because I’m one of these queers!
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
But that’s a lie too. That’s one fear hiding behind another. If I was one of these queers I’d want
to do other things with him. I just want to touch him because he’s who he is.
[189] But as I was about to reach over to that arm he said, “Say, Chief,” and rolled in bed with a
lurch of covers, facing me, “Say, Chief, why don’t you come on this fishin’ trip with us tomorrow?”
I didn’t answer.
“Come on, what do ya say? I look for it to be one hell of an occasion. You know these two aunts
of mine comin’ to pick us up? Why, those ain’t aunts, man, no; both those girls are workin’ shimmy
dancers and hustlers I know from Portland. What do you say to that?”
I finally told him I was one of the Indigents.
“You’re what?”
“I’m broke.”
“Oh,” he said. “Yeah, I hadn’t thought of that.”
He was quiet for a time again, rubbing that scar on his nose with his finger. The finger stopped.
He raised up on his elbow and looked at me.
“Chief,” he said slowly, looking me over, “when you were full-sized, when you used to be, let’s
say, six seven or eight and weighed two eighty or so—were you strong enough to, say, lift something
the size of that control panel in the tub room?”
I thought about that panel. It probably didn’t weigh a lot more’n oil drums I’d lifted in the Army.
I told him I probably could of at one time.
“If you got that big again, could you still lift it?”
I told him I thought so.
“To hell with what you think; I want to know can you promise to lift it if I get you big as you used
to be? You promise me that, and you not only get my special body-buildin’ course for nothing but
you get yourself a ten-buck fishin’ trip, free!” He licked his lips and lay back. “Get me good odds too,
I bet.”
He lay there chuckling over some thought of his own. When I asked him how he was going to
get me big again he shushed me with a finger to his lips.
“Man, we can’t let a secret like this out. I didn’t say I’d tell you how, did I? Hoo boy, blowin’ a
man back up to full size is a secret you can’t share with everybody, be dangerous in the hands of an
enemy. You won’t even know it’s happening most of the time yourself. But I give you my solemn
word, you follow my training program, and here’s what’ll happen.”
He swung his legs out of bed and sat on the edge with his hands on his knees. The dim light
coming in over his shoulder from the Nurses’ Station caught the shine of his teeth and the [190] one
eye glinting down his nose at me. The rollicking auctioneer’s voice spun softly through the dorm.
“There you’ll be. It’s the Big Chief Bromden, cuttin’ down the boulevard—men, women, and kids
rockin’ back on their heels to peer at him: ‘Well well well, what giant’s this here, takin’ ten feet at a
step and duckin’ for telephone wires?’ Comes stompin’ through town, stops just long enough for
virgins, the rest of you twitches might’s well not even line up ‘less you got tits like muskmelons, nice
strong white legs long enough to lock around his mighty back, and a little cup of poozle warm and
juicy and sweet as butter an’ honey ...”
In the dark there he went on, spinning his tale about how it would be, with all the men scared
and all the beautiful young girls panting after me. Then he said he was going out right this very
minute and sign my name up as one of his fishing crew. He stood up, got the towel from his
bedstand and wrapped it around his hips and put on his cap, and stood over my bed.
“Oh man, I tell you, I tell you, you’ll have women trippin’ you and beatin’ you to the floor.”
And all of a sudden his hand shot out and with a swing of his arm untied my sheet, cleared my
bed of covers, and left me lying there naked.
“Look there, Chief. Haw. What’d I tell ya? You growed a half a foot already.”
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
Laughing, he walked down the row of beds to the hall.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
Two whores on their way down from Portland to take us deep-sea fishing in a boat! It made it
tough to stay in bed until the dorm lights came on at six-thirty.
I was the first one up out of the dorm to look at the list posted on the board next to the Nurses’
Station, check to see if my name was really signed there. SIGN UP FOR DEEP SEA FISHING was
printed in big letters at the top, then McMurphy had signed first and Billy Bibbit was number one,
right after McMurphy. Number three was Harding and number four was Fredrickson, and all the
way down to number ten where nobody’d signed yet. My name was there, the last put down, across
from the number nine. I was actually going out of the hospital with two whores on a fishing boat; I
had to keep saying it over and over to myself to believe it.
The three black boys slipped up in front of me and read the list with gray fingers, found my name
there and turned to grin at me.
“Why, who you s’pose signed Chief Bromden up for this foolishness? Inniuns ain’t able to
“What makes you think Inniuns able to read?”
The starch was still fresh and stiff enough this early that their arms rustled in the white suits
when they moved, like paper wings. I acted deaf to them laughing at me, like I didn’t even know, but
when they stuck a broom out for me to do their work up the hall, I turned around and walked back
to the dorm, telling myself, The hell with that. A man goin’ fishing with two whores from Portland
don’t have to take that crap.
It scared me some, walking off from them like that, because I never went against what the black
boys ordered before. I looked back and saw them coming after me with the broom. They’d probably
have come right on in the dorm and got me but for McMurphy; he was in there making such a fuss,
roaring up and down between the beds, snapping a towel at the guys signed to go this morning, that
the black boys decided maybe the dorm wasn’t such safe territory to venture into for no more than
somebody to sweep a little dab of hallway.
McMurphy had his motorcycle cap pulled way forward on [192] his red hair to look like a boat
captain, and the tattoos showing out from the sleeves of his T-shirt were done in Singapore. He was
swaggering around the floor like it was the deck of a ship, whistling in his hand like a bosun’s
“Hit the deck, mateys, hit the deck or I keelhaul the lot of ye from stock to stern!”
He rang the bedstand next to Harding’s bed with his knuckles.
“Six bells and all’s well. Steady as she goes. Hit the deck. Drop your cocks and grab your socks.”
He noticed me standing just inside the doorway and came rushing over to thump my back like a
“Look here at the Big Chief; here’s an example of a good sailor and fisherman: up before day and
out diggin’ red worms for bait. The rest of you scurvy bunch o’ lubbers’d do well to follow his lead.
Hit the deck. Today’s the day! Outa the sack and into the sea!”
The Acutes grumbled and griped at him and his towel, and the Chronics woke up to look around
with beads blue from lack of blood cut off by sheets tied too tight across the chest, looking around
the dorm till they finally centered on me with weak and watered-down old looks, faces wistful and
curious. They lay there watching me pull on warm clothes for the trip, making me feel uneasy and a
little guilty. They could sense I had been singled out as the only Chronic making the trip. They
watched me—old guys welded in wheelchairs for years, with catheters down their legs like vines
rooting them for the rest of their lives right where they are, they watched me and knew instinctively
that I was going. And they could still be a little jealous it wasn’t them. They could know because
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
enough of the man in them had been damped out that the old animal instincts had taken over (old
Chronics wake up sudden some nights, before anybody else knows a guy’s died in the dorm, and
throw back their heads and howl), and they could be jealous because there was enough man left to
still remember.
McMurphy went out to look at the list and came back and tried to talk one more Acute into
signing, going down the line kicking at the beds still had guys in them with sheets pulled over their
heads, telling them what a great thing it was to be out there in the teeth of the gale with a he-man
sea crackin’ around and a goddam yo-heave-ho and a bottle of rum. “C’mon, loafers, I need one
more mate to round out the crew, I need one more goddam volunteer. ...”
But he couldn’t talk anybody into it. The Big Nurse had the rest scared with her stories of how
rough the sea’d been lately [193] and how many boats’d sunk, and it didn’t look like we’d get that
last crew member till a half-hour later when George Sorensen came up to McMurphy in the
breakfast line where we were waiting for the mess hall to be unlocked for breakfast.
Big toothless knotty old Swede the black boys called Rub-adub George, because of his thing
about sanitation, came shuffling up the hall, listing well back so his feet went well out in front of his
head (sways backward this way to keep his face as far away from the man he’s talking to as he can),
stopped in front of McMurphy, and mumbled something in his hand. George was very shy. You
couldn’t see his eyes because they were in so deep under his brow, and he cupped his big palm
around most of the rest of his face. His head swayed like a crow’s nest on top of his mastlike spine.
He mumbled in his hand till McMurphy finally reached up and pulled the hand away so’s the words
could get out.
“Now, George, what is it you’re sayin’?”
“Red worms,” he was saying. “I joost don’t think they do you no good—not for the Chin-nook.”
“Yeah?” McMurphy said. “Red worms? I might agree with you, George, if you let me know what
about these red worms you’re speaking of.”
“I think joost a while ago I hear you say Mr. Bromden was out digging the red worms for bait.”
“That’s right, Pop, I remember.”
“So I joost say you don’t have you no good fortune with them worms. This here is the month
with one big Chinook run—su-ure. Herring you need. Su-ure. You jig you some herring and use
those fellows for bait, then you have some good fortune.”
His voice went up at the end of every sentence—for-chune—like he was asking a question. His big
chin, already scrubbed so much this morning he’d worn the hide off it, nodded up and down at
McMurphy once or twice, then turned him around to lead him down the hall toward the end of the
line. McMurphy called him back.
“Now, hold ‘er a minute, George; you talk like you know something about this fishin’ business.”
George turned and shuffled back to McMurphy, listing back so far it looked like his feet had
navigated right out from under him.
“You bet, su-ure. Twenty-five year I work the Chinook trollers, all the way from Half Moon Bay
to Puget Sound. Twenty-five year I fish—before I get so dirty.” He held out his hands for us to see
the dirt on them. Everybody around leaned over [194] and looked. I didn’t see the dirt but I did see
scars worn deep into the white palms from hauling a thousand miles of fishing line out of the sea.
He let us look a minute, then rolled the hands shut and drew them away and hid them in his pajama
shirt like we might dirty them looking, and stood grinning at McMurphy with gums like brinebleached
“I had a good troller boat, joost forty feet, but she drew twelve feet water and she was solid teak
and solid oak.” He rocked back and forth in a way to make you doubt that the floor was standing
level. “She was one good troller boat, by golly!”
He started to turn, but McMurphy stopped him again.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
“Hell, George, why didn’t you say you were a fisherman? I been talking up this voyage like I was
the Old Man of the Sea, but just between you an’ me an’ the wall there, the only boat I been on was
the battleship Missouri and the only thing I know about fish is that I like eatin’ ‘em better than
cleanin’ ‘em.”
“Cleanin’ is easy, somebody show you how.”
“By God, you’re gonna be our captain, George; we’ll be your crew.”
George tilted back, shaking his head. “Those boats awful dirty any more—everything awful dirty.”
“The hell with that. We got a boat specially sterilized fore and aft, swabbed clean as a bound’s
tooth. You won’t get dirty, George, ‘cause you’ll be the captain. Won’t even have to bait a hook; just
be our captain and give orders to us dumb landlubbers—how’s that strike you?”
I could see George was tempted by the way he wrung his hands under his shirt, but he still said
he couldn’t risk getting dirty. McMurphy did his best to talk him into it, but George was still shaking
his head when the Big Nurse’s key hit the lock of the mess hall and she came jangling out the door
with her wicker bag of surprises, clicked down the line with automatic smile-and-good-morning for
each man she passed. McMurphy noticed the way George leaned back from her and scowled. When
she’d passed, McMurphy tilted his head and gave George the one bright eye.
“George, that stuff the nurse has been saying about the bad sea, about how terrible dangerous
this trip might be—what about that?”
“That ocean could be awful bad, sure, awful rough.”
McMurphy looked down at the nurse disappearing into the station, then back at George. George
started twisting his hands [195] around in his shirt more than ever, looking around at the silent faces
watching him.
“By golly!” he said suddenly. “You think I let her scare me about that ocean? You think that?”
“Ah, I guess not, George. I was thinking, though, that if you don’t come along with us, and if
there is some awful stormy calamity, we’re every last one of us liable to be lost at sea, you know that?
I said I didn’t know nothin’ about boating, and I’ll tell you something else: these two women coming
to get us, I told the doctor was my two aunts, two widows of fishermen. Well, the only cruisin’
either one of them ever did was on solid cement. They won’t be no more help in a fix than me. We
need you, George.” He took a pull on his cigarette and asked, “You got ten bucks, by the way?”
George shook his head.
“No, I wouldn’t suppose so. Well, what the devil, I gave up the idea of comin’ out ahead days
ago. Here.” He took a pencil out of the pocket of his green jacket and wiped it clean on his shirttail,
held it out to George. “You captain us, and we’ll let you come along for five.”
George looked around at us again, working his big brow over the predicament. Finally his gums
showed in a bleached smile and he reached for the pencil. “By golly!” he said and headed off with
the pencil to sign the last place on the list. After breakfast, walking down the hall, McMurphy
stopped and printed C-A-P-T behind George’s name.
The whores were late. Everybody was beginning to think they weren’t coming at all when
McMurphy gave a yell from the window and we all went running to look. He said that was them, but
we didn’t see but one car, instead of the two we were counting on, and just one woman. McMurphy
called to her through the screen when she stopped on the parking lot, and she came cutting straight
across the grass toward our ward.
She was younger and prettier than any of us’d figured on. Everybody had found out that the girls
were whores instead of aunts, and were expecting all sorts of things. Some of the religious guys
weren’t any too happy about it. But seeing her coming lightfooted across the grass with her eyes
green all the way up to the ward, and her hair, roped in a long twist at the back of her head, jouncing
up and down with every step like copper springs in the sun, all any of us could think of was that she
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
was a girl, a female who wasn’t dressed white from head to foot like she’d been dipped in frost, and
how she made her money didn’t make any difference.
[196] She ran right up against the screen where McMurphy was and hooked her fingers through
the mesh and pulled herself against it. She was panting from the run, and every breath looked like
she might swell right through the mesh. She was crying a little.
“McMurphy, oh, you damned McMurphy ...”
“Never mind that. Where’s Sandra?”
“She got tied up, man, can’t make it. But you, damn it, are you okay?”
“She got tied up!”
“To tell the truth”—the girl wiped her nose and giggled”—ol’ Sandy got married. You remember
Artie Gilfillian from Beaverton? Always used to show up at the parties with some gassy thing, a
gopher snake or a white mouse or some gassy thing like that in his pocket? A real maniac—”
“Oh, sweet Jesus!” McMurphy groaned. “How’m I supposed to get ten guys in one stinkin’ Ford,
Candy sweetheart? How’d Sandra and her gopher snake from Beaverton figure on me swinging
The girl looked like she was in the process of thinking up an answer when the speaker in the
ceiling clacked and the Big Nurse’s voice told McMurphy if he wanted to talk with his lady friend
it’d be better if she signed in properly at the main door instead of disturbing the whole hospital. The
girl left the screen and started toward the main entrance, and McMurphy left the screen and flopped
down in a chair in the corner, his head hanging. “Hell’s bells,” he said.
The least black boy let the girl onto the ward and forgot to lock the door behind her (caught hell
for it later, I bet), and the girl came jouncing up the hall past the Nurses’ Station, where all the
nurses were trying to freeze her bounce with a united icy look, and into the day room just a few
steps ahead of the doctor. He was going toward the Nurses’ Station with some papers, looked at her,
and back at the papers, and back at her again, and went to fumbling after his glasses with both
She stopped when she got to the middle of the day-room floor and saw she was circled by forty
staring men in green, and it was so quiet you could hear bellies growling, and, all along the Chronic
row, hear catheters popping off.
She had to stand there a minute while she looked around to find McMurphy, so everybody got a
long look at her. There was a blue smoke hung near the ceiling over her bead; I think apparatus
burned out all over the ward trying to adjust to her come busting in like she did—took electronic
readings on her [197] and calculated they weren’t built to handle something like this on the ward,
and just burned out, like machines committing suicide.
She had on a white T-shirt like McMurphy’s only a lot smaller, white tennis shoes and Levi pants
snipped off above her knees to give her feet circulation, and it didn’t look like that was near enough
material to go around, considering what it had to cover. She must’ve been seen with lots less by lots
more men, but under the circumstances she began to, fidget around self-consciously like a schoolgirl
on a stage. Nobody spoke while they looked. Martini did whisper that you could read the dates of
the coins in her Levi pockets, they were so tight, but he was closer and could see better’n the rest of
Billy Bibbit was the first one to say something out loud, not really a word, just a low, almost
painful whistle that described how she looked better than anybody else could have. She laughed and
thanked him very much and he blushed so red that she blushed with him and laughed again. This
broke things into movement. All the Acutes were coming across the floor trying to talk to her at
once. The doctor was pulling on Harding’s coat, asking who is this. McMurphy got up out of his
chair and walked through the crowd to her, and when she saw him she threw her arms around him
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
and said, “You damned McMurphy,” and then got embarrassed and blushed again. When she
blushed she didn’t look more than sixteen or seventeen, I swear she didn’t.
McMurphy introduced her around and she shook everybody’s hand. When she got to Billy she
thanked him again for his whistle. The Big Nurse came sliding out of the station, smiling, and asked
McMurphy how he intended to get all ten of us in one car, and he asked could he maybe borrow a
staff car and drive a load himself, and the nurse cited a rule forbidding this, just like everyone knew
she would. She said unless there was another driver to sign a Responsibility Slip that half of the crew
would have to stay behind. McMurphy told her this’d cost him fifty goddam bucks to make up the
difference; he’d have to pay the guys back who didn’t get to go.
“Then it may be,” the nurse said, “that the trip will have to be canceled—and all the money
“I’ve already rented the boat; the man’s got seventy bucks of mine in his pocket right now!”
“Seventy dollars? So? I thought you told the patients you’d need to collect a hundred dollars plus
ten of your own to finance the trip, Mr. McMurphy.”
“I was putting gas in the cars over and back.”
[198] “That wouldn’t amount to thirty dollars, though, would it?”
She smiled so nice at him, waiting. He threw his hands in the air and looked at the ceiling.
“Hoo boy, you don’t miss a chance do you, Miss District Attorney. Sure; I was keepin’ what was
left over. I don’t think any of the guys ever thought any different. I figured to make a little for the
trouble I took get—”
“But your plans didn’t work out,” she said. She was still smiling at him, so full of sympathy.
“Your little financial speculations can’t all be successes, Randle, and, actually, as I think about it now,
you’ve had more than your share of victories.” She mused about this, thinking about something I
knew we’d hear more about later. “Yes. Every Acute on the ward has written you an IOU for some
‘deal’ of yours at one time or another, so don’t you think you can bear up under this one small
Then she stopped. She saw McMurphy wasn’t listening to her any more. He was watching the
doctor. And the doctor was eying the blond girl’s T-shirt like nothing else existed. McMurphy’s
loose smile spread out on his face as he watched the doctor’s trance, and he pushed his cap to the
back of his head and strolled to the doctor’s side, startling him with a hand on the shoulder.
“By God, Doctor Spivey, you ever see a Chinook salmon hit a line? One of the fiercest sights on
the seven seas. Say, Candy honeybun, whyn’t you tell the doctor here about deep-sea fishing and all
like that. ...”
Working together, it didn’t take McMurphy and the girl but two minutes and the little doctor was
down locking up his office and coming back up the hall, cramming papers in a brief case.
“Good deal of paper work I can get done on the boat,” he explained to the nurse and went past
her so fast she didn’t have a chance to answer, and the rest of the crew followed, slower, grinning at
her standing in the door of that Nurses’ Station.
The Acutes who weren’t going gathered at the day-room door, told us don’t bring our catch back
till it’s cleaned, and Ellis pulled his hands down off the nails in the wall and squeezed Billy Bibbit’s
hand and told him to be a fisher of men.
And Billy, watching the brass brads on that woman’s Levis wink at him as she walked out of the
day room, told Ellis to hell with that fisher of men business. He joined us at the door, and the least
black boy let us through and locked the door behind us, and we were out, outside.
[199] The sun was prying up the clouds and lighting the brick front of the hospital rose bed. A
thin breeze worked at sawing what leaves were left from the oak trees, stacking them neatly against
the wire cyclone fence. There was little brown birds occasionally on the fence; when a puff of leaves
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
would hit the fence the birds would fly off with the wind. It looked at first like the leaves were
hitting the fence and turning into birds and flying away.
It was a fine woodsmoked autumn day, full of the sound of kids punting footballs and the putter
of small airplanes, and everybody should’ve been happy just being outside in it. But we all stood in a
silent bunch with our hands in our pockets while the doctor walked to get his car. A silent bunch,
watching the townspeople who were driving past on their way to work slow down to gawk at all the
loonies in green uniforms. McMurphy saw how uneasy we were and tried to work us into a better
mood by joking and teasing the girl, but this made us feel worse somehow. Everybody was thinking
how easy it would be to return to the ward, go back and say they decided the nurse had been right;
with a wind like this the sea would’ve been just too rough.
The doctor arrived and we loaded up and headed off, me and George and Harding and Billy
Bibbit in the car with McMurphy and the girl, Candy; and Fredrickson and Sefelt and Scanlon and
Martini and Tadem and Gregory following in the doctor’s car. Everyone was awfully quiet. We
pulled into a gas station about a mile from the hospital; the doctor followed. He got out first, and
the service-station man came bouncing out, grinning and wiping his hands on a rag. Then he
stopped grinning and went past the doctor to see just what was in these cars. He backed off, wiping
his hands on the oily rag, frowning. The doctor caught the man’s sleeve nervously and took out a
ten-dollar bill and tucked it down in the man’s hands like setting out a tomato plant.
“Ah, would you fill both tanks with regular?” the doctor asked. He was acting just as uneasy
about being out of the hospital as the rest of us were. “Ah, would you?”
“Those uniforms,” the service-station man said, “they’re from the hospital back up the road,
aren’t they?” He was looking around him to see if there was a wrench or something handy. He
finally moved over near a stack of empty pop bottles. “You guys are from that asylum.”
The doctor fumbled for his glasses and looked at us too, like he’d just noticed the uniforms.
“Yes. No, I mean. We, they [200] are from the asylum, but they are a work crew, not inmates, of
course not. A work crew.”
The man squinted at the doctor and at us and went off to whisper to his partner, who was back
among the machinery. They talked a minute, and the second guy hollered and asked the doctor who
we were and the doctor repeated that we were a work crew, and both of the guys laughed. I could
tell by the laugh that they’d decided to sell us the gas—probably it would be weak and dirty and
watered down and cost twice the usual price—but it didn’t make me feel any better. I could see
everybody was feeling pretty bad. The doctor’s lying made us feel worse than ever—not because of
the lie, so much, but because of the truth.
The second guy came over to the doctor, grinning. “You said you wanted the Soo-preme, sir?
You bet. And how about us checking those oil filters and windshield wipes?” He was bigger than his
friend. He leaned down on the doctor like he was sharing a secret. “Would you believe it: eightyeight
per cent of the cars show by the figures on the road today that they need new oil filters and
windshield wipes?”
His grin was coated with carbon from years of taking out spark plugs with his teeth. He kept
leaning down on the doctor, making him squirm with that grin and waiting for him to admit he was
over a barrel. “Also, how’s your work crew fixed for sunglasses? We got some good Polaroids.” The
doctor knew he had him. But just the instant he opened his mouth, about to give in and say Yes,
anything, there was a whirring noise and the top of our car was folding back. McMurphy was
fighting and cursing the accordion-pleated top, trying to force it back faster than the machinery
could handle it. Everybody could see how mad he was by the way he thrashed and beat at that
slowly rising top; when he got it cussed and hammered and wrestled down into place he climbed
right out over the girl and over the side of the car and walked up between the doctor and the
service-station guy and looked up into the black mouth with one eye.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
“Okay now, Hank, we’ll take regular, just like the doctor ordered. Two tanks of regular. That’s all.
The hell with that other slum. And we’ll take it at three cents off because we’re a goddamned
government-sponsored expedition.”
The guy didn’t budge. “Yeah? I thought the professor here said you weren’t patients?”
“Now Hank, don’t you see that was just a kindly precaution to keep from startlin’ you folks with
the truth? The doc wouldn’t lie like that about just any patients, but we ain’t [201] ordinary nuts;
we’re every bloody one of us hot off the criminal-insane ward, on our way to San Quentin where
they got better facilities to handle us. You see that freckle-faced kid there? Now he might look like
he’s right off a Saturday Evening Post cover, but he’s a insane knife artist that killed three men. The
man beside him is known as the Bull Goose Loony, unpredictable as a wild hog. You see that big
guy? He’s an Indian and he beat six white men to death with a pick handle when they tried to cheat
him trading muskrat hides. Stand up where they can get a look at you, Chief.”
Harding goosed me with his thumb, and I stood up on the floor of the car. The guy shaded his
eyes and looked up at me and didn’t say anything.
“Oh, it’s a bad group, I admit,” McMurphy said, “but it’s a planned, authorized, legal
government-sponsored excursion, and we’re entitled to a legal discount just the same as if we was
the FBI.”
The guy looked back at McMurphy, and McMurphy hooked his thumbs in his pockets and
rocked back and looked up at him across the scar on his nose. The guy turned to check if his buddy
was still stationed at the case of empty pop bottles, then grinned back down on McMurphy.
“Pretty tough customers, is that what you’re saying, Red? So much we better toe the line and do
what we’re told, is that what you’re saying? Well, tell me, Red, what is it you’re in for? Trying to
assassinate the President?”
“Nobody could prove that, Hank. They got me on a bum rap. I killed a man in the ring, ya see, and
sorta got taken with the kick.”
“One of these killers with boxing gloves, is that what you’re telling me, Red?”
“Now I didn’t say that, did I? I never could get used to those pillows you wore. No, this wasn’t
no televised main event from the Cow Palace; I’m more what you call a back-lot boxer.”
The guy hooked his thumbs in his pockets to mock McMurphy. “You are more what I call a
back-lot bull-thrower.”
“Now I didn’t say that bull-throwing wasn’t also one of my abilities, did I? But I want you to look
here.” He put his hands up in the guy’s face, real close, turning them over slowly, palm and knuckle.
“You ever see a man get his poor old meathooks so pitiful chewed up from just throwin’ the bull?
Did you, Hank?”
He held those hands in the guy’s face a long time, waiting to see if the guy had anything else to
say. The guy looked at [202] the hands, and at me, and back at the hands. When it was clear he didn’t
have anything else real pressing to say, McMurphy walked away from him to the other guy leaning
against the pop cooler and plucked the doctor’s ten-dollar bill out of his fist and started for the
grocery store next to the station.
“You boys tally what the gas comes to and send the bill to the hospital,” he called back. “I intend
to use the cash to pick up some refreshments for the men. I believe we’ll get that in place of
windshield wipes and eighty-eight per cent oil filters.”
By the time he got back everybody was feeling cocky as fighting roosters and calling orders to the
service-station guys to check the air in the spare and wipe the windows and scratch that bird
dropping off the hood if you please, just like we owned the show. When the big guy didn’t get the
windshield to suit Billy, Billy called him right back.
“You didn’t get this sp-spot here where the bug h-h-hit “
“That wasn’t a bug,” the guy said sullenly, scratching at it with his fingernail, “that was a bird.”
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
Martini called all the way from the other car that it couldn’t of been a bird. “There’d be feathers
and bones if it was a bird.”
A man riding a bicycle stopped to ask what was the idea of all the green uniforms; some kind of
club? Harding popped right up and answered him
“No, my friend. We are lunatics from the hospital up the highway, psycho-ceramics, the cracked
pots of mankind. Would you like me to decipher a Rorschach for you? No? You must burry on? Ah,
he’s gone. Pity.” He turned to McMurphy. “Never before did I realize that mental illness could have
the aspect of power, power. Think of it: perhaps the more insane a man is, the more powerful he
could become. Hitler an example. Fair makes the old brain reel, doesn’t it? Food for thought there.”
Billy punched a beer can for the girl, and she flustered him so with her bright smile and her
“Thank you, Billy,” that he took to opening cans for all of us.
While the pigeons fretted up and down the sidewalk with their hands folded behind their backs.
I sat there, feeling whole and good, sipping at a beer; I could hear the beer all the way down
me—zzzth zzzth, like that. I had forgotten that there can be good sounds and tastes like the sound
and taste of a beer going down. I took another big drink and started looking around me to see what
else I had forgotten in twenty years.
[203] “Man!” McMurphy said as he scooted the girl out from under the wheel and tight over
against Billy. “Will you just look at the Big Chief slug down on that firewater!”—and slammed the
car out into traffic with the doctor squealing behind to keep up.
He’d shown us what a little bravado and courage could accomplish, and we thought he’d taught
us how to use it. All the way to the coast we had fun pretending to be brave. When people at a stop
light would stare at us and our green uniforms we’d do just like he did, sit up straight and strong and
toughlooking and put a big grin on our face and stare straight back at them till their motors died and
their windows sunstreaked and they were left sitting when the light changed, upset bad by what a
tough bunch of monkeys was just now not three feet from them, and help nowhere in sight.
As McMurphy led the twelve of us toward the ocean.
I think McMurphy knew better than we did that our tough looks were all show, because he still
wasn’t able to get a real laugh out of anybody. Maybe he couldn’t understand why we weren’t able to
laugh yet, but he knew you can’t really be strong until you can see a funny side to things. In fact, he
worked so hard at pointing out the funny side of things that I was wondering a little if maybe he was
blind to the other side, if maybe he wasn’t able to see what it was that parched laughter deep inside
your stomach. Maybe the guys weren’t able to see it either, just feel the pressures of the different
beams and frequencies coming from all directions, working to push and bend you one way or
another, feel the Combine at work—but I was able to see it.
The way you see the change in a person you’ve been away from for a long time, where somebody
who sees him every day, day in, day out, wouldn’t notice because the change is gradual. All up the
coast I could see the signs of what the Combine had accomplished since I was last through this
country, things like, for example—a train stopping at a station and laying a string of full-grown men
in mirrored suits and machined hats, laying them like a hatch of identical insects, half-life things
coming pht-pht-pht out of the last car, then hooting its electric whistle and moving on down the
spoiled land to deposit another hatch.
Or things like five thousand houses punched out identical by a machine and strung across the
hills outside of town, so fresh from the factory they’re still linked together like sausages, a sign saying
“NEST IN THE WEST HOMES—NO DWN. PAYMENT [204] FOR VETS,” a playground down the hill
from the houses, behind a checker-wire fence and another sign that read “ST. LUKE’S SCHOOL FOR
BOYS”—there were five thousand kids in green corduroy pants and white shirts under green
pullover sweaters playing crack-the-whip across an acre of crushed gravel. The line popped and
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
twisted and jerked like a snake, and every crack popped a little kid off the end, sent him rolling up
against the fence like a tumbleweed. Every crack. And it was always the same little kid, over and
All that five thousand kids lived in those five thousand houses, owned by those guys that got off
the train. The houses looked so much alike that, time and time again, the kids went home by mistake
to different houses and different families. Nobody ever noticed. They ate and went to bed. The only
one they noticed was the little kid at the end of the whip. He’d always be so scuffed and bruised that
he’d show up out of place wherever he went. He wasn’t able to open up and laugh either. It’s a hard
thing to laugh if you can feel the pressure of those beams coming from every new car that passes, or
every new house you pass.
“We can even have a lobby in Washington,” Harding was saying, “an organization NAAIP.
Pressure groups. Big billboards along the highway showing a babbling schizophrenic running a
wrecking machine, bold, red and green type: ‘Hire the Insane.’ We’ve got a rosy future, gentlemen.”
We crossed a bridge over the Siuslaw. There was just enough mist in the air that I could lick out
my tongue to the wind and taste the ocean before we could see it. Everyone knew we were getting
close and didn’t speak all the way to the docks.
The captain who was supposed to take us out had a bald gray metal head set in a black turtleneck
like a gun turret on a U-boat; the cold cigar sticking from his mouth swept over us. He stood beside
McMurphy on the wooden pier and looked out to sea as he talked. Behind him and up a bunch of
steps, six or eight men in windbreakers were sitting on a bench along the front of the bait shop. The
captain talked loudly, half to the loafers on his one side and half to McMurphy on the other side,
firing his copper-jacket voice someplace in between.
“Don’t care. Told you specifically in the letter. You don’t have a signed waiver clearing me with
proper authorities, I don’t go out.” The round head swiveled in the turret of his sweater, beading
down that cigar at the lot of us. “Look there. Bunch like that at sea, could go to diving overboard
[205] like rats. Relatives could sue me for everything I own. I can’t risk it.”
McMurphy explained how the other girl was supposed to get all those papers up in Portland. One
of the guys leaning against the bait shop called, “What other girl? Couldn’t Blondie there handle the
lot of you?” McMurphy didn’t pay the guy any mind and went on arguing with the captain, but you
could see how it bothered the girl. Those men against the shop kept leering at her and leaning close
together to whisper things. All our crew, even the doctor, saw this and got to feeling ashamed that
we didn’t do something. We weren’t the cocky bunch that was back at the service station.
McMurphy stopped arguing when he saw he wasn’t getting any place with the captain, and turned
around a couple of times, running his hand through his hair.
“Which boat have we got rented?”
“That’s it there. The Lark. Not a man sets foot on her till I have a signed waiver clearing me. Not
a man.”
“I don’t intend to rent a boat so we can sit all day and watch it bob up and down at the dock,”
McMurphy said. “Don’t you have a phone up there in your bait shack? Let’s go get this cleared up.”
They thumped up the steps onto the level with the bait shop and went inside, leaving us clustered
up by ourselves, with that bunch of loafers up there watching us and making comments and
sniggering and goosing one another in the ribs. The wind was blowing the boats at their moorings,
nuzzling them up against the wet rubber tires along the dock so they made a sound like they were
laughing at us. The water was giggling under the boards, and the sign hanging over the door to the
bait shack that read “SEAMAN’S SERVICE—CAPT BLOCK, PROP”
was squeaking and scratching as the wind rocked it on rusty hooks. The mussels that clung to the
pilings, four feet out of water marking the tide line, whistled and clicked in the sun.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
The wind had turned cold and mean, and Billy Bibbit took off his green coat and gave it to the
girl, and she put it on over her thin little T-shirt. One of the loafers kept calling down, “Hey you,
Blondie, you like fruitcake kids like that?” The man’s lips were kidney-colored and he was purple
under his eyes where the wind’d mashed the veins to the surface. “Hey you, Blondie,” he called over
and over in a high, tired voice, “hey you, Blondie … hey you, Blondie ... hey you, Blondie …”
We bunched up closer together against the wind.
“Tell me, Blondie, what’ve they got you committed for?”
[206] “Ahr, she ain’t committed, Perce, she’s part of the cure!”
“Is that right, Blondie? You hired as part of the cure? Hey you, Blondie.”
She lifted her head and gave us a look that asked where was that hard-boiled bunch she’d seen
and why weren’t they saying something to defend her? Nobody would answer the look. All our
hard-boiled strength had just walked up those steps with his arm around the shoulders of that baldheaded
She pulled the collar of the jacket high around her neck and hugged her elbows and strolled as far
away from us down the dock as she could go. Nobody went after her. Billy Bibbit shivered in the
cold and bit his lip. The guys at the bait shack whispered something else and whooped out laughing
“Ask ‘er, Perce—go on.”
“Hey, Blondie, did you get ‘am to sign a waiver clearing you with proper authorities? Relatives
could sue, they tell me, if one of the boys fell in and drown while he was on board. Did you ever
think of that? Maybe you’d better stay here with us, Blondie.”
“Yeah, Blondie; my relatives wouldn’t sue. I promise. Stay here with us fellows, Blondie.”
I imagined I could feel my feet getting wet as the dock sank with shame into the bay. We weren’t
fit to be out here with people. I wished McMurphy would come back out and cuss these guys good
and then drive us back where we belonged.
The man with the kidney lips folded his knife and stood up and brushed the whittle shavings out
of his lap. He started walking toward the steps. “C’mon now, Blondie, what you want to mess with
these bozos for?”
She turned and looked at him from the end of the dock, then back at us, and you could tell she
was thinking his proposition over when the door of the bait shop opened and McMurphy came
shoving out past the bunch of them, down the steps.
“Pile in, crew, it’s all set! Gassed and ready and there’s bait and beer on board.”
He slapped Billy on the rear and did a little hornpipe and commenced slinging ropes from their
“Ol’ Cap’n Block’s still on the phone, but we’ll be pulling off as quick as he comes out. George,
let’s see if you can get that motor warmed up. Scanlon, you and Harding untie that rope there.
Candy! What you doing off down there? Let’s get with it, honey, we’re shoving off.”
We swarmed into the boat, glad for anything that would take us away from those guys standing in
a row at the bait shop. [207] Billy took the girl by the hand and helped her on board. George
hummed over the dashboard up on the bridge, pointing out buttons for McMurphy to twist or push.
“Yeah, these pukers, puke boats, we call them,” he said to McMurphy, “they joost as easy like
driving the ottomobile.”
The doctor hesitated before climbing aboard and looked toward the shop where all the loafers
stood milling toward the steps.
“Don’t you think, Randle, we’d better wait ... until the captain—”
McMurphy caught him by the lapels and lifted him clear of the dock into the boat like he was a
small boy. “Yeah, Doc,” he said, “wait till the captain what?” He commenced to laugh like he was
drunk, talking in an excited, nervous way. “Wait till the captain comes out and tells us that the phone
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
number I gave him is a flophouse up in Portland? You bet. Here, George, damn your eyes; take hold
of this thing and get us out of here! Sefelt! Get that rope loose and get on. George, come on.”
The motor chugged and died, chugged again like it was clearing its throat, then roared full on.
“Hoowee! There she goes. Pour the coal to ‘er, George, and all hands stand by to repel boarders!”
A white gorge of smoke and water roared from the back of the boat, and the door of the bait
shop crashed open and the captain’s head came booming out and down the steps like it was not only
dragging his body behind it but the bodies of the eight other guys as well. They came thundering
down the dock and stopped right at the boil of foam washing over their feet as George swung the
big boat out and away from the docks and we had the sea to ourselves.
A sudden turn of the boat had thrown Candy to her knees, and Billy was helping her up and
trying to apologize for the way he’d acted on the dock at the same time. McMurphy came down
from the bridge and asked if the two of them would like to be alone so they could talk over old
times, and Candy looked at Billy and all he could do was shake his head and stutter. McMurphy said
in that case that he and Candy’d better go below and check for leaks and the rest of us could make
do for a while. He stood at the door down to the cabin and saluted and winked and appointed
George captain and Harding second in command and said, “Carry on, mates,” and followed the girl
out of sight into the cabin.
The wind lay down and the sun got higher, chrome-plating the east side of the deep green swells.
George aimed the boat [208] straight out to sea, full throttle, putting the docks and that bait shop
farther and farther behind us. When we passed the last point of the jetty and the last black rock, I
could feel a great calmness creep over me, a calmness that increased the farther we left land behind
The guys had talked excitedly for a few minutes about our piracy of the boat, but now they were
quiet. The cabin door opened once long enough for a hand to shove out a case of beer, and Billy
opened us each one with an opener he found in the tackle box, and passed them around. We drank
and watched the land sinking in our wake.
A mile or so out George cut the speed to what he called a trolling idle, put four guys to the four
poles in the back of the boat, and the rest of us sprawled in the sun on top of the cabin or up on the
bow and took off our shirts and watched the guys trying to rig their poles. Harding said the rule was
a guy got to hold a pole till he got one strike, then he had to change off with a man who hadn’t had
a chance. George stood at the wheel, squinting out through the salt-caked windshield, and hollered
instructions back how to fix up the reels and lines and how to tie a herring into the herring harness
and how far back to fish and how deep:
“And take that number four pole and you put you twelve ounces on him on a rope with a
breakaway rig—I show you how in joost a minute—and we go after that big fella down on the
bottom with that pole, by golly!”
Martini ran to the edge and leaned over the side and stared down into the water in the direction
of his line. “Oh. Oh, my God,” he said, but whatever he saw was too deep down for the rest of us.
There were other sports boats trolling up and down the coast, but George didn’t make any
attempt to join them; he kept pushing steadily straight on out past them, toward the open sea. “You
bet,” he said. “We go out with the commercial boats, where the real fish is.”
The swells slid by, deep emerald on one side, chrome on the other. The only noise was the engine
sputtering and humming, off and on, as the swells dipped the exhaust in and out of the water, and
the funny, lost cry of the raggedy little black birds swimming around asking one another directions.
Everything else was quiet. Some of the guys slept, and the others watched the water. We’d been
trolling close to an hour when the tip of Sefelt’s pole arched and dived into the water.
“George! Jesus, George, give us a hand!”
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
George wouldn’t have a thing to do with the pole; he grinned [209] and told Sefelt to ease up on
the star drag, keep the tip pointed up, up, and work hell outa that fella!
“But what if I have a seizure?” Sefelt hollered.
“Why, we’ll simply put hook and line on you and use you for a lure,” Harding said. “Now work
that fella, as the captain ordered, and quit worrying about a seizure.”
Thirty yards back of the boat the fish broke into the sun in a shower of silver scales, and Sefelt’s
eyes popped and be got go excited watching the fish he let the end of his pole go down, and the line
snapped into the boat like a rubber band.
“Up, I told you! You let him get a straight pull, don’t you see? Keep that tip up ... up! You had you
one big silver there, by golly.”
Sefelt’s jaw was white and shaking when he finally gave up the pole to Fredrickson. “Okay—but
if you get a fish with a hook in his mouth, that’s my godblessed fish!”
I was as excited as the rest. I hadn’t planned on fishing, but after seeing that steel power a salmon
has at the end of a line I got off the cabin top and put on my shirt to wait my turn at a pole.
Scanlon got up a pool for the biggest fish and another for the first fish landed, four bits from
everybody that wanted in it, and he’d no more’n got his money in his pocket than Billy drug in some
awful thing that looked like a ten-pound toad with spines on it like a porcupine.
“That’s no fish,” Scanlon said. “You can’t win on that.”
“It isn’t a b-b-bird.”
“That there, he’s a ling cod,” George told us. “He’s one good eating fish you get all his warts off.”
“See there. He is too a fish. P-p-pay up.”
Billy gave me his pole and took his money and went to sit up close to the cabin where McMurphy
and the girl were, looking at the closed door forlornly. “I wu-wu-wu-wish we had enough poles to
go around,” he said, leaning back against the side of the cabin.
I sat down and held the pole and watched the line swoop out into the wake. I smelt the air and
felt the four cans of beer I’d drunk shorting out dozens of control leads down inside me: all around,
the chrome sides of the swells flickered and flashed in the sun.
George sang out for us to look up ahead, that here come just what we been looking for. I leaned
around to look, but all I saw was a big drifting log and those black seagulls circling and diving
around the log, like black leaves caught up in a dust devil. George speeded up some, heading into
the place where [210] the birds circled, and the speed of the boat dragged my line until I couldn’t see
how you’d be able to tell if you did get a bite.
“Those fellas, those cormorants, they go after a school of candle fishes,” George told us as he
drove. “Little white fishes the size of your finger. You dry them and they burn joost like a candle.
They are food fish, chum fish. And you bet where there’s a big school of them candle fish you find
the silver salmon feeding.”
He drove into the birds, missing the floating log, and suddenly all around me the smooth slopes
of chrome were shattered by diving birds and churning minnows, and the sleek silver-blue torpedo
backs of the salmon slicing through it all. I saw one of the backs check its direction and turn and set
course for a spot thirty yards behind the end of my pole, where my herring would be. I braced, my
heart ringing, and then felt a jolt up both arms as if somebody’d hit the pole with a ball bat, and my
line went burning off the reel from under my thumb, red as blood. “Use the star drag!” George
yelled at me, but what I knew about star drags you could put in your eye so I just mashed harder
with my thumb until the line turned back to yellow, then slowed and stopped. I looked around, and
there were all three of the other poles whipping around just like mine, and the rest of the guys
scrambling down off the cabin at the excitement and doing everything in their power to get
“Up! Up! Keep the tip up!” George was yelling.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
“McMurphy! Get out here and look at this.”
“Godbless you, Fred, you got my blessed fish!”
“McMurphy, we need some help!”
I heard McMurphy laughing and saw him out of the corner of my eye, just standing at the cabin
door, not even making a move to do anything, and I was too busy cranking at my fish to ask him for
help. Everyone was shouting at him to do something, but he wasn’t moving. Even the doctor, who
had the deep pole, was asking McMurphy for assistance. And McMurphy was just laughing. Harding
finally saw McMurphy wasn’t going to do anything, so he got the gaff and jerked my fish into the
boat with a clean, graceful motion like he’s been boating fish all his life. He’s big as my leg, I
thought, big as a fence post! I thought, He’s bigger’n any fish we ever got at the falls. He’s springing
all over the bottom of the boat like a rainbow gone wild! Smearing blood and scattering scales like
little silver dimes, and I’m scared he’s gonna flop overboard. McMurphy won’t make a move to help.
Scanlon grabs the fish and [211] wrestles it down to keep it from flopping over the side. The girl
comes running up from below, yelling it’s her turn, dang it, grabs my pole, and jerks the hook into
me three times while I’m trying to tie on a herring for her.
“Chief, I’ll be damned if I ever saw anything so slow! Ugh, your thumb’s bleeding. Did that
monster bite you? Somebody fix the Chief’s thumb—hurry!”
“Here we go into them again,” George yells, and I drop the line off the back of the boat and see
the flash of the herring vanish in the dark blue-gray charge of a salmon and the line go sizzling down
into the water. The girl wraps both arms around the pole and grits her teeth. “Oh no you don’t, dang
you! Oh no ...!”
She’s on her feet, got the butt of the pole scissored in her crotch and both arms wrapped below
the reel and the reel crank knocking against her as the line spins out: “Oh no you don’t!” She’s still
got on Billy’s green jacket, but that reel’s whipped it. She’s and everybody on board sees the T-shirt
she had on is gone—everybody gawking, trying to play his own fish, dodge mine slamming around
the boat bottom, with the crank of that reel fluttering her breast at such a speed the nipple’s just red
Billy jumps to help. All he can think to do is reach around from behind and help her squeeze the
pole tighter in between her breasts until the reel’s finally stopped by nothing more than the pressure
of her flesh. By this time she’s flexed so taut and her breasts look so firm I think she and Billy could
both turn loose with their hands and arms and she’d still keep hold of that pole.
This scramble of action holds for a space, a second there on the sea—the men yammering and
struggling and cussing and trying to tend their poles while watching the girl; the bleeding, crashing
battle between Scanlon and my fish at everybody’s feet; the lines all tangled and shooting every
which way with the doctor’s glasses-on-a-string tangled and dangling from one line ten feet off the
back of the boat, fish striking at the flash of the lens, and the girl cussing for all she’s worth and
looking now at her bare breasts, one white and one smarting red—and George takes his eye off
where he’s going and runs the boat into that log and kills the engine.
While McMurphy laughs. Rocking farther and farther backward against the cabin top, spreading
his laugh out across the water—laughing at the girl, at 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 [212] 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. He knows there’s a painful side; he knows my thumb smarts and his girl friend has a
bruised breast and the doctor is losing his glasses, but he won’t let the pain blot out the humor no
more’n he’ll let the humor blot out the pain.
I notice Harding is collapsed beside McMurphy and is laughing too. And Scanlon from the
bottom of the boat. At their own selves as well as at the rest of us. And the girl, with her eyes still
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
smarting as she looks from her white breast to her red one, she starts laughing. And Sefelt and the
doctor, and all.
It started slow and pumped itself full, swelling the men bigger and bigger. I watched, part of
them, laughing with them—and somehow not with them. I was off the boat, blown up off the water
and skating the wind with those black birds, high above myself, and I could look down and see
myself and the rest of the guys, see the boat rocking there in the middle of those diving birds, see
McMurphy surrounded by his dozen people, and watch them, us, swinging a laughter that rang out
on the water in ever-widening circles, farther and farther, until it crashed up on beaches all over the
coast, on beaches all over all coasts, in wave after wave after wave.
The doctor had hooked something off the bottom on the deep pole, and everybody else on
board except George had caught and landed a fish by the time he lifted it up to where we could even
see it—just a whitish shape appearing, then diving for the bottom in spite of everything the doctor
tried to do to hold it. As soon as he’d get it up near the top again, lifting and reeling at it with tight,
stubborn little grunts and refusing any help the guys might offer, it would see the light and down it
would go.
George didn’t bother starting the boat again, but came down to show us how to clean the fish
over the side and rip the gills out so the meat would stay sweeter. McMurphy tied a chunk of meat
to each end of a four-foot string, tossed it in the air, and sent two squawking birds wheeling off,
“Till death do them part.”
The whole back of the boat and most of the people in it were dappled with red and silver. Some
of us took our shirts off and dipped them over the side and tried to clean them. We fiddled around
this way, fishing a little, drinking the other case of beer, and feeding the birds till afternoon, while
the boat rolled lazily around the swells and the doctor worked with his [213] monster from the deep.
A wind came up and broke the sea into green and silver chunks, like a field of glass and chrome, and
the boat began to rock and pitch about more. George told the doctor he’d have to land his fish or
cut it loose because there was a bad sky coming down on us. The doctor didn’t answer. He just
heaved harder on the pole, bent forward and reeled the slack, and heaved again.
Billy and the girl had climbed around to the bow and were talking and looking down in the water.
Billy hollered that he saw something, and we all rushed to that side, and a shape broad and white
was becoming solid some ten or fifteen feet down. It was strange watching it rise, first just a light
coloring, then a white form like fog under water, becoming solid, alive. ...
“Jesus God,” Scanlon cried, “that’s the doc’s fish!”
It was on the side opposite the doctor, but we could see by the direction of his line that it led to
the shape under the water.
“We’ll never get it in the boat,” Sefelt said. “And the wind’s getting stronger.”
“He’s a big flounder,” George said. “Sometimes they weigh two, three hundred. You got to lift
them in with the winch.”
“We’ll have to cut him loose, Doc,” Sefelt said and put his arm across the doctor’s shoulders.
The doctor didn’t say anything; he had sweated clear through his suit between his shoulders, and his
eyes were bright red from going so long without glasses. He kept heaving until the fish appeared on
his side of the boat. We watched it near the surface for a few minutes longer, then started getting the
rope and gaff ready.
Even with the gaff in it, it took another hour to drag the fish into the back of the boat. We had to
hook him with all three other poles, and McMurphy leaned down and got a hand in his gills, and
with a heave he slid in, transparent white and flat, and flopped down to the bottom of the boat with
the doctor.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
“That was something.” The doctor panted from the floor, not enough strength left to push the
huge fish off him. “That was ... certainly something.”
The boat pitched and cracked all the way back to shore, with McMurphy telling grim tales about
shipwrecks and sharks. The waves got bigger as we got closer to shore, and from the crests clots of
white foam blew swirling up in the wind to join the gulls. The swells at the mouth of the jetty were
combing higher than the boat, and George had us all put on life jackets. I noticed all the other sports
boats were in.
We were three jackets short, and there was a fuss as to who’d [214] be the three that braved that
bar without jackets. It finally turned out to be Billy Bibbit and Harding and George, who wouldn’t
wear one anyway on account of the dirt. Everybody was kind of surprised that Billy had volunteered,
took his life jacket off right away when we found we were short, and helped the girl into it, but
everybody was even more surprised that McMurphy hadn’t insisted that he be one of the heroes; all
during the fuss he’d stood with his back against the cabin, bracing against the pitch of the boat, and
watched the guys without saying a word. Just grinning and watching.
We hit the bar and dropped into a canyon of water, the bow of the boat pointing up the hissing
crest of the wave going before us, and the rear down in the trough in the shadow of the wave
looming behind us, and everybody in the back hanging on the rail and looking from the mountain
that chased behind to the streaming black rocks of the jetty forty feet to the left, to George at the
wheel. He stood there like a mast. He kept turning his head from the front to the back, gunning the
throttle, easing off, gunning again, holding us steady riding the uphill slant of that wave in front.
He’d told us before we started the run that if we went over that crest in front, we’d surfboard out of
control as soon as the prop and rudder broke water, and if we slowed down to where that wave
behind caught up it would break over the stern and dump ten tons of water into the boat. Nobody
joked or said anything funny about the way he kept turning his head back and forth like it was
mounted up there on a swivel.
Inside the mooring the water calmed to a choppy surface again, and at our dock, by the bait shop,
we could see the captain waiting with two cops at the water’s edge. All the loafers were gathered
behind them. George headed at them full throttle, booming down on them till the captain went to
waving and yelling and the cops headed up the steps with the loafers. Just before the prow of the
boat tore out the whole dock, George swung the wheel, threw the prop into reverse, and with a
powerful roar snuggled the boat in against the rubber tires like he was easing it into bed. We were
already out tying up by the time our wake caught up; it pitched all the boats around and slopped
over the dock and whitecapped around the docks like we’d brought the sea home with us.
The captain and the cops and the loafers came tromping back down the steps to us. The doctor
carried the fight to them by first off telling the cops they didn’t have any jurisdiction over us, as we
were a legal, government-sponsored expedition, and if there was anyone to take the matter up with it
[215] would have to be a federal agency. Also, there might be some investigation into the number of
life jackets that the boat held if the captain really planned to make trouble. Wasn’t there supposed to
be a life jacket for every man on board, according to the law? When the captain didn’t say anything
the cops took some names and left, mumbling and confused, and as soon as they were off the pier
McMurphy and the captain went to arguing and shoving each other around. McMurphy was drunk
enough he was still trying to rock with the roll of the boat and he slipped on the wet wood and fell
in the ocean twice before he got his footing sufficient to hit the captain one up alongside of his bald
head and settle the fuss. Everybody felt better that that was out of the way, and the captain and
McMurphy both went to the bait shop to get more beer while the rest of us worked at hauling our
fish out of the hold. The loafers stood on that upper dock, watching and smoking pipes they’d
carved themselves. We were waiting for them to say something about the girl again, hoping for it, to
tell the truth, but when one of them finally did say something it wasn’t about the girl but about our
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
fish being the biggest halibut he’d ever seen brought in on the Oregon coast. All the rest nodded
that that was sure the truth. They came edging down to look it over. They asked George where he
learned to dock a boat that way, and we found out George’d not just run fishing boats but he’d also
been captain of a PT boat in the Pacific and got the Navy Cross. “Shoulda gone into public office,”
one of the loafers said. “Too dirty,” George told him.
They could sense the change that most of us were only suspecting; these weren’t the same bunch
of weak-knees from a nuthouse that they’d watched take their insults on the dock this morning.
They didn’t exactly apologize to the girl for the things they’d said, but when they asked to see the
fish she’d caught they were just as polite as pie. And when McMurphy and the captain came back
out of the bait shop we all shared a beer together before we drove away.
It was late when we got back to the hospital.
The girl was sleeping against Billy’s chest, and when she raised up his arm’d gone dead holding
her all that way in such an awkward position, and she rubbed it for him. He told her if he had any of
his weekends free he’d ask her for a date, and she said she could come to visit in two weeks if he’d
tell her what time, and Billy looked at McMurphy for an answer. McMurphy put his arms around
both of their shoulders and said, “Let’s make it two o’clock on the nose.”
“Saturday afternoon?” she asked.
[216] He winked at Billy and squeezed the girl’s head in the crook of his arm. “No. Two o’clock
Saturday night. Slip up and knock on that same window you was at this morning. I’ll talk the night
aide into letting you in.”
She giggled and nodded. “You damned McMurphy,” she said.
Some of the Acutes on the ward were still up, standing around the latrine to see if we’d been
drowned or not. They watched us march into the hall, blood-speckled, sunburned, stinking of beer
and fish, toting our salmon like we were conquering heroes. The doctor asked if they’d like to come
out and look at his halibut in the back of his car, and we all started back out except McMurphy. He
said he guessed he was pretty shot and thought he’d hit the hay. When he was gone one of the
Acutes who hadn’t made the trip asked how come McMurphy looked so beat and worn out where
the rest of us looked redcheeked and still full of excitement. Harding passed it off as nothing more
than the loss of his suntan.
“You’ll recall McMurphy came in full steam, from a rigorous life outdoors on a work farm, ruddy
of face and abloom with physical health. We’ve simply been witness to the fading of his magnificent
psychopathic suntan. That’s all. Today he did spend some exhausting hours—in the dimness of the
boat cabin, incidentally—while we were out in the elements, soaking up the Vitamin D. Of course,
that may have exhausted him to some extent, those rigors down below, but think of it, friends. As
for myself, I believe I could have done with a little less Vitamin D and a little more of his kind of
exhaustion. Especially with little Candy as a taskmaster. Am I wrong?”
I didn’t say so, but I was wondering if maybe he wasn’t wrong. I’d noticed McMurphy’s
exhaustion earlier, on the trip home, after he’d insisted on driving past the place where he’d lived
once. We’d just shared the last beer and slung the empty can out the window at a stop sign and were
just leaning back to get the feel of the day, swimming in that kind of tasty drowsiness that comes
over you after a day of going hard at something you enjoy doing—half sunburned and half drunk
and keeping awake only because you wanted to savor the taste as long as you could. I noticed
vaguely that I was getting so’s I could see some good in the life around me. McMurphy was teaching
me. I was feeling better than I’d remembered feeling since I was a kid, when everything was good
and the land was still singing kids’ poetry to me.
We’d drove back inland instead of the coast, to go through this town McMurphy’d lived in the
most he’d ever lived in one [217] place. Down the face of the Cascade hill, thinking we were lost till
… we came to a town covered a space about twice the size of the hospital ground. A gritty wind had
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
blown out the sun on the street where he stopped. He parked in some reeds and pointed across the
“There. That’s the one. Looks like it’s propped up outta the weeds—my misspent youth’s
humble abode.”
Out along the dim six-o’clock street, I saw leafless trees standing, striking the sidewalk there like
wooden lightning, concrete split apart where they hit, all in a fenced-in ring. An iron line of pickets
stuck out of the ground along the front of a tangleweed yard, and on back was a big frame house
with a porch, leaning a rickety shoulder hard into the wind so’s not to be sent tumbling away a
couple of blocks like an empty cardboard grocery box. The wind was blowing a few drops of rain,
and I saw the house had its eyes clenched shut and locks at the door banged on a chain.
And on the porch, hanging, was one of those things the Japs make out of glass and hang on
strings—rings and clangs in the least little blow—with only four pieces of glass left to go. These four
swung and whipped and rung little chips off on the wooden porch floor.
McMurphy put the car back in gear.
“Once, I been here—since way the hell gone back in the year we were all gettin’ home from that
Korea mess. For a visit. My old man and old lady were still alive. It was a good home.”
He let out the clutch and started to drive, then stopped instead.
“My God,” he said, “look over there, see a dress?” He pointed out back. “In the branch of that
tree? A rag, yellow and black?”
I was able to see a thing like a flag, flapping high in the branches over a shed.
“The first girl ever drug me to bed wore that very same dress. I was about ten and she was
probably less, and at the time a lay seemed like such a big deal I asked her if didn’t she think, feel, we
oughta announce it some way? Like, say, tell our folks, ‘Mom, Judy and me got engaged today.’ And I
meant what I said, I was that big a fool. I thought if you made it, man, you were legally wed, right
there on the spot, whether it was something you wanted or not, and that there wasn’t any breaking
the rule. But this little whore—at the most eight or nines—reached down and got her dress oft the
floor and said it was mine, said, ‘You can hang this up someplace, I’ll go home [218] in my drawers,
announce it that way-they’ll get the idea.’ Jesus, nine years old,” he said, reached over and pinched
Candy’s nose, “and knew a lot more than a good many pros.”
She bit his hand, laughing, and he studied the mark.
“So, anyhow, after she went home in her pants I waited till dark when I had the chance to throw
that damned dress out in the night—but you feel that wind? Caught the dress like a kite and
whipped it around the house outa sight and the next morning, by God, it was hung up in that tree
for the whole town, was how I figured then, to turn out and see.”
He sucked his hand, so woebegone that Candy laughed and gave it a kiss.
“So my colors were flown, and from that day to this it seemed I might as well live up to my
name—dedicated lover—and it’s the God’s truth: that little nine-year-old kid out of my youth’s the
one who’s to blame.”
The house drifted past. He yawned and winked. “Taught me to love, bless her sweet ass.”
Then—as he was talking—a set of tail-lights going past lit up McMurphy’s face, and the
windshield reflected an expression that was allowed only because he figured it’d be too dark for
anybody in the car to see, dreadfully tired and strained and frantic, like there wasn’t enough time left
for something he had to do ...
While his relaxed, good-natured voice doled out his life for us to live, a rollicking past full of kid
fun and drinking buddies and loving women and barroom battles over meager honors—for all of us
to dream ourselves into.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
part 4
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
The Big Nurse had her next maneuver under way the day after the fishing trip. The idea had
come to her when she was talking to McMurphy the day before about how much money he was
making off the fishing trip and other little enterprises along that line. She bad worked the idea over
that night, looking at it from every direction this time until she was dead sure it could not fail, and all
the next day she fed hints around to start a rumor and have it breeding good before she actually said
anything about it.
She knew that people, being like they are, sooner or later are going to draw back a ways from
somebody who seems to be giving a little more than ordinary, from Santa Clauses and missionaries
and men donating funds to worthy causes, and begin to wonder: What’s in it for them? Grin out of
the side of their mouths when the young lawyer, say, brings a sack of pecans to the kids in his
district school—just before nominations for state senate, the sly devil—and say to one another, He’s
nobody’s fool.
She knew it wouldn’t take too much to get the guys to [220] wondering just what it was, now that
you mention it, that made McMurphy spend so much time and energy organizing fishing trips to the
coast and arranging Bingo parties and coaching basketball teams. What pushed him to keep up a full
head of steam when everybody else on the ward had always been content to drift along playing
pinochle and reading last year’s magazines? How come this one guy, this Irish rowdy from a work
farm where he’d been serving time for gambling and battery, would loop a kerchief around his head,
coo like a teenager, and spend two solid hours having every Acute on the ward hoorahing him while
he played the girl trying to teach Billy Bibbit to dance? Or how come a seasoned con like this—an
old pro, a carnival artist, a dedicated odds-watcher gambling man—would risk doubling his stay in
the nuthouse by making more and more an enemy out of the woman who had the say—so as to
who got discharged and who didn’t?
The nurse got the wondering started by pasting up a statement of the patients’ financial doings
over the last few months; it must have taken her hours of work digging into records. It showed a
steady drain out of the funds of all the Acutes, except one. His funds had risen since the day he
came in.
The Acutes took to joking with McMurphy about bow it looked like he was taking them down
the line, and he was never one to deny it. Not the least bit. In fact, he bragged that if he stayed on at
this hospital a year or so he just might be discharged out of it into financial independence, retire to
Florida for the rest of his life. They all laughed about that when he was around, but when be was off
the ward at ET or OT or PT, or when he was in the Nurses’ Station getting bawled out about
something, matching her fixed plastic smile with his big ornery grin, they weren’t exactly laughing.
They began asking one another why he’d been such a busy bee lately, hustling things for the
patients like getting the rule lifted that the men had to be together in therapeutic groups of eight
whenever they went somewhere (“Billy here has been talkin’ about slicin’ his wrists again,” he said in
a meeting when he was arguing against the group-of-eight rule. “So is there seven of you guys who’d
like to join him and make it therapeutic?”), and like the way he maneuvered the doctor, who was
much closer to the patients since the fishing trip, into ordering subscriptions to Playboy and Nugget
and Man and getting rid of all the old McCall’s that bloated-face Public Relation had been bringing
from home and leaving in a pile on the ward, articles he thought we might be particularly interested
in checked with a green-ink pen. McMurphy even had a petition [221] in the mail to somebody back
in Washington, asking that they look into the lobotomies and electro-shock that were still going on
in government hospitals. I just wonder, the guys were beginning to ask, what’s in it for ol’ Mack?
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
After the thought had been going around he ward a week or so, the Big Nurse tried to make her
play in group meeting; the first time she tried, McMurphy was there at the meeting and he beat her
before she got good and started (she started by telling the group that she was shocked and dismayed
by the pathetic state the ward had allowed itself to fall into: Look around, for heaven sakes; actual
pornography clipped from those smut books and pinned on the walls—she was planning,
incidentally, to see to it that the Main Building made an investigation of the dirt that had been
brought into this hospital. She sat back in her chair, getting ready to go on and point out who was to
blame and why, sitting on that couple seconds of silence that followed her threat like sitting on a
throne, when McMurphy broke her spell into whoops of laughter by telling her to be sure, now, an’
remind the Main Building to bring their leetle hand mirrors when they came for the investigation)—
so the next time she made her play she made sure he wasn’t at the meeting.
He had a long-distance phone call from Portland and was down in the phone lobby with one of
the black boys, waiting for the party to call again. When one o’clock came around and we went to
moving things, getting the day room ready, the least black boy asked if she wanted him to go down
and get McMurphy and Washington for the meeting, but she said no, it was all right, let him stay—
besides, some of the men here might like a chance to discuss our Mr. Randle Patrick McMurphy in
the absence of his dominating presence.
They started the meeting telling funny stories about him and what he’d done, and talked for a
while about what a great guy he was, and she kept still, waiting till they all talked this out of their
systems. Then the other questions started coming up. What about McMurphy? What made him go
on like he was, do the things he did? Some of the guys wondered if maybe that tale of him faking
fights at the work farm to get sent here wasn’t just more of his spoofing, and that maybe he was
crazier than people thought. The Big Nurse smiled at this and raised her hand.
“Crazy like a fox,” she said. “I believe that is what you’re trying to say about Mr. McMurphy.”
“What do you m-m-mean?” Billy asked. McMurphy was his special friend and hero, and he
wasn’t too sure he was pleased [222] with the way she’d laced that compliment with things she didn’t
say out loud. “What do you m-m-mean, ‘like a fox’?”
“It’s a simple observation, Billy,” the nurse answered pleasantly. “Let’s see if some of the other
men could tell you what it means. What about you, Mr. Scanlon?”
“She means, Billy, that Mack’s nobody’s fool.”
“Nobody said he wuh-wuh-wuh-was!” Billy hit the arm of the chair with his fist to get out the last
word. “But Miss Ratched was im-implying—”
“No, Billy, I wasn’t implying anything. I was simply observing that Mr. McMurphy isn’t one to
run a risk without a reason. You would agree to that, wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t all of you agree to
Nobody said anything.
“And yet,” she went on, “he seems to do things without thinking of himself at all, as if he were a
martyr or a saint. Would anyone venture that Mr. McMurphy was a saint?”
She knew she was safe to smile around the room, waiting for an answer.
“No, not a saint or a martyr. Here. Shall we examine a cross-section of this man’s philanthropy?”
She took a sheet of yellow paper out of her basket. “Look at some of these gifts, as devoted fans of
his might call them. First, there was the gift of the tub room. Was that actually his to give? Did he
lose anything by acquiring it as a gambling casino? On the other hand, how much do you suppose he
made in the short time he was croupier of his little Monte Carlo here on the ward? How much did
you lose, Bruce? Mr. Sefelt? Mr. Scanlon? I think you all have some idea what your personal losses
were, but do you know what his total winnings came to, according to deposits he has made at
Funds? Almost three hundred dollars.”
Scanlon gave a low whistle, but no one else said anything.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
“I have various other bets he made listed here, if any of you care to look, including something to
do with deliberately trying to upset the staff. And all of this gambling was, is, completely against
ward policy and every one of you who dealt with him knew it.”
She looked at the paper again, then put it back in the basket.
“And this recent fishing trip? What do you suppose Mr. McMurphy’s profit was on this venture?
As I see it, he was provided with a car of the doctor’s, even with money from the doctor for
gasoline, and, I am told, quite a few other benefits—without having paid a nickel. Quite like a fox, I
must say.”
She held up her hand to stop Billy from interrupting.
“Please, Billy, understand me: I’m not criticizing this sort [223] of activity as such; I just thought
it would be better if we didn’t have any delusions about the man’s motives. But, at any rate, perhaps
it isn’t fair to make these accusations without the presence of the man we are speaking of. Let’s
return to the problem we were discussing yesterday—what was it?” She went leafing through her
basket. “What was it, do you remember, Doctor Spivey?”
The doctor’s head jerked up. “No ... wait ... I think …”
She pulled a paper from a folder. “Here it is. Mr. Scanlon; his feelings about explosives. Fine.
We’ll go into that now, and at some other time when Mr. McMurphy is present we’ll return to him. I
do think, however, that you might give what was said today some thought. Now, Mr. Scanlon …”
Later that day there were eight or ten of us grouped together at the canteen door, waiting till the
black boy was finished shoplifting hair oil, and some of the guys brought it up again. They said they
didn’t agree with what the Big Nurse had been saying, but, hell, the old girl had some good points.
And yet, damn it, Mack’s still a good guy … really.
Harding finally brought the conversation into the open.
“My friends, thou protest too much to believe the protesting. You are all believing deep inside
your stingy little hearts that our Miss Angel of Mercy Ratched is absolutely correct in every
assumption she made today about McMurphy. You know she was, and so do I. But why deny it?
Let’s be honest and give this man his due instead of secretly criticizing his capitalistic talent. What’s
wrong with him making a little profit? We’ve all certainly got our money’s worth every time he
fleeced us, haven’t we? He’s a shrewd character with an eye out for a quick dollar. He doesn’t make
any pretense about his motives, does he? Why should we? He has a healthy and honest attitude
about his chicanery, and I’m all for him, just as I’m for the dear old capitalistic system of free
individual enterprise, comrades, for him and his downright bullheaded gall and the American flag,
bless it, and the Lincoln Memorial and the whole bit. Remember the Maine, P. T. Barnum and the
Fourth of July. I feel compelled to defend my friend’s honor as a good old red, white, and blue
hundred-per-cent American con man. Good guy, my foot. McMurphy would be embarrassed to
absolute tears if he were aware of some of the simon-pure motives people had been claiming were
behind some of his dealings. He would take it as a direct effrontery to his craft.”
He dipped into his pocket for his cigarettes; when he couldn’t find any he borrowed one from
Fredrickson, lit it with a stagey sweep of his match, and went on.
[224] “I’ll admit I was confused by his actions at first. That window-breaking—Lord, I thought,
here’s a man that seems to actually want to stay in this hospital, stick with his buddies and all that
sort of thing, until I realized that McMurphy was doing it because he didn’t want to lose a good
thing. He’s making the most of his time in here. Don’t ever be misled by his back-woodsy ways; he’s
a very sharp operator, level-headed as they come. You watch; everything he’s done was done with
Billy wasn’t about to give in so easy. “Yeah. What about him teaching me to d-dance?” He was
clenching his fists at his side; and on the backs of his hands I saw that the cigarette burns had all but
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
healed, and in their place were tattoos he’d drawn by licking an indelible pencil. “What about that,
Harding? Where is he making muh-muh-money out of teaching me to dance?”
“Don’t get upset, William,” Harding said. “But don’t get impatient, either. Let’s just sit easy and
wait—and see how he works it.”
It seemed like Billy and I were the only two left who believed in McMurphy. And that very night
Billy swung over to Harding’s way of looking at things when McMurphy came back from making
another phone call and told Billy that the date with Candy was on for certain and added, writing an
address down for him, that it might be a good idea to send her a little bread for the trip.
“Bread? Muh-money? How muh-muh-much?” He looked over to where Harding was grinning at
“Oh, you know, man—maybe ten bucks for her and ten—”
“Twenty bucks! It doesn’t cost that muh-muh-much for bus fare down here.”
McMurphy looked up from under his hatbrim, gave Billy a slow grin, then rubbed his throat with
his hand, running out a dusty tongue. “Boy, oh boy, but I’m terrible dry. Figure to be even drier by a
week come Saturday. You wouldn’t begrudge her bringin’ me a little swallow, would you, Billy Boy?”
And gave Billy such an innocent look Billy had to laugh and shake his head, no, and go off to a
corner to excitedly talk over the next Saturday’s plans with the man he probably considered a pimp.
I still had my own notions—how McMurphy was a giant come out of the sky to save us from the
Combine that was networking the land with copper wire and crystal, how he was too big to be
bothered with something as measly as money—but even I came halfway to thinking like the others.
What happened was this: He’d helped carry the tables into the tub room [225] before one of the
group meetings and was looking at me standing beside the control panel.
“By God, Chief,” he said, “it appears to me you grooved ten inches since that fishing trip. And
lordamighty, look at the size of that foot of yours; big as a flatcar!”
I looked down and saw how my foot was bigger than I’d ever remembered it, like McMurphy’s
just saying it had blowed it twice its size.
“And that arm! That’s the arm of an ex-football-playing Indian if I ever saw one. You know what
I think? I think you oughta give this here panel a leetle heft, just to test how you’re comin’.”
I shook my head and told him no, but he said we’d made a deal and I was obligated to give it a
try to see how his growth system was working. I didn’t see any way out of it so I went to the panel
just to show him I couldn’t do it. I bent down and took it by the levers.
“That’s the baby, Chief. Now just straighten up. Get those legs under your butt, there ... yeah,
yeah. Easy now … just straighten up. Hooeee! Now ease ‘er back to the deck.”
I thought he’d be real disappointed, but when I stepped back he was all grins and pointing to
where the panel was off its mooring by half a foot. “Better set her back where she came from,
buddy, so nobody’ll know. Mustn’t let anybody know yet.”
Then, after the meeting, loafing around the pinochle games, he worked the talk around to
strength and gut-power and to the control panel in the tub room. I thought he was going to tell
them how he’d helped me get my size back; that would prove he didn’t do everything for money.
But he didn’t mention me. He talked until Harding asked him if he was ready to have another try
at lifting it and he said no, but just because he couldn’t lift it was no sign it couldn’t be done.
Scanlon said maybe it could be done with a crane, but no man could lift that thing by himself, and
McMurphy nodded and said maybe so, maybe so, but you never can tell about such things.
I watched the way he played them, got them to come around to him and say, No, by Jesus, not a
man alive could lift it—finally even suggest the bet themselves. I watched how reluctant he looked
to bet. He let the odds stack up, sucked them in deeper and deeper till he had five to one on a sure
thing from every man of them, some of them betting up to twenty dollars. He never said a thing
about seeing me lift it already.
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
All night I hoped he wouldn’t go through with it. And during [226] the meeting the next day,
when the nurse said all the men who participated in the fishing trip would have to take special
showers because they were suspected of vermin, I kept hoping she’d fix it somehow, make us take
our showers right away or something—anything to keep me from having to lift it.
But when the meeting was over he led me and the rest of the guys into the tub room before the
black boys could lock it up, and had me take the panel by the levers and lift. I didn’t want to, but I
couldn’t help it. I felt like I’d helped him cheat them out of their money. They were all friendly with
him as they paid their bets, but I knew how they were feeling inside, how something had been
kicked out from under them. As soon as I got the panel back in place, I ran out of the tub room
without even looking at McMurphy and went into the latrine. I wanted to be by myself. I caught a
look at myself in the mirror. He’d done what he said; my arms were big again, big as they were back
in high school, back at the village, and my chest and shoulders were broad and hard. I was standing
there looking when he came in. He held out a five-dollar bill.
“Here you go, Chief, chewin’-gum money.”
I shook my head and started to walk out of the latrine. He caught me by the arm.
“Chief, I just offered you a token of my appreciation. If you figure you got a bigger cut comin’—

“No! Keep your money, I won’t have it.”
He stepped back and put his thumbs in his pockets and tipped his head up at me. He looked me
over for a while.
“Okay,” he said. “Now what’s the story? What’s everybody in this place giving me the cold nose
I didn’t answer him.
“Didn’t I do what I said I would? Make you man-sized again? What’s wrong with me around here
all of a sudden? You birds act like I’m a traitor to my country.”
“You’re always … winning things!”
“Winning things! You damned moose, what are you accusW me of? All I do is hold up my end of
the deal. Now what’s so all-fired—”
“We thought it wasn’t to be winning things …”
I could feel my chin jerking up and down the way it does before I start crying, but I didn’t start
crying. I stood there in front of him with my chin jerking. He opened his mouth to say something,
and then stopped. He took his thumbs out of his pockets and reached up and grabbed the bridge of
his nose between his thumb and finger, like you see people do whose glasses are too tight between
the lenses, and he closed his eyes.
[227] “Winning, for Christsakes,” he said with his eyes closed. ‘‘Hoo boy, winning.”
So I figure what happened in the shower room that afternoon was more my fault than anybody
else’s. And that’s why the only way I could make any kind of amends was by doing what I did,
without thinking about being cagey or safe or what would happen to me—and not worrying about
anything else for once but the thing that needed to be done and the doing of it.
Just after we left the latrine the three black boys came around, gathering the bunch of us for our
special shower. The least black boy, scrambling along the baseboard with a black, crooked hand cold
as a crowbar, prying guys loose leaning there, said it was what the Big Nurse called a cautionary
cleansing. In view of the company we’d had on our trip we should get cleaned before we spread
anything through the rest of the hospital.
We lined up nude against the tile, and here one black boy came, a black plastic tube in his hand,
squirting a stinking salve thick and sticky as egg white. In the hair first, then turn around an’ bend
over an’ spread your cheeks!
Ken Kesey 􀂗 one flew over the cuckoo’s nest

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