Leader Questions
Link to Summary Response
Other Interesting Info. to Share with Group
Monday, 5/4


Reading: First half of Part I: my page 69, " 'I believe we can be safe in doing that', Harding says. 'You won't be going any place for a while' ".
  • How do we define insanity? What or who determines who's sane and who's insane?
  • What are your thoughts about fear and it's role in the novel?
  • Who do you sympathize with? Who is the victim, and who is the victimizer?
  • Why does Bromden keep talking about machines? Keeping in mind Kesey's view on machinery, what does this tell us about Kesey's view of human nature?
  • What do you think McMurphy's purpose is in this novel?
  • Do you think the "fog" is real, or is it mental/self-induced? What is its relationship to the psych ward? Do you find it ironic that Bromden needs to escape from the psych ward-- keeping in mind the definition of asylum?
  • What's true / what's slant? How does this relate to escape?
  • Why did Kesey choose to have the narrator be seen as "deaf and dumb", but not actually be deaf and dumb? Can we make connections to The Great Gatsby? Do you think Bromden will remain "deaf and dumb" through the entire novel?

Ackerman's response:
A Quick Bio on Ken Kesey:
  • Born and Raised a hard-shell Baptist in Colorado
  • Deep respect for nature: sees it as "a primal force of magnificent beauty and a transcendent spirit with restorative powers" but also "acknowledges the fearsome side of nature, its uncontrollable power and indiscriminate destructiveness" (Cracroft [see bib. on link which is coming later] ).
  • Sees contemporary society as repressive, authority as mechanical and destructive, contemporary man as weak and frightened
  • Grew up a farm boy, loved to fish and read comic books, studied theatrical magic and learned to perform illusions
  • In high school he boxed, wrestled, played guard on the football team, voted "most likely to succeed"
  • In college: Speech and drama major, Olympic-class wrestler, actor, aspiring playwright, very popular
  • When he was 24 he volunteered for government drug experiments with LSD and other hallucinogenic substances
  • 26 years old: takes a night job as a psychiatric aide in the Veterans Administration hospital at Menlo Park, CA.
  • 27 years old: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest published

Topics from the first section:
  • Truth (as always)
  • Politics of laughter
  • The comic strip
  • The psychopathic savior
  • Freedom vs. Escape
  • Victim vs. Victimizer
Wednesday, 5/6

Reading: Finish Part I
    • What more did we learn about the fog in this chapter? Does it really exist or is it all in his mind? Does it have anything to do with his supposed blindness?
    • What is the importance of the Chiefs dream and the characters involvement in them?
    • Why does the nurse panic so much when McMurphy reaches for her? Why does she say to be catholic and use the cross as some sort of shield? What is Ken trying to reveal in this scene?
    • Why do you think the patients care so much about something as simple as when to begin watching television. Is there something symbolic in this?
    • What do you think Kesey was trying to say by having the general gender roles be almost completely reversed?
    • What do you think happened the last time that a carnival could have been installed at the clinic?
    • How much of what is going on is all in the Chief’s head? Is he truly deaf and mute or is this just an act? If he is deaf and mute, how does this affect the story?
    • Is the big nurse really as the men make her out to be or is her authority and power merely imagined by them?
    • What is the significance of the “black boys” being subservient to the Big Nurse?
    • Is there a difference between sexist feelings felt by Kesey and sexist feelings felt by the Chief? It is a first person narrative so it’s all subjective

Ackerman's response

Ackerman's response
  • Although the book is accused of being both sexist and racist the author was never completely accused of such things in his personal life.
  • Kesey was also the founder of the Merry Pranksters
  • The Inspiration for the novel came about while Kesey was working in a Veteran's Hospital.
  • He talked to Patients there while using hallucinagetic drugs that he volunteered to be experimented on with.
  • He did not believe the people he talked to at the hospital to be insane, rather that society had pushed them out for not fitting into traditional roles.
Friday, 5/8
Emily: Marxist
Reading: Finish Part II
  • What is the significance of the Chief being able to look out the window? What is the symbolism of the dog looking into the holes (p.142)?
  • What did the Chief do that made him become a Chronic? He seems pretty functional with the exception of his "deafness".
  • Why is the Catholic nurse working in the hospital if she thinks working around insane people is causing her birthmark to get infected?
  • Why is being surrounded by people at all times considered theraputic?
  • Why does the fog subside when McMurphy rebells and increase when he stops rebelling?
  • What is the significance of Harding's wife coming to visit?
  • Although McMurphy is doing the "smart" thing by following the rules(before the end of the chapter) does Kesey think he is doing the right thing?
  • Is there a correlation with the Chief's fear of being pulled through the drain into the sea and Cheswick dying because he holds onto the drain until he drowns?
  • Isn't causing siezures through shock therapy counterproductive to the Combine's dream of making the patients functional? Why is the Combine considered therapy? What is Ken Kesey saying about healthcare in general?
  • Does Martini see anything when he's playing with the control panels in the tub room or is it his own illusion?
  • What makes McMurphy change his mind at the end of the chapter when he smashes the glass of the control room?
  • How is the hospital ward Marxist? Is Kesey arguing for or against it?
  • What flaws does McMurphy have as a hero? How does he challange our views of heros?
  • Why do many of the men in the hospital (all of the Acutes) who aren't committed to being there, decide to stay? Does this make the characters insane?

Ackerman's response
  • When the book was published in 1962, it sold 8 million copies because it appealed to university students and other audiences who sprung from the post WWII era and were very concerned with rebelling and new ideas.
  • One critic said it was "a chronicle of that exploration of new possibilities" (Curie).
  • Many critics thought that McMurphy is a Christ figure which is why he smashes the rock at the Nurses' Station( even though that seems un-Christlike).
  • McMurphy name is very similar to McCarthy's name. Perhaps it was intentional?
  • One critic believed the fog to be drug-induced so that Cheif Bromden can feel safe from the Combine.
  • This can be seen as an anti-socialist book because it shows the oppressive side of Socialism and shows that the utopian society the Combine is hoping to create is not possible without oppression (such as the lobotomies and electric shock therapies).
Monday, 5/11
New Historicist
Reading: Finish Part III
  • Consider this quote: "But I remembered one thing: it wasn't me that started acting deaf; it was the people that first started acting like I was too dumb to hear or see or say anything at all." (210) What is Kesey saying about experience, racial prejudice, and the time period?
  • The patients in the hospital are obvious social outcasts. We see this especially at the gas station. Bromden observes that sometimes change is more noticeable when one hasn't seen a place in a long time when compared to those who come into contact with the same place on a regular basis: How has their isolation biased/shaped their opinions and views on the outside world?
  • In this chapter Bromden finally talks. Did you, as the reader, predict this? What about McMurphy makes Bromden feel comfortable to give up his secret?
  • Consider this quote: "...he knows you have to laugh at the things that hurt you...he won't let the pain blot out the humor..." (250) How has McMurphy's attitude rubbed off on other characters? Is McMurphy a hero or is he weak?
  • How has does "trash media" and Vietnam itself influenced the text thus far? (See right column!)
  • What power does the nurse have right now? (I think that the entire idea that they were allowed to leave the hospital was bizarre) Is this part of her plan or has McMurphy won?
  • How does Kesey's background affect the text directly?
  • What significance does the setting of this novel have? (Oregon was one of the last states to be rediscovered by Lewis and Clark-does the idea of the "final frontier" hold significance as well?)

Ackerman's response
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was published in 1962, the war in Vietnam having started only 3 years previous to publication. Vietnam was a major conflict within the United States as well as overseas. Vietnam could truly be considered the first war in American History to be considerably disliked by the American people. While this was happening, raw footage and documentation of the hideous war in Vietnam flowed into the US. This raw, uncensored media is referred to as "trash media". For the first time, Americans could watch a war from their own home, and this sparked further contrversy.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is also raw and uncut. There is a multitude of disturbing language, images, and ideas within the text, and this really reflects on the American experience during the 1960's. American journalists and writers played with "trash media" and forged boundaries that we have today as far as censorship in media.

From a New Historicist point of view the reader must also consider the author's past: Kesey was raised in Oregon, and in this section we truly see how much this influences his work. His obvious knowledge and experience with Oregon itself, it's geography, culture, and traditions is tremendously showcased in this portion.
Wednesday, 5/13

Reading: Finish Part IV (the end of the book).
Holly Bishop-moderism
Hillary Redmond-archetypal/symbolism
  • What is Ken Kesey point when making McMurphy a '
vegetable' at the end of the novel? Does he have a point?
  • How does Chief Bromden change as a character through out the novel?
  • How does Mr. Kesey question the ideas of being 'sane' and 'insane' by the end of the book?
  • What is significant about breaking the Head Nurse's window? ( it happens three times in the book)
  • The fact that McMurphy chooses not to escape shows what about his character?
  • After finishing the book, what charcter do you sympathize with the most? Does Ken seems to glorify Bromden towards the end?
  • What is Ken trying to say about Jesus and Christianity? Who is the main Jesus figure in the book? Why did Ken make him/her the Jesus fugure?
  • Why is this novel called " One flew over the Cuckoo's Nest"? Can we assume that the man standing on the roof is McMurphy?
  • In Africa and in other parts of the world, people are being sent to refugee camps to get food and water. Is this how it is for the character in the insane asylum?
  • Without McMurphy, would anything have changed in the insane asylum?
  • Had McMurphy not sacrificed himself for the other patients, would they have ever left the asylum? Would McMurphy have ever escaped with his life?
  • How can McMurphy's death be related to that of Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby?

Ackerman's response
They're many symbols and motifs found throughout the novel, these would include:
  • Jesus figure
  • The fog machine
  • The electo-shock theraphy table-shaped as a cross, ties back to the Jesus figure
  • laughing or the power of laughter
  • gambling
  • insanity vs. sanity
Ken Kessy loved to fish which ws represented in the book. When the convicts went out to go fishing it could be considered a turning point in the novel because the plot goes down hill for all of the characters.
The breaking of the window could also be considered to be the climax in the novel

They are many examples of ' challegening the system' today. For example in 1989 Chinese students revolted in Tiananmen squre. This lead to a military uprising and the death of several people
  • this relates to ' One Flew of the Cuckoo's Nest' because it shows that the underdog can take charge of his/her own life
  • However, the main power always seems to win

Interesting archetype: the HERO-- defined by ancient paths as the hero is involved in a quest (in which he overcomes obstacles). He experiences initiation (involving a seperation, transformation, and return). Finally he serves as a scapegoat, that is, he dies to atone.
  • McMurphy is the hero archetype in Kesey's novel because his lobotomy, and thus the death of his fighting spirit, is what eventually causes the freedom of the inmates. They learn to believe in the power of their own existances through his loss, and thus he can be seen as their "savior" or Christ figure.