One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: Novel Summary: Part 3
McMurphy now has the edge in his battle with the Big Nurse. He gets together a basketball team, over her objections, and the formerly timid doctor backs him up. McMurphy then applies for an accompanied pass, so he can temporarily leave the hospital, but he is turned down. In response, he once again puts his fist through the newly repaired glass window at the Nurses’ Station. As McMurphy seems to be having it all his way, the Big Nurse bides her time. But McMurphy is having an effect on the men. The other patients follow his lead. Harding starts to flirt with the student nurses, for example.
The basketball is punctured when Scanlon accidentally heaves it through the same glass window that has just been repaired once again. So McMurphy starts to plan something else—a deep-sea fishing expedition for himself and the other patients. His request for a weekend pass is approved, largely because he claims that two of his old aunts will be accompanying them.
Bromden starts to remember more of his childhood, particularly an incident when he was ten years old. Two white men and a woman come from the east coast to negotiate with his father about buying his land for the government. They are contemptuous of the Indians’ living conditions, about which they are completely ignorant, and take no notice of the boy.
As Bromden lies awake in bed remembering, one of the black boys enters the dormitory and begins to scrape off from under the bed the chewing gum that Bromden places there every night. McMurphy wakes up and observes what is going on. After the black boy has gone, McMurphy gives the Chief a new packet of chewing gum. Inadvertently, Bromden says thank you. This alerts McMurphy to the fact that Bromden, whom everyone believes to be dumb as well as deaf, can talk. With some encouragement from McMurphy, Bromden tells him the story of his life, of how his father had been forced to sell his land to the government. His father had been beaten by the Combine and had then taken to drink. In Bromden’s eyes, his father became as small as he believes himself to be now. He warns McMurphy that the Combine will beat him down too. McMurphy’s response is to invite him to join the fishing party, letting on that the two old aunts are in fact two prostitutes he knows from Portland. He promises to get Bromden to be as big as he used to be.
On the morning of the fishing trip, McMurphy runs into George, who gives him some advice about what bait to use. George used to be a professional fisherman, and McMurphy, who knows nothing about fishing, persuades him to come on the trip and be the captain of their boat.
Candy, the prostitute, arrives, and the men are stunned by her sexy appearance. Billy Bibbit whistles at her. Candy explains that the other woman cannot come. McMurphy wonders how he is going to get ten men into one car, a problem he solves by persuading Dr. Spivey to come on the trip too.
It is a fine autumn day as the men set off. They fill up at a gas station, where the attendants try to take advantage of them because they know they are from the mental hospital. McMurphy soon deals with them, using his customary bravado and trickery. He even tells them to send the bill for the gas to the hospital. His performance boosts the confidence of the men; they start to feel powerful.
As they drive to the ocean, Bromden notices how the Combine has increased its hold on people since he last saw the outside world. Everywhere he looks he sees conformity, in the way men dress, the houses they live in, and the school uniforms of the children.
At the docks, they run into a problem. The captain who was supposed to take them out says that McMurphy does not have a properly signed waiver that would guarantee his immunity should there be an accident at sea. McMurphy argues with him and the two men go into the captain’s office to make a telephone call. In the meantime, half a dozen layabouts near the bait shop are making lewd remarks about Candy. None of the men has the courage to challenge them.
McMurphy returns and tells them to jump into the boat. He has left the captain making a call to a fake telephone number. George starts the motor and the boat surges out to sea. McMurphy takes Candy below decks into the cabin. George instructs the men on how to set up reels and lines, and the fishing begins. Seefelt gets a salmon but he does not have the skill to land it. Scanlon sets up a betting ring for the first fish caught and for the biggest. Billy catches a cod. Then George steers them to the best fishing grounds, and suddenly they are all catching salmon. McMurphy just watches and laughs, but Candy wants to catch some fish of her own. Billy helps her. The doctor catches a large flounder. Everyone has a wonderful, enjoyable time. The sea gets choppy on their way back, but George steers them back to dock safely. The irate captain is there waiting for them, along with some cops. The doctor persuades the cops that they do not have any jurisdiction over the mental patients, and the cops soon leave, feeling confused. McMurphy argues with the captain and settles the argument with a punch, after which he and the captain, apparently with no ill feelings, go to the bait shop to get some beer.
On the return drive to the hospital, McMurphy arranges for Candy to visit Billy two weeks later in the ward at two o’clock on Saturday night.
As they arrive in the ward, the men from the expedition are all brimming with confidence. McMurphy, however, appears exhausted. Bromden had first noticed this on their return drive, when they took a detour to see a place where McMurphy had once lived. He seemed tired and strained, although he still kept everyone entertained with his stories.
It is in this section, especially in the fishing expedition, that the patients discover their own power and independence. One of the first things that McMurphy noted when he arrived a the hospital was that no one in the ward ever laughed. But on the fishing boat, everyone is laughing. After being cooped up for years in the hospital, and having their confidence undermined by what the Big Nurse calls “therapy,” the men are rediscovering the sheer joy of being alive.
Once the men are set up on the boat, it is noticeable that McMurphy takes no real part in the action. After doing the initial organization, he disappears below the deck with Candy, and when he reemerges, he just watches what is going on around him. He is showing the men that they do not need him to be fully men. They can do it themselves. Scanlon, for example, takes over McMurphy’s role of organizing the gambling ring (p. 234). And when the men find they are three life jackets short, McMurphy lets Billy Bibbit, George and Harding be the heroes who volunteer to do without. He does not interfere. He lets the men sort it out themselves.
The change in the men is stated explicitly when they return to the dock. The layabouts who had mocked them before now treat them with respect: “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 this dock this morning” (p. 242).
It is in this section also that the first allusions are made to Christianity. McMurphy begins to emerge as a Christ-like figure. The author makes a point of stressing that there are twelve people accompanying McMurphy (p. 227), which corresponds to the number of disciples that Jesus had. Candy the prostitute is the equivalent of Mary Magdalene, the woman who followed Jesus.
On the return journey, the signs of strain in McMurphy’s face foreshadow his martyrdom in Part 4, and also provide another parallel to the story of Christ. He is sacrificing himself so that others might live more fully.