Notes on One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Themes

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Topic Tracking: Humor

Chapters 1 - 15

Humor 1: When McMurphy first enters the ward, the thing that immediately distinguishes him, aside from his lack of fear, are his jokes. He laughs out loud at everything, and makes fun of everyone. Laughter is very rarely heard in the ward, and by not taking anything too seriously, McMuprhy is able to exert power over it. He manages to avoid any sort of insult or invasion by making a joke of it.

Humor 2: McMurphy, having bet the rest of the men that he can get the Big Nurse to crack within a week, makes his first step in that direction by the use of a long joke. The Big Nurse is unable to fight back because it takes her by surprise. By making fun of her, he subverts her authority, and eliminates any power she might have over him.

Chapters 16 - 23

Humor 3: McMurphy tells the other men jokes in an attempt to get them to laugh, but such an act smacks of rebellion, and the other men are unable to accomplish it. Laughter is equated with strength and an ability to not take everything seriously. It also means having an emotional reaction to something that isn't fear, an idea of which the men of the ward are terrified.

Humor 4: McMurphy's act of smashing through the window could have gotten him moved to the Disturbed ward. But because he pretends he didn't see the glass, the Big Nurse is unable to remove him. Everyone understands that he really did see the glass, and the act of vandalism takes on the added power of being a joke at her expense. If she gets angry with him, she lets him win.

Chapters 24 - 25

Humor 5: A repeat of the previous action, but with even more humiliation for the Big Nurse. The joke is even funnier because he uses the same excuse, and starts to blame the glass itself as the cause of the disturbance. It also allows him to vent his frustration at not being granted a day pass in a way that can't really be punished.

Humor 6: For the first time, the men take part in the joke, pretending to be dangerous mental patients. Not only does this serve to frighten the people around them into treating them with respect; it gives the men a feeling of power. They become a team against the world, which they always were, but a team with an ability to actively fight back. For the first time, the joke is at the expense of the society that has terrorized them.

Humor 7: McMurphy laughs at seeing the men the way they are, both laughing at them and with them. He is able to survive for so long against the world that has destroyed the rest of them because he can laugh at it. He takes everything seriously by taking nothing seriously. He doesn't deny that there is pain and hardship, but he refuses to let that define and ruin him.

Chapters 26 - 29

Humor 8: His defense is starting to wear down, but he continues to make jokes out of every attempt the Big Nurse makes to break him.

Humor 9: McMurphy slips up here, and shows the danger of constant jokes. The Big Nurse warns him of the possibility of a lobotomy, but instead of taking it seriously, he turns it into a joke about his testicles. McMurphy has no intention of backing down at this point, but by turning the warning into the joke, he increases the chances of it being acted upon.

Humor 10: All the men are finally able to laugh at the Big Nurse. She wants them to be ashamed of the mess they've made, and at the beginning of the novel, they would have been. But now McMurphy has helped them enough that they can take his point of view, and laugh at their hijinks, as well as the Big Nurse's reaction to them, which is what finally drives her to destroy Billy.

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