One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Kesey)

Discussion Questions 
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Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest:

1. In what way is Kensey's novel representative of the 1960s? (If you are too young to have experienced the '60s, you might want to do a little research into the era.) The book, issued in 1962, is nearly 50 years old. Are the thematic concerns of Cuckoo's Nest still relevant today, do they speak to the 21st century...or are they outdated?

2. Cuckoo's Nest centers around a classic plot device—the introduction of disorder into an ordered environment. How does Randlel McMurphy destabilize the psychiatric ward? First, discuss how "order" is maintained...who enforces it...and what form "order" takes. Then talk about what happens when McMurphy enters the story.

3. Was Chief Bromden mentally insane when he was committed to the hospital 10 years ago? How does he appear when we first meet him? What is the cause of his hallucinatory fog—his medications or his paranoia or...?

4. Trace the change in Bromden that occurs over the course of the novel. What does he come to understand about himself? Why he has he presented himself as "deaf and dumb"? Why does he believe he has lost his once prodigious strength? What effect does McMurphy have on him?

5. At one point, Bromden pleas with the reader to believe him. He says, "But it's the truth even if it didn't happen." What does he mean—how can something be true if it's not based in reality?

6. Is McMurphy crazy? Under what circumstances does he enter the hospital ward? If this is a parable...or allegory, what does McMurphy represent symbolically? Can he be seen as a Christ figure, one who sacrifices himself for the good of others? Yes...or no.

7. What is Dr. Spivey's theory of the Therapeutic Community—and how does McMurphy challenge it? What does he mean when he compares the process to a flock of chickens?

8. As a follow-up to Question 4, what does Nurse Ratched represent? What's funny, by the way, about her name? Talk about her ability to disguise her true "hideous self, which she shows readily to Bromden and the aides, from the patients. Bromden sees her as a combine...and nicknames her "Big Nurse." What are the implications of those words?

9. How does Ratched maintain power over her patients?

10. How does Ratched eventually gain control over McMurphy? Why does he gradually submit to her—and why does the newly subdued McMurphy confuse the other patients? What has he become to them?

11. Talk about the fishing trip that McMurphy arranges for the inmates. What does McMurphy teach the other patients about being on the outside? What's the symbolic significance of the fishing expedition?

12. Why doesn't McMurphy escape from the ward the night that Billy has his "date" with Candy?

13. Ultimately, Ratched looses her hold over the ward. Why?

14. What is this novel about? What dichotomy is being suggested by Ratched and the hospital vs. the patients? Good vs. evil? Power & authority vs. freedom. Repression vs. expression? Women vs. men? The machine vs. nature? War vs. humanity?

15. Why does Bromden narrate rather than McMurphy?

16. Ultimately, how does Ken Kensey challenge societal notions of sanity and insanity? Who is sick, according to Kensey?

17. Who is the book's hero?

18. What is the title's significance"

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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