Syllabus: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Book Club, Day 1
April 30, 2007
Syllabus by Hannah

Book Club Members: Hannah L, Kenna W, Shannan P, Delaney N

Today’s Focus Question: What is Kesey’s larger social message in this novel and how is his message reflected in other works of the time?

Opening Focus Activity (10-15 minutes):

Explore mental institutions in 1960’s America by searching the internet. Come together to discuss these institutions and how they developed throughout the twentieth century to today. How is the system wrongfully or correctly represented in the novel?

Club Discussion Questions (20-30 minutes):
  1. What is the significance of the quote on page 59 about the inmates being “victims of a matriarchy”? What is this novel saying through a feminist lens/ how are women represented?
  2. What aspect of human nature is the Combine attempting to eradicate? Why is this effective?
  3. “But it’s the truth, even if it didn’t happen” (13). So, is Kesey reflecting realistic mental institutions of 1962, is this a true story, or is it a futuristic fictional novel like “1984”.
  4. What is Kesey trying to expose about the education system?
  5. What is Kesey’s intention in his metaphor of men and the walls being machines?
  6. What is the importance of Kesey’s allusions to Christ?
  7. Is Kesey racist? Are his characters? Why or why not?
  8. Explain Kesey’s constant use of birds.
  9. Are the inmates truly crazy? How does this book and society define “crazy”?
  10. Does the Big Nurse have a boss? What would he or she be like? What does this reflect about human nature?
  11. How does the story of Mr. Taber relate to “1984”, is Kesey lauding his unwillingness to submit or saying that it is better to submit?
  12. What is the importance of the “rabbit” passage?

Closing Activity/Extension (5-10 minutes):

Briefly look up Sylvia Plath and discuss her life and how it relates to the novel. Explore the poetry of Sylvia Plath at
Analyze/connect one of these poems to the novel. Here are a few example poems:

By Sylvia Plath

Compelled by calamity's magnet
They loiter and stare as if the house
Burnt-out were theirs, or as if they thought
Some scandal might any minute ooze
From a smoke-choked closet into light;
No deaths, no prodigious injuries
Glut these hunters after an old meat,
Blood-spoor of the austere tragedies.
Mother Medea in a green smock
Moves humbly as any housewife through
Her ruined apartments, taking stock
Of charred shoes, the sodden upholstery:
Cheated of the pyre and the rack,
The crowd sucks her last tear and turns away.

A Life By Sylvia Plath

Touch it: it won't shrink like an eyeball,
This egg-shaped bailiwick, clear as a tear.
Here's yesterday, last year ---
Palm-spear and lily distinct as flora in the vast
Windless threadwork of a tapestry.
Flick the glass with your fingernail:
It will ping like a Chinese chime in the slightest air stir
Though nobody in there looks up or bothers to answer.
The inhabitants are light as cork,
Every one of them permanently busy.
At their feet, the sea waves bow in single file.
Never trespassing in bad temper:
Stalling in midair,
Short-reined, pawing like paradeground horses.
Overhead, the clouds sit tasseled and fancy
As Victorian cushions. This family
Of valentine faces might please a collector:
They ring true, like good china.
Elsewhere the landscape is more frank.
The light falls without letup, blindingly.
A woman is dragging her shadow in a circle
About a bald hospital saucer.
It resembles the moon, or a sheet of blank paper
And appears to have suffered a sort of private blitzkrieg.
She lives quietly
With no attachments, like a foetus in a bottle,
The obsolete house, the sea, flattened to a picture
She has one too many dimensions to enter.
Grief and anger, exorcised,
Leave her alone now.
The future is a grey seagull
Tattling in its cat-voice of departure.
Age and terror, like nurses, attend her,
And a drowned man, complaining of the great cold,
Crawls up out of the sea.

May 1, 2009
Syllabus by Kenna

Focus Question:

What are the aspects of Kesey's writing styles and why?

Opening Activity:
We are going to play the game of pictionary. Each member of the group must take a turn drawing a picture of a symbol, developing theme, or a metaphor in the book. The other members of the group are going to guess what the picture represents and relate it to the book, or the characters in the book. The picture could also be related to a specific character in the book. Have fun!

1. On page 84 the Chronics are going to bed and McMurphy is assigned to share a room with Bromden. He points out that Geever is coming so in response Bromden turns around to see. During the night McMurphy whispers to BRomden, "Why, you sure did when I told you that coon was coming, Chief. I thought somebody told me you was deef." Why do you think Kesey wrote in this outcast character of McMurphy? He knew form the beginning that Bromden wasn't deaf. He seems to have everyone figured out and the system of the asylum figured out. What makes him different from the others? Why did Kesey put a character like McMurphy in the asylum when he is tougher and somewhat brighter than the others?
2. Throughout this section of the reading, sound is appeared off and on. Harding refers to the radio sound as a waterfall and Bromden refers to the sounds the machines make as dams several times. There never seems to be any form of silence in the book, except when he also refers to the machines as being "silent as death". There is always a noise being written about. What does this mean? What is the importance of sound?
3. Kesey explains the hidden room of machinery when the men are sleeping in such vivid terms. I could not help buit be disgusted when I read this. What would lead the people in charge to do something like this? Is society pressuring them to do this or themselves? What is Kesey trying to get across to the reader with how these men are treated and the cruelity brought upon them? What isd the purpose to this room?
4. What does laughing mean in this book? There are different types of laughter coming from different characters, but why always a laugh or a giggle? Why does Kesey repeat laughter over and over again in different characters?
5. From just finishing the book, The Great Gatsby, why do you think the color red is repteated as a descriptive color over other colors? What does it represent?
6. What does glass represent in the book?
7. What does the symbol of a clock represent? What does the Big Nurse turning the time to whatever she wants have to do with the tour of children in the hidden room?
8. Do you find it humorous when the chief (narrator) basically mocks the Big Nurse by predicting what she would say to people if she were in that moment, or do you find it sad that he has been there for so long that he is able to know what she would say in certain situations?
9. Why does the aslylum want conformity?
10. Why does the game of poker bring out the Acute's personalities? What is the importance of this game to the men?
11. What does the rebellion of getting toothpaste on time and McMurphy singing represent?

Closing Activity:
Draw your own version of the hidden room. Compare it to your symbols and see how it relates to the book and try to incorporate your own symbol in the picture. When you compare it to each others drawings, you can see how Kesey's imagery is engraved in each others minds differently. Maybe the use of sound stands out in one drawing in particular or the use of a color. See how the effects of Kesey's writing style is seen differently when read upon, or seen similarily.

May 4, 2009 Syllabus
By: Shannan
Focus Question: What is the symbolism of the fog and birds throughout this reading and why does McMurphy feel the need to constantly place bets with the other patients?

Opening Activity: Read the children's folk rhyme that the title was derived from:
Wire, bliar, limber-lock
Three geese in a flock
One flew east, one flew west
One flew over the cuckoo's nest.

Do you think this hold's significance in the story and do you think that it could possibly be foreshadowing events that will happen in the book?

Discussion Questions:
On page 103 McMurphy talks about the hospital having better accomodations than he have had such as orange juice and coffee. Why would he say this-they are in a mental insitution? Is he actually disturbed?
2. Is the butter bet foreshadowing the results of McMurphy's bet with the Big Nurse?
3. On page 106-107, "Everybody in the ward can feel its started." Is the feud between McMurphy and the Big Nurse really the only thing that the patients focus on? How are they able to sense conflict if they are allegedly physcotic?
4. It is odd that Kesy mentions that Doctor Spivey and McMurphy went to the same high school, it shows that they actually aren't so different. However, wouldn't the doctor want to keep it a secret because of that?
5. What is the relationship between Doctor Spivey and Miss Ratched? How has it impacted the story and how will it continue to impact the progression of the Big Nurse vs. McMurphy conflict if the doctor is on McMurphy's side?
6. Does the Big Nurse care if patients know what they are doing to the other patients? Does she think that they will be able to tell anyone or just think nothing of it?
7. Why does McMurphy constantly make bets that he knows that he cannot win?
8. Why is the World Series so important to McMurphy or is it just a representation of a possible power shift?
9. Who commited McMurphy into the hospital and why? Where are they now?
10. On page 137, the cheif describes people with "signs" of the way that they carry themselves. This is not something that a mental patient would have the ability to do. How was he commited in the first place and why do they think that he is deaf when they have never done tests on him?
11. On page 145, the cheif reflects, "they'd of thought the whole bunch was as crazy as loons". This is very ironic because they are in a mental hospital. Does the cheif also question if the patients actually have mental problems?

Closing Activity: Research Ken Kesey's life and see if there is any significant events in his life that caused him to write such a book and did he have any problems with gambling like McMurphy because that is repeated very often.

May 6th Syllabus
by Delaney

Focus Question: What is Kesey trying to prove about society and the control it has over people?

Opening Activity: Take a few minutes to relate some aspect of this novel to another work of literature. After the connection is made, use that to make a prediction about the ultimate outcome of One...Cuckoo's Nest.

Discussion Questions:
1) On pg 161, Chief talks about McMurphy saying, "I'd think maybe he truly is extraordinary. He's what he is, that's it. Maybe that makes him strong enough, being what he is". Who in this novel do you think shares this belief and who opposes it? Why?
2) Is the fog machine real or is it a metaphor? Or both? (see page 162)
3) Are the Disturbed actually insane or are they simply suffering from some other ailment?
4) Why doesn't Big Nurse try to break Cheswick the way she attempts to break McMurphy? What makes their treatment different?
5) Is the Chief more intrigued by McMurphy than the others? Could Bromden possibly have some hidden connection to him? (pg 174)
6) What is the significance of Cheswick's death?
7) How do the patients view the outside and society? (pg 190)
8) Do you agree that the patients are wiser/ more sly than McMurphy? (pg 194)
9) Page 163 reveals Chief looking out the window one night. What is important about what he sees and how does that exposure relate to his life? (& pg 197)
10) "Not many commitments in the whole hospital. No, not many at all" -Harding pg 194. Do you believe that these patients are actually there "voluntarily" or is there some aspect of brainwashing or something that keeps them there?
11) What caused McMurphy's change of heart on the last page and what will this mean for the remainder of the book?

Closing Activity: Choose a character. Analyze what possible symbolism they could have and why Kesey included them in the story.

May 7 Syllabus
By Hannah and Kenna

Focus Question: How do the actions depicted in this section reflect the flaws of society and what is Kesey beginning to reveal about characters?

Opening Activity: Watch the first 1:30 of the movie trailer of One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest ( How does it change your perception of the characters and especially McMurphy? Does it change any of the images out of the book that you saw? What is different from the book?

  • What does the repeated shattering of the Nurse's glass window represent?
  • "I had to keep acting deaf if I wanted to hear at all." (178). What has this section revealed about the chief and his pretending to be deaf? How does is this idea reflected in society?
  • "What can you pay for what a man is? They didn't understand." (187) Who is they? How have the experiences of these men proved that a man is something that cannot be bought or sold, caged or contained?
  • Why has the chief lost his bigness? When did he shrink and how can McMurphy make him big again?
  • Why is McMurphy "a man" to the chief?
  • What does Candy represent and what is the significance of her relationship with Billy?
  • "The doctor's lying made us feel worse than ever -- not becasue of the lie, so much, but because of the truth." (200) Does it matter that they were in green uniforms? How would their experience have changed if they had been dressed like normal men, how would it have been the same?
  • "'That wasn't a bug,' the guy said... 'that was a bird.' 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.'" (202) How does this passage represent the deaths thus far depicted in the novel. If the birds are a metaphor for the patients, what is this passage saying?
  • "All that five thousand kids lived in those five thousand houses, owned by those guys that got off the train... the only one they noticed was the little kid at the end of the whip... 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." (204) Does this explain the chief's childhood, or does it reflect his present reality? His introduction into the Outside?
  • What does the struggle between the doctor and his fish reveal about the institution he works for and/or the dynamics of societal outcasting?
  • What was McMurphy exhausted from at the end of the day, what brought on his melancholy?
  • What is your prediction as to the effects of this trip when they return?

Closing Activity: Choose a character and try to relate him to yourself or someone else in your life, after all they are just normal people.

May 11, 2008
By: Shannan and Delaney

Focus Question: What does the ending of this novel say about society and how does the book create a cohesive picture of Kesey's opinions?

Opening Activity: Discuss the ending of the book through another character's eyes (McMurphy, Miss Ratched, Billy...). What does this reveal about the character, the story and the Cheif's (narrator's) character.

Discussion Questions:

  • What is Kesey trying to reveal about society by the end of the novel and how has this changed throughout the story?
  • On the last page, the last quote reads, "I been away a long time". What are various ways this could be interpreted and why do you think it is used as the closing line of the novel?
  • What causes the patients to suddenly side with Big Nurse when she conspires against McMurphy? Wouldn't they have known that she was plotting some sort of revenge already...?
  • What do the patients have to lose by trusting McMurphy? Why is the nurse's theory so detrimental?
  • Page 266 has a quote where Nurse says, "...he's a very sharp operator, levelheaded as they come. You watch; everything he's done was done with reason". Why, then, is he committed? If he can't be in jail, why don't they just release him if he is so reasonable???
  • Why was Chief the one to help McMurphy fight the aides?
  • What ultimately causes McMurphy's downfall? What effects are his rebellious behavior having on him?
  • What is the point of Kesey's motif of religion? Do you think he sees it as positive? Negative? Neutral?
  • Predict what the assylum would be like after Bromden left.
    • Would it be changed from McMurphy or go back to normal?
  • What was your reaction to Bibbit's suicide? Why did it occur and how could it affect McMurphy SO much?
  • Who actually won in the end?
Closing Activity: Relate the book, especially the ending to the title and to Ken Kesey's life.