One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest

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An international bestseller and the basis for a hugely successful film, Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was one of the defining works of the 1960s. This version of the novel is bound with the traditional cover. A mordant, wickedly subversive parable set in a mental ward, the novel chronicles the head-on collision between its hell-raising, life-affirming hero Randle Patrick McMurphy and the totalitarian rule of Big Nurse. McMurphy swaggers into the mental ward like a blast of fresh air and turns the place upside down, starting a gambling operation, smuggling in wine and women, and egging on the other patients to join him in open rebellion. But McMurphy's revolution against Big Nurse and everything she stands for quickly turns from sport to a fierce power struggle with shattering results. With One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Kesey created a work without precedent in American literature, a novel at once comic and tragic that probes the nature of madness and sanity, authority and vitality. Greeted by unanimous acclaim when it was first published, the book has become and enduring favorite of readers.
Curriculet Details
88 Questions
87 Annotations
3 Quizzes

Designed for students in 11th and 12th grade, this free digital curriculum contains annotations explaining biblical allusions, pictures and explanations to support reading comprehension, and links to articles and selected pieces of literature from the19th century. It also contains interactive videos that support comprehension, such as videos about motifs and verbal irony. Over the course of the book, students will answer Common Core questions and quizzes related to the subjects of power and authority, sacrifice, and the effects of various literary devices. This free online unit will increase student engagement while building reading comprehension.

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Homework #7

The 1960's were characterized by social changes and rebellions. During this time, many protested the controversial Vietnam War; in addition, the Civil Rights Movement was underway as well as the women's movement. Young people wanted change and experimented with free love and drugs. After graduating from college, Kesey himself volunteered for drug experiments at a mental hospital. These experiences became the basis for this novel. In the video clip, "The Early Show" anchors look back at historical moments from this decade.  (This annotation contains a video)

Introduction

As you read Kesey's novel, look for evidence of who is portrayed as a Christ-like figure. Is it the medical professionals, like in earlier works, or is it another character? Who is portrayed as "good" while who is portrayed as "evil" according to Kesey? 
As you read Kesey's novel, look for evidence that would support themes that question sanity vs insanity, power and conformity vs individuality.  
McCarthyism, led by Senator Joseph McCarthy, swept the nation in the 1950's. McCarthy was determined to ferret out communists holding prominent positions. As a result, an atmosphere of fear and suspicion swept our nation as thousands of Americans were falsely accused.  (This annotation contains an image)
As you read the novel, look for examples of how the mental hospital's staff uses science or technology to control patients. Consider whether these methods are effective or not.  
The literary group, the Beats (or the Beat generation), thrived from the mid-1950s until the early 1960s. By the end of World War II, poets such as Ginsberg (pictured below) began questioning mainstream or conventional politics and culture. Poets often relied on hallucinogenic drugs, meditation, and Buddhism to achieve higher consciousness.  (This annotation contains an image)
Different types of birds are referenced throughout the novel. As you read, look for these references as well as the role laughter plays in your understanding of the book's themes. 

Epigraph

An epigraph can consist of a phrase, quotation, or poem that is set at the beginning of a text. They often highlight important aspects of the story and set the direction. This epigraph comes from a children's nursery rhyme about geese.  

Homework #12

Watch the opening scene of the film. As you watch, look for difference between the film and Kesey's novel. (This annotation contains a video)
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Bromden has been pretending to be deaf and dumb for years. What conclusion can you draw about the mental institution's view of patient care? 
Watch the short video on Point of View and Cultural Perspective. As you read, consider from whose point of view Kesey's novel is written. (This annotation contains a video)
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The highlighted details describing Nurse Ratched suggest that she is __________. 
The combine is a machine used to harvest crops. The name comes from the fact that this machine combines the three separate tasks of reaping, threshing, and winnowing into a single process. The staff at the mental hospital are frequently referred to as The Combine.  (This annotation contains an image)
The following video explains the literary device: the flashback.  (This annotation contains a video)
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What relationship does Kesey suggest between the blue tick hound and the narrator, Chief Bromden? How does the fog relate to the hound and Bromden? 
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Which of the following does not support the claim that there is rampant patient abuse at the mental hospital? 
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What does McMurphy's physical description and actions reveal about his character? Use textual evidence to support your answer.  
Use the video to review the definition of imagery before considering the imagery that Kesey creates in the last paragraph on this page.  (This annotation contains a video)
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What does the highlighted text reveal about McMurphy? 
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Infer what Nurse Ratched's primary purpose is for utilizing the log book with the patients. 
The room is categorized several ways. Boundaries exist not only between the employees and patients, but there is also a divide among the patients: sane (Acutes) versus insane (Chronics). The Chronics were once Acutes; however, the "treatments" that went wrong have not only robbed the patients of their ability to function but have served to put them under the ward's control permanently.  
Watch the short video clip that explains what an allusion is in literature. The highlighted text is an allusion to Jesus Christ's crucifixion.  (This annotation contains a video)
This refers to the procedure that Ruckly underwent called a lobotomy. Below is a short video from a PBS documentary that explains this procedure.  (This annotation contains a video)
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The simile used in the highlighted text is used to emphasize Ruckly's_______.  
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Which would not be a valid reason for why the very detailed descriptions of Ellis and Ruckly are included at this point in the story? 
Watch the video clip that explains what a motif is. As a reminder, the theme is the central idea or message in a work. Sometimes motifs can be mistaken for symbols. While symbols are images, ideas, sounds, or words that represent something else, motifs must help explain the theme. Finally, a symbol may appear once or twice while a motif will be recurring.  (This annotation contains a video)
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How does the motif of size contribute to your understanding of power? 
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What can you infer about Harding's character through the use of the highlighted metaphor? 
Click on the link and read the article about how Pakistan is banning Malala Yousafzai's memoir from its schools. (This annotation contains a link)
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Compare and contrast Taber's experience with Malala Yousafzai's experience. How does power and individuality impact each? 
Punch and Judy are a traditional puppet show that has been around for centuries. Each performance consists of short scenes that depict two characters, usually the violent Punch and one other character. By referencing Punch and Judy, Kesey creates an allusion.  (This annotation contains an image)
Watch the video clip explaining foreshadowing. Contemplate what is being foreshadowed in the highlighted text. (This annotation contains a video)
Watch the short video clip that explains situational irony. Be prepared to identify this literary device in the text. (This annotation contains a video)
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Explain how situational irony is used during the group therapy session.  
Verbal irony is created when a character says one thing but means another. Watch the video clip below to develop a better understanding of verbal irony.  (This annotation contains a video)
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What literary device is used in the highlighted text? 
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Why is Pete labeled as inferior according to The Combine? 
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What motif is represented in the highlighted text? 
Bromden thinks he hears "tubes pop and short all over inside that wall" which strengthens his theory that The Combine, or ward, is like a machine.  
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According to McMurphy, how does Nurse Ratched maintain her power over Harding? 
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The denotation of matriarchy is a society in which the mother is the head of the family or a government of women. According to the patients, how has Nurse Ratched established a matriarchy within the ward? 
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Summarize Harding's position. Be sure to include a discussion of the connotation associated with rabbits versus wolves in your response. 
Click on the link below and read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, "A Psalm of Life". Your purpose for reading is to determine the theme of the poem. Be prepared to establish similarities between this poem and Kesey's novel at the end of part one. (This annotation contains a link)
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Based on the highlighted text about laughter, which quote would McMurphy be least likely to agree with? 
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Harding's reference to Helen is an allusion to what? 
Here is another reference to birds. It conjures up the image of jail birds since it is used to reference the patients. Be on the look-out for other references to birds throughout the novel.  
It is interesting that the man that is admitted on Christmas resembles Santa Claus. The Combine's reaches touch even magical figures. 
Below is a map of Oregon. You can see Portland and The Dalles (which Bromden refers to during some of his flashbacks).  (This annotation contains an image)
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What does Bromden believe Nurse Ratched does to control the patients? 
Notice that as Nurse Ratched leaves the hospital, Bromden perceives the machinery as slowing down and growing quieter.  
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Harding and McMurphy are referred to as ____________ and _____________. 
The poker hand of two aces and two eights is referred to metaphorically as a "dead man's hand" because these were the cards reportedly held by the Wild West legend, lawman, and gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok when he was murdered. This is a case of foreshadowing.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Which piece of textual evidence best reveals that Bromden views The Combine as a powerful machine? 
This painting by Diego Rivera depicts factory workers. However, it seems to fit Bromden's nightmare of The Combine. (This annotation contains an image)
The picture below depicts the meat packing industry in 1941. Bromden's nightmare relies on images, tools, and machines associated with this industry. 
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What can you infer about the Chief's sanity from the highlighted text? Incorporate a theme statement about sanity versus insanity into your explanation.  
It is ironic that Blastic must die to be handled with care by those who are supposed to be his care-takers at the hospital.  
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Which statement best summarizes why McMurphy's singing is significant? 
The reference to geese is one more example of birds appearing throughout the text.  (This annotation contains an image)
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Which piece of textual evidence from the highlighted passage does not support the claim that Nurse Ratched is like a machine? 
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What tone is conveyed by the highlighted simile? 
This would be a ward dedicated to the are of elderly patients.  
McMurphy's whale boxer shorts bring to mind the work, Moby Dick. McMurphy embraces his sexuality while Nurse Ratched shuns her own sexuality. (This annotation contains an image)
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How is Chief Bromden beginning to change as a result of McMurphy? 
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It appears on the surface that McMurphy is following the rules at breakfast, but he is instead making fun of them. Which statement best exemplifies this? 
Here is a picture of palm reading.  (This annotation contains an image)
The following is a picture of a face cast. Nurse Ratched's face is able to achieve a plastic, artificial look much like it has been made into a cast. (This annotation contains an image)
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Why does the fog return at the end of this scene? 
The pictures are cards depicting great moments of the 1968 World Series in baseball. (This annotation contains an image)
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What is the significance of this last sentence? 

Homework #13

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What is implied by McMurphy's dialogue? 
This is an example of verbal irony. The Public Relation spokesman claims that no one would want to leave the ward. However, the reality is that the patients are continually subjected to a wide-range of cruel treatments. It is the opposite of the "nice" place that the ward tries to display to visiting guests. 
Read Emerson's quote about death featured in the picture below. Consider whether Bromden would agree with Emerson's statement. (This annotation contains an image)
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The highlighted figurative language conveys Bromden's ______________. 
The picture of fog below will help you visualize how little Bromden can see when his "fog" rolls in. When is the fog at its worst? (This annotation contains an image)
The US Department of Interior is in charge of using science to care for and sustain our country's lands, water, wildlife, and energy resources. It also supposed to honor our nation's responsibilities to tribal nations.  
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What does the highlighted text reveal about McMurphy? 
On the surface, Nurse Ratched seems to be upholding democratic ideals. She says that a majority are needed in a vote to change ward policy. However, she also realizes that half of the men are unable to vote. She rules the ward like a dictator under the guise of democracy. 
Bromden insinuates that McMurphy put a spell, or hex, on his hand that first time they shook hands. He feels like McMurphy controls his hand and makes it rise.  
Watch the scene from the movie where McMurphy demands a revote. As you watch, note how the film is similar and different to the novel. (This annotation contains a video)
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How is Nurse Ratched portrayed differently in the novel than in the vide clip you just watched? 
Part One Quiz 

Homework #15

As you watch the short video on tension in literature, consider how Kesey creates tension between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched. (This annotation contains a video)
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How does the Chief's description of cold contribute to your understanding of how he views Nurse Ratched? 
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Which word does not describe Dr. Spivey? 
"Alky" is a slang term for an alcoholic.  
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) became the first emperor of France. He rose to military power on the tail-end of the French Revolution. Dr.Spivey refers to Napoleon, Genghis Khan, and Attila the Hun (all famous rulers), and negatively compares McMurphy to them. However, Dr. Spivey fails to acknowledge that although these rulers were hated by many, they were also considered to be brilliant and sane leaders. Finally, the Kesey creates an allusion when he references these three historical rulers.  (This annotation contains an image)
Oedipal Complex, or more commonly referred to as Oedipus Complex, is a psychoanalytic theory. It essentially is a desire for sexual relations with one's parent of the opposite sex. Sigmund Freud (the founder of psychoanalysis) first introduced the concept in 1899; its name comes from Oedipus, the Greek hero who without knowing killed his father and married his mother.  
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Once again, Bromden uses temperature to depict Nurse Bromden. What is the significance of Nurse Ratched waiting until now to take a sip of her hot coffee? 
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What tone is conveyed by the highlighted text? 
Watch this short video clip on static and dynamic characters. As you continue to read, look for evidence of whom are static or dynamic characters. (This annotation contains a video)
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Bromden describes the dog by saying that he "shook himself a spray came off him in the moon like silver scales." What does this symbolize? 
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The dog and the car each race "for the same spot of pavement." Which two characters are symbolized or represented by the dog and the car? 
According to theology, one commits a mortal sin when one knowingly violates God's law. Examples of mortal sins include: murder, idolatry, adultery, and slander. It is called a mortal sin because it is symbolic of a spiritual death of the soul. In contrast, venial sins are slight sins.  
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What similarity does McMurphy and the lifeguard share? 
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What prompts McMurphy to begin to change his behavior? 
Read the article at the link below which discusses ramifications of the U.S.'s mistreatment of Native American tribes. (This annotation contains a link)
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What impact might Cheswick's death have on McMurphy? 
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Why does Sefelt refuse to take his medication? 
Watch the video below on archetypes. As you read, consider which characters may be archetypes.  (This annotation contains a video)
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Do you agree or disagree with Harding's belief that Vera is responsible for his problems? Be sure include references to the text to support your answer.  
You have already watched a short video clip explaining what an archetype is in literature. Now, watch the video clip below in order to watch different examples of archetypes in pop culture. Expect to encounter questions about archetypes in this novel as you continue to read. (This annotation contains a video)
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McMurphy is unable to shuffle the cards, and they "explode" around him. What is the significance of this? 
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Based on the highlighted conversation between McMurphy and Harding, what is one theme that you can infer? 
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Why does Harding compare electro-shock therapy to a carnival? Be sure to use evidence from the highlighted passage in your explanation.  
Both sarcasm and satire rely on irony. However, sarcasm generally uses malice. It is a praise which is really an insult. On the other hand, satire's purpose is to expose foolishness or corruption of an individual or society by ridiculing them. It also frequently utilizes irony. Watch the short clip of Stephen Colbert using satire to make a point about Christians in America. As you continue to read, look for examples of sarcasm and satire. (This annotation contains a video)
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Infer from the highlighted text what Harding's intended purpose is. 
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Bromden recounts a flashback about Friday night football. What is the purpose of structuring this scene in this way? 
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Which image below exemplifies the same connotation of the word reckless as used in the highlighted text? 
Tarot cards are used by fortune tellers. The cards represent virtues, vices, death, and fortune. (This annotation contains an image)
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According to Nurse Ratched, what is the possible cause of the patients' mental illnesses? 
The sound of tires speeding down a road serves to remind readers of the image of the dog and car racing towards the same destination that Bromden witnessed from his window in Part Two. However, he did not see what happened to the car or the dog. Bromden insinuates that the car, a machine which represents Nurse Ratched and The Combine, will triumph over the dog, McMurphy. 
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What is the significance of McMurphy shattering the glass? 
Quiz on Part Two 

Homework #17

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What can you infer about Nurse Ratched's character based on the highlighted simile? 
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Cite at least 3 examples of how McMurphy resumes disturbing the routine that Nurse Ratched has established? Be sure to explain the significance of these actions. 
Watch the short video clip on tone and mood. Be prepared to encounter questions on each as you continue reading. (This annotation contains a video)
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Why did Bromden start acting deaf? 
The picture below is of boxcars. This comparison instills in readers an image of heavy-duty metal train cars that stretch one after the other.  (This annotation contains an image)
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What tone is conveyed by the phrase noble leader of these people? 
Here is a picture of wooden scaffolding to help you visualize the scaffolding by the falls. (This annotation contains an image)
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Bromden ends the flashback by saying, "And they get back in the car and drive away, with me standing there wondering if they ever even saw me." What motif is evident? 
Watch the Juicy Fruit gum scene. As you watch consider how this scene is similar and different to the text. (This annotation contains a video)
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What is one difference and one similarity between the Juicy Fruit gum scene in the text and the video clip? 
This picture is of the Columbia Gorge. (This annotation contains an image)
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What tone is conveyed by the highlighted text? 
Watch the short video about how characters develop.  (This annotation contains a video)
The short video clip below gives you info on the bosun and let's you hear it. (This annotation contains a video)
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What literary device is used in the highlighted text? 
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What is the girl's profession? 
When Ellis "pulled his hands down off the nails in the wall" and told Bibbit to be "a fisher of men", Kesey created an allusion or reference to the Bible in Matthew 4:19. Watch the video dramatization of this verse. (This annotation contains a video)
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Using the highlighted text, explain how the imagery used to describe the setting helps you to develop an understanding of how the men feel as they leave the hospital.  
This is a reference to the oldest state prison in California. It has been opened since 1852; it is the only prison that has a death row for male inmates. The prison has been featured in many movies and TV shows and has been the subject of many books.  (This annotation contains an image)
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What is the strongest effect that McMurphy's words and actions have on the patients? 
A Rorschach test (also known as the inkblot test) is where subjects' perceptions of inkblots are recorded and studied. In the 1960's, it was a widely used test.  (This annotation contains an image)
The following picture depicts Jesus and the 12 disciples. A biblical allusion is created once again in the highlighted text. (This annotation contains an image)
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Give 3 examples from the text to support The Chief's belief that the Combine is at work and changing the outside world. 
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Why does Bromden feel a growing sense of calmness? 
Here is a picture of a ling cod. (This annotation contains an image)
Below is a picture of a cormorant. (This annotation contains an image)
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Based on the highlighted text, which statement best summarizes the theme? 
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How are the men different? Be sure to include an explanation of how the motifs of laughter and size are working together in this scene to deepen your understanding of how the men are changing. 
Here is a picture of a flounder. (This annotation contains an image)
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What does the highlighted simile reveal about George? 
The following is a timeline of the Korean War. (This annotation contains an image)
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Why might McMurphy be feeling frantic? 

Homework #19

Read the excerpt from Percy Bysshe Shelley's lyrical drama published in 1820 below. Prometheus, according to mythology, defies the gods by stealing the sacred fire (a source of divine wisdom and creative inspiration) and giving it to humanity. As punishment, Prometheus is chained to a rock. There an eagle eats at his liver daily, but it is restored again each night. Shelley makes Prometheus the savior of his play. Ultimately, Prometheus frees the universe from the tyranny of the gods. This sentiment endured him to the Romantic poets during this time period.  (This annotation contains a link)
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In an earlier part of this curriculet, you watched a short video clip on tensions in literature. How do tensions and animosities affect the relationships between characters? Be sure to give at least two specific examples to support your explanation.  
In folklore in many cultures, the fox symbolizes cunning, trickery, or even magic. Nurse Ratched ironically calls McMurphy a fox. However, she is trying to lay a trap for McMurphy by turning the male patients against him. (This annotation contains an image)
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Why does Harding, in the midst of a speech filled with patriotic words and images, choose to refer to his fellow patients as "comrades"? 
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What can you infer about Bromden based on the highlighted text? 
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Which would not be a cause of the pressure McMurphy is feeling? 
Click on the link and read the opinion piece below. Be prepared to answer questions about it. (This annotation contains a link)
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After reading the opinion piece from The New York Times written by the director of the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, explain why Forman does not feel that modern-day America is anything like Socialist countries during the Cold War? Be sure to give specific examples.  
Consider the photograph below. How does this picture relate to the novel? (This annotation contains an image)
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What does the Japenese nurse's statement about McMurphy suggest or foreshadow?  
An allusion referring to the torture device used in earlier centuries (especially during Medieval Times) to stretch victims until their joints dislocated or limbs were even torn off. (This annotation contains an image)
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How does the imagery used to describe the setting in the highlighted text aid in your understanding of the themes of this text? 
Watch the short video explanation of personification which is used in the highlighted text. (This annotation contains a video)
Watch this scene where McMurphy gets elctro-shock therapy. (This annotation contains a video)
A biblical allusion to Jesus Christ as he is prepared to be crucified on the cross for the sins of the world. (This annotation contains an image)
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What happens to the sparrows as McMurphy receives his shock therapy? 
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What can you infer about this reference, which also serves as the epigraph before the novel begins and serves as the book title? 
"Snake eyes" refers to rolling a pair of dice and getting only one pip (small dots on a six-sided die). Snakes are associated with treachery and betrayal, so rolling snake eyes is a form of bad luck.  (This annotation contains an image)
Below is a picture of a pinball machine. (This annotation contains an image)
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Why does Nurse Ratched return McMurphy to the ward? 
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What type of operation is Nurse Ratched suggesting McMurphy undergo? 
Harding references the author Thorne Smith.  
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Summarize what has happened at this late night party thus far. How does this party tie into your understanding of the theme? 
Below is a picture of the famous author Mark Twain. Harding references the author Kafka and Twain. (This annotation contains an image)
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What does Harding's "prayer" reveal? 
Harding desires for McMurphy to escape and leave the country or at least the state.  
Watch the news story on Serbian mental institutions. As you watch, look for similarities and differences between the ward and the present-day asylums in Serbia.  (This annotation contains a video)
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What similarities and differences exist between Kesey's ward in this novel and the real-life asylums in Serbia as depicted in the video? Be sure to discuss at least 2 similarities and two differences. 
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What is the significance of Nurse Ratched's hair coming loose? 
Watch the scene where McMurphy chokes Nurse Ratched. How is the film version different? (This annotation contains a video)
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Did Bromden really kill McMurphy? Why or why not? 
Quiz on Parts Three and Four