One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Students study the institutional processes and popular beliefs surrounding mental health in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, as they discuss and debate the themes of power, order, and authority.

Unit Summary

Ken Kesey’s novel, popularized by the Oscar-winning movie adaptation of 1975, serves as a study of the institutional processes and the truth (or fictions) behind societal beliefs about mental health. The novel has been widely read and adapted into a Broadway play as well as the film.

Students will analyze the power struggle between the patients on the ward and the terrorizing character of the Big Nurse that serves as the major conflict of the novel. This analysis will draw students into debates and discussions about some of the central themes such as power, order, authority, and the consequences when these are abused. The novel’s instances of raw humanity also allow for students to relate to patients in a mental institution in the 1950s and consider their plight. The empathy Kesey builds in his readers helps to draw them into questioning the “truth” about “sanity” and “insanity,” thematic topics that students will consider in this unit and in other units in 11th and 12th grade English.

Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Supporting Materials

See Text Selection Rationale

Assessment

This assessment accompanies Unit 3 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Unit Prep

Intellectual Prep

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  • Read and annotate both the book and this unit plan. 
  • Watch the film adaptation of the novel.
  • Take the unit exam, including writing the essay response.
  • Read and annotate all paired texts.

Essential Questions

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  • Sanity and Insanity: What does it mean to be “crazy” and who gets to decide?
  • Truth: Is truth in the eye of the beholder or is it decided by society?
  • Big and Small: What makes someone “big” or “small?”
  • Rules/Order/Authority: Are rules necessary for society?  At what point do rules become corrupt or oppressive? 

Writing Focus Areas

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This unit focuses on a type of writing that is frequently assessed on the new SAT. Specifically, students will explain how an author uses specific literary devices to convey his/her message in a single text. In the future, students will need to do the same for a pair of texts, but for this unit they will focus on just one text.

Spiraling Literary Analysis Writing Focus Area

  • Develop a clear thesis that answers the prompt.
  • Create clear and cohesive arguments to support the thesis.
  • Choose the most relevant evidence to support the claims.

Vocabulary

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Literary Terms

metaphor, onomatopoeia, diction, analogy, allusion, juxtaposition, theme, motif, pathos

Roots and Affixes

-otomy (lobotomy, leucotomy), aud- (auditory), jur- (jurisdiction), circ- (circumvent)

Text-based

Part 1: hullabaloo (5), precise (5), calculated (5), enamel (5), seclusion (9), admission (10), acute (15), chronic (15), nuisance (16), ornery (19), persecutes (22), cagey (24), whirring (25), hefting (25), orient (25), hypodermic (27), manipulator (27), intolerable (28), efficiency (29), accumulate (29), appraises (30), hostility (34), frenzied (38), nimble (40), lolling (43), brawn (44), insubordination (45), democratic (49), grievance (49), fester (49), subconscious (50), acoustic (50), murky (55), cadaver (55), prosecutors (56), quaint (57), fracas (57), taut (58), braggart (59), vitals (60), grimace (61), veritable (61), incapable (63), devour (64), astute (65), bashful (65), sly (66), vogue (69), consolation (70), matriarchy (71), juggernaut (71), impregnable (73)
Part 2: scant (77), transmit (79), branded (80), stoicism (80), spiel (80), lacerations (82), flusters (83), hydroelectric (86), bloated (89), outlandish (90), shrewd (91), policy (93), convalescent (97), physique (100), gaudy (100), heathen (105), reminisce (108), maudlin (108), nostalgia (108), auditory (110), spell (117), turmoil (118), mope (119), scowling (120), assets (123), procedure (140), hex (142), jurisdiction (144), recrimination (145)
Part 3: bile (151), fiendish (151), defy (152), comparative (154), thwarted (154), authoritarian (155), smoldering (157), brashness (157), femininity (159), sufficient (159), manufacture (161), haywire (162), silage (165), commenced (165), lope (165), gripe (167), spite (177), confound (179), haggard (180), schematic (182), curtail (183), inadequacies (184), concise (189), perverse (190), rational (190), jargon (191), lucid (192), committed (194), rebellious (199), impose (199), circumvent (199), tactic (205), menace (207), treachery (209), hovel (211), fraternize (212), squalor (212), metropolis (214), sterilized (229), predicament (230), speculation (233), gawk (234), sullenly (238), waiver (242), idle (245), cormorants (247), gaff (248), grim (252), rigorous (255), vaguely (256), woebegone (257)
Part 4: maneuver (261), martyr (264), stingy (266), chicanery (266), cautionary (270), initiative (273), trudging (274), clatter (276), drawling (277), hunkered (277), cogs (282), anoint (283), corrosion (283), vulnerable (291), peaked (293), chastity (296), artificial (301), tranquilize (304), recuperations (306), mellow (308), discretion (315), forcibly (315), contemptuous (316), ordeal (317), shudder (317)

Idioms and Cultural References

Combine (3), Public Relations (9), Eisenhower (21), vial (27), Inside vs. Outside (28), wheelers (28), vegetables (28), latrine (35), spine tap (36), Seconal (37), Punch & Judy (37), Korea (45), shindig (57), takes the cake (60), synthetic opiate (63), Red Chinese (66), Marilyn Monroe (71), black jack (81), Catholic (83), dam (87), catwalk (87), scalpel (88), conman (92), Canada honkers (94), geriatrics (98), twitches (102), IOU (105), Monopoly (114), buck (138), Napoleon, Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun (154), hydrocephalus (172), epileptic (177), Dilantin (177), anti-convulsant (179), hoity-toity (185), herded (188), c’est la vie (189), lobotomy (189), raise Cain (190), frontal lobe castration (191), on the ropes (193), canteen (197), Chinook salmon (209), Hiawatha (212), Spearmint Gum (217), crazy like a fox (264), dry (267)

Content Knowledge and Connections

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  • Mental health, specifically: Asylums, Anti-psychotic medication, Electroshock therapy, lobotomy, and other historical approaches to treatment of mental illness and the mentally ill in the United States.
  • Because of the narrator’s identity, there will be some exploration of the history of Native Americans and the United States government, particularly the creation of reservations.

Previous Fishtank ELA Connections

Future Fishtank ELA Connections

Lesson Map

1

  • “Kitty Dukakis”

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 69 – 189

Compare and contrast Dukakis and Kesey’s views on electroshock therapy.

2

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 3 – 8

Characterize and evaluate the reliability of the narrator.

Characterize the Big Nurse and explain her role in the novel.  

3

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 10 – 14

Characterize McMurphy based on his initial appearance on the ward.

4

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 15 – 19

Describe the social order amongst the men on the ward.

Characterize Billy Bibbit.

5

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 20 – 26

Describe the conflict between Harding and McMurphy. 

Explain how the men on the ward view the narrator.

6

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 28 – 35

Explain the author’s use of structure to reveal theme.

Further characterize Nurse Ratched based on the author’s use of diction.

7

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 36 – 41

Explain the metaphor of The Combine using textual evidence.  

8

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 49 – 55

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Explain the impact of the “Therapeutic Community” on Pete Bancini.

9

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 55 – 62

Evaluate the interaction between McMurphy and Harding based on dialogue and actions.

Identify and analyze an analogy used in the novel. 

10

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 69 – 75

  • “Helen”

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Determine McMurphy’s motivation behind his bet.  

Explain how conflict reveals theme. Identify and analyze the allusion use in this excerpt.

11

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 76 – 81

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Analyze the impact of the “fog” on the narrator.
Explain how the music conflict further characterizes McMurphy.

12

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 85 – 90

Explain how Bromden’s dream reveals theme.  

13

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 95 – 101

Explain how the author builds theme through conflict.  

14

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 105 – 113

Explain how the author uses conflict and diction to further characterize McMurphy and Nurse Ratched. 

15

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 117 – 125

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Explain the symbolism of the steel control panel.

16

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 130 – 137

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Explain how the fog can both protect and harm Bromden.  

17

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 145 – 145

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

  • “The Yellow Wallpaper”

Explain how Kesey and the author of the “The Yellow Wallpaper” each use conflict to develop theme.

18

Writing

  • “The Yellow Wallpaper”

Explain how the author of the “The Yellow Wallpaper” uses literary devices to develop theme.

19

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 149 – 158

Explain the different claims about McMurphy among the staff. 

20

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 159 – 166

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Identify and explain the impact that McMurphy is having on Bromden. 

21

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 169 – 175

Analyze the reasons for the change in McMurphy’s behavior.

Explain the connection between McMurphy’s breaking and Cheswick’s death.

22

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 176 – 181

  • “Mental Health Medications”

Debate if the benefits of medication outweigh the side-effects.

23

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 182 – 187

  • The Missing Kennedy pp. 63 – 73 — Rosemary’s surgery

Describe the reasons behind the conflict between Harding and his wife.

24

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 188 – 196

Debate the factors that keep the men in the ward.

25

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 197 – 201

Explain the purpose behind Bromden’s flashbacks.

Debate whether the Nurse or McMurphy is “winning” the battle by the end of Part 3.

26

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 205 – 215

  • “Andrew Jackson’s Speech to Congress on 'Indian Removal'”

Describe the growing conflict between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched.

Explain how Bromden’s past has impacted his current behavior. 

27

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 215 – 224

Describe how McMurphy’s influence has changed Bromden. 

28

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 225 – 234

Describe the conflict between Nurse Ratched and McMurphy.

29

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 234 – 241

Explain the shift in mood and the cause of this shift. 

30

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 2241 – 250

Explain what McMurphy’s laughter represents.

Analyze and explain the author’s use of figurative language to reveal theme. 

31

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 250 – 258

Explain the impact of rules and regulations on the boat vs. off of the boat.  

Explain McMurphy’s motivation and plan for further rebellion.

32

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 261 – 270

Analyze and explain McMurphy and the Big Nurse’s motivations throughout this section of the text.

33

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 276 – 283

Explain the shift in power dynamics.

34

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 289 – 298

Explain the impact the treatments are having on both Bromden and McMurphy and how their response to treatment contributes to the overall conflict. 

35

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pp. 305 – 309

Explain how the events of the night have impacted the men.

36

  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — 310-end

Analyze and explain McMurphy’s final attempt to take down the Big Nurse and what this attempt symbolizes.

37

Assessment

Common Core Standards

Reading Standards for Informational Text
  • RI.11-12.1 — Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

  • RI.11-12.2 — Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • RI.11-12.9 — Analyze seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century foundational U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (including The Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address) for their themes, purposes, and rhetorical features.

Reading Standards for Literature
  • RL.11-12.1 — Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

  • RL.11-12.2 — Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • RL.11-12.3 — Analyze the impact of the author's choices regarding how to develop and relate elements of a story or drama (e.g., where a story is set, how the action is ordered, how the characters are introduced and developed).

  • RL.11-12.6 — Analyze a case in which grasping point of view requires distinguishing what is directly stated in a text from what is really meant (e.g., satire, sarcasm, irony, or understatement).

Speaking and Listening Standards
  • SL.11-12.1 — Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11—12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

  • SL.11-12.2 — Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) in order to make informed decisions and solve problems, evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source and noting any discrepancies among the data.

  • SL.11-12.3 — Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used.

Writing Standards
  • W.11-12.1 — Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

  • W.11-12.4 — Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

  • W.11-12.9 — Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.