To understand the significance of the title of the novel ‘One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ brainstorm everything you know about Cuckoos. For example, the fact that they don’t build their own nest, they kick out the other chicks when they are born, they are fed by a bird who is not their real mother. Can they see how this relates to the novel?
The title is clearly allegorical in its intent. The “cuckoo’s nest” is the hospital, and the one who “flew over” it is McMurphy. The full nursery rhyme is quoted in Part 4 by the chief, as he remembers his childhood while awaking from a shock treatment. It was part of a childhood game played with him by his Indian Grandmother:
Ting. Tingle, tingle, tremble toes, she’s a good fisherman, catches hens, puts ‘em inna pens…wire blier, limber lock, three geese inna flock…one flew east, one flew west, one flew over the cuckoo’s nest…O-U-T spells out…goose swoops down and plucks you out.
You should try to work out who the characters in the rhyme relate to in the novel. It is also worth mentioning at this point the symbolism of birds which runs throughout the novel.
Try to link to Chief and McMurphy, the goose who flies over the cuckoo’s nest is McMurphy, the “chief bullgoose loony”; the one he “plucks out” is the chief, who escapes at the end of the novel following McMurphy’s teaching.
In the line “Tingle, tingle tremble toes” is clearly the Big Nurse, who catches the inmates like hens and encourages them to peck one another to death in the “pen” of the ward, where they are kept locked in. That she is “a good fisherman,” a “fisher of men,” recalls McMurphy’s fishing expedition and its symbolic overtones linking McMurphy with Christ, but her purpose is to imprison, rather than to liberate, her catch.