Sunday, 20 March 2011

One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

GENRE: American novel/drama/adult fiction

Boisterous, ribald, and ultimately shattering, this is the unforgettable story of a mental ward and its inhabitants, especially the tyrannical Big Nurse Ratched and Randle Patrick McMurphy, the brawling, fun-loving new inmate who resolves to oppose her. We see the struggle through the eyes of Chief Bromden, the seemingly mute half-Indian patient who witnesses and understands McMurphy's heroic attempt to do battle with the awesome power of the Combine. Hailed upon its publication as "a glittering parable of good and evil" (The New York Times Book Review) and "a roar of protest against middlebrow society's Rules and the invisible Rulers who enforce them" (Time), this powerful book is as bracing and insightful today as it was in the 1960s.

One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest is an extraordinary story about an individual standing up against a group of people trying to suppress his true self. It takes place in a mental institution in the 1960s and showcases the strength of the human mind, as well as that the stronger the human mind is, the more it will be suppressed. For me, this book was a read that has stayed with me and I will gladly return to it in the future.

The story is narrated by ‘Chief’ Bromden, a Native-American who is a large man, but he is very docile and pretends to be deaf and mute. This way, he can make himself invisible and stay out of harm’s way, as well as be a silent witness to everything that happens in the mental institution where he is a patient. He is a paranoid schizophrenic, which makes the story very interesting to read. His narration is full of imagery that is a delight to read and for which Kesey can be nothing but complimented. At times, the narration is confusing when Bromden’s schizophrenic tendency grows strong and claims him, but not confusing in a bad sense. The reader is put in a very interesting position, seeing the story through the eyes of a mental patient, trying to see the truth through Bromden’s unstable mind.

The organized, never-changing life at the mental institution changes when a new patient arrives. He is Randle Patrick McMurphy, who faked insanity to serve his sentence in the hospital instead of in a prison cell. It is obvious from the start that he is a rebel and a free-thinker. He defies the rigid laws of the hospital whenever he can, trying to minimize the tyrannical rule of Nurse Ratched, the main antagonist of the novel. McMurphy wants to free the patients’ minds. He wants them to act out, to stand up for themselves and not always do what they are told to do. He is a great example of an individual expressing himself freely and Nurse Ratched, his opponent, is a perfect example of a society trying to suppress the freedom of thinking and speech.

I really enjoyed the antagonistic relationship between McMurphy and Nurse Ratched, a prim lady-like woman who looks docile, but her calm is poisonous and all she wants to do is suppress and have the patients follow her rule. Their patient-nurse relationship was fun, as well as intense to read about. Every battle has a winner and I was very anxious about the outcome of their battle.

Life in a mental institution is presented well. What I liked was the already-forming idea that people with mental problems are not crazy, but simply need help. In the 1960s, however, electroconvulsive therapy and lobotomy were, sadly, still practiced in mental institutions and they are badly misused in the novel by Nurse Ratched. She does not use these methods to help, but to have patients succumb to her. On a more symbolic level, I believe Kesey presented brainwashing and the sadness of using it.
The novel offers very strong themes that make one think. They are presented through a number of very interesting mental patients. They all stand out in their own ways, but most of these characters are not aware of their own individualism. Only McMurphy is aware of himself as a free, individualistic person and he wants his fellow inmates to break free from the yoke of Nurse Ratched. He is an extremely brave and inspiring individual for whom I cannot imagine not impressing the reader.

The ending was partly expected, but one bit surprised and shocked me. Yet still, it gives one hope. Sometimes, it is enough to have one warrior stand up for the rest. Despite suppression, the seed of freedom can begin to bloom in the mind and that is worth a lot.

I recommend this novel to everyone, no matter your usual reading preferences. This novel is a classic for a reason.

THIS MISS RATES: / (4.5 stars)


The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

After not really liking the movie (I am not a Jack Nicholson fan), I figured I would never read the book. But your review of it is so good and I think Bromden's narration would be super interesting especially as I already know the basic story.

Teacher/Learner said...

I'm so glad you loved this book, as it's one of my favourites. Amazing, isn't it? I would also highly recommend the movie as it's quite true to the story & characters.

Blueicegal ♥ said...

Wow sound amazing, I just got it from the library so can't wait to dig in!

Julie P said...

I really need to read this book. I think it is one I would enjoy. Thanks for sharing, Irena....

Blodeuedd said...

I do like that you read classics, I haven't even seen the movie ;)

Jan von Harz said...

This was a very popular book when I was young and Jack Nicholas played the role of Randle extremely well. Sadly, I use to work in a mental institution in the 70's and changes were slow coming. I actually took care of patients who had had lobotomies. Great review!