By: Ken Kesey
Chief Bromden is surrendering to a life of living in the fog. In the mental ward which has been his home for many years, the Big Nurse has ruled with an iron fist easily demoralizing all who oppose her. For most of his life, people have treated Chief as a big deaf and dumb Indian, so he plays along with the role. He watches and listens because no one knows he can. But after living this tiring existence for so long, it would be easier to simply slip away into his own mind and never emerge again, that is, until the arrival of a new patient, Randle Patrick McMurphy.
Full of life and laughter with a brawling personality, the new inmate stands to oppose the Big Nurse and the system Chief calls The Combine. McMurphy’s heroic attempts to shape and change the ward radically affect those around him. But will this larger-than-life personality change the ward for the better or only stand to make the system work harder to squash them all? Who will be victorious, and is victory even a possibility?
I watched the movie adaptation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest years ago before I read this book. I knew what happened. I knew what was coming, and I still choked up at the end probably because the novel provided a deeper look into Chief’s mind than we could ever get from the movie. This novel is a bittersweet pill that I think everyone should swallow.
Does the book have flaws? Absolutely. There are issues of racism and sexism with the way the novel was written, but I don’t think it detracts from the overall message. I would just suggest that you recognize the biases and not let the stereotypes affect your judgment of real people.
Does the book always make sense? No, but that’s the point.
You must sometimes dig through Chief’s analogies and hallucinations to find the real meaning of what he’s trying to get at. Read between the lines. The more you read, the more sense everything will start to make, and frankly, the sadder you may become. That’s one of the beautiful things about this novel, and why I think it’s so powerful. We, as a society, forget how much people with mental illnesses are stigmatized. We stop seeing them as equally human and treat them as lesser beings because we demand an order and unity to our world that’s unrealistic. Somehow, we think if we can control people who are “different” and remove them from society and that society will be better. Maybe we could even rehabilitate some of those people to become the upstanding citizens we want them to be. Are they still themselves afterward? Who cares as long as they conform?
We forget that mentally ill people are human. We forget that they have the ability to listen and watch and wait.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is funny at times and painful at others. It’s a must-read for everyone and has forever made the mark as one of my favorite books of all time.
Overall rating: 5