I always like to read a little background on a book or author before I sink my teeth into their work. As a good researcher, I looked to Wikipedia for some quick insight into Kesey’s influence and motivation to write One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. According to Wiki, Kesey had worked at a Veteran’s hospital while in college and much of his influence on the book came from his conversations with the patients (and his own imagination under hallucinogenic drugs).
Knowing that Kesey was probably under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs, made reading this book more enjoyable. I was never an English major nor very good at book reports to tell you what Chief Bromden or McMurphy represents. I’m also not going to reiterate what everyone else has said about this book. However, what I can do as someone who works with and reads a lot of books, is recommend this to everyone who has ever felt a little unsure about life.
One Flew East
The book opens with Chief Bromden narrating his experiences in the hospital and meeting McMurphy, who seems to be disrupting patient life according to the staff and nurses. However, to the reader, we are still trying to understand every patient’s dynamic and McMurphy confuses us more. The first part of the book is like stepping into wonderland, well more like being dropped into a 1960s hospital nightmare where nothing makes sense even with Chief Bromden as your guide.
If you are a Beatles fan or read anything by Timothy Leary, I would take their advice when reading this book, “Whenever in doubt, turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream”. I had to stop myself a few times as I read this book. Stop me from questioning who the characters are. Stop me from reading too fast. (And stop picturing Jack Nickolson as McMurphy). And once I stopped, I was able to understand what Kesey was trying to say.
One Flew West
After the first part, Kesey’s writing style changes. It’s hard to explain. If you read a lot of fiction, you may recognize this change. Once the author is done setting the scene, introducing characters, and providing rules, then the story really gets good. In Kesey’s case, his writing style and formula improved as well.
And once the rules were laid out, McMurphy begins to break them all.
The rest of the parts are chaotic and poetic all at once. If you only watched the movie and decided to read the book, as I have, you quickly realize the underwhelming importance of Chief Bromden in the film. In my Wiki research, Kesey was not pleased to discover the McMurphy’s character became the main character of the movie over Bromden. After reading the book, I can see why. Throughout the book, we not only sympathize through Bromden but we also understand the world as seen by Kesey and the society which he rebelled against.
The entire book is about breaking rules, rebelling against those in power (“The Combine” as Chief Bromden puts it), and the repercussions. Of the reviews, I have read (all two of them), the theme of individuality and the state of psychiatric hospital overpowers another theme in the book; repercussions. Not just the repercussions from Nurse Ratched but the repercussions from the patients themselves. And I think this is what many authors focused on while Kesey constantly reminds you of it.
And One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Over the summer I moved with my partner in hopes of starting a new chapter in our lives. To our surprise, it was like stepping into a completely new world. Like McMurphy, we were thrust into a place with different rules, different expectations, and a different way of communicating. This different place has a unique definition of “normal”. My partner and I have created our own normal, moving to different states for college, living as far away from our parents as possible, and living by our own rules.
Now that we are getting closer to settling down or as his mom puts it “put down roots”, we are beginning to choose where we belong and where we do not. It has become apparent that we do not belong here. I related to Kesey’s characters so much, especially when they questioned Nurse Ratched (they were essentially questioning society). They kept asking why these rules and why they cannot be changed.
And the repercussion of changing or not changing a rule, directly affected the patients, never Nurse Ratched. That is because Nurse Ratched always controlled the rules and the ward. I wonder what Kesey was trying to tell us there. Maybe he was trying to warn us, that change cannot only happen within the individual but must also happen within the society (or at least those who control it).
“Because he knows you have to laugh at the things that hurt you just to keep yourself in balance, just to keep the world from running you plumb crazy.”
If you think I am talking nonsense, then I recommend that you read this book. If you think I am making perfect sense, then read this book! Enjoy the poetic chaos, as Kesey takes you to a place that seems oddly familiar. And if you need to take a breather, make yourself a cosmo