“They’re out there. Black boys in white suits up before me to commit sex acts in the hall and get it mopped up before I can catch them. They’re mopping when I come out the dorm, all three of them sulky and hating everything, the time of day, the place they’re at here, the people they got to work around.”
One of the United State’s most controversial novels of all time.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was Ken Kesey’s first novel and by far his most popular. Published in 1962 while still attending university, it rose to immediate fame. The story examines the human mind, psychotherapy, and outdated psychiatry practices.
Both schools and libraries alike have banned this novel ever since its release. It was deemed to be counter-culture; values or movements that go against the norm, or in other words, something that goes against mainstream society. Many believed that it was too violent, corrupting young minds, as well as glorifying criminal behaviour. It even resulted in one teacher being fired for promoting the book.
It tells the story of an Oregon State mental hospital and its unique patients. Nurse Ratched runs the ward like a dictator, setting timetables and rules to keep everyone in line. As a result, nobody’s happy and everyone wants to rebel. When the charismatic McMurphy arrives, he decides to break down this structure and gets the other patients to help him. From antagonizing Nurse Ratched to setting up fishing trips with prostitutes to smuggling drugs, alcohol, and girls into the psychiatric ward, he fulfils his wish. What he doesn’t count on, however, is Nurse Ratched getting her own revenge.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is one of the most influential novels of the twentieth century and is the cause of much debate even today.
It’s one of the very few novels that critiques the healthcare system. Kesey wrote this story purely for that exact purpose. He criticises mental hospitals and their inhumane treatment of their patients and he doesn’t back down when challenged. He gives a voice to the outcasts of society and stands up for them like so many others have failed to do before.
Once McMurphy is introduced, the novel becomes humorous and enjoyable. He’s a prankster at heart and plays numerous jokes on both patients and staff alike. By far the highlight of the book, his jokes add another level of entertainment to the story.
Kesey has mastered the art of writing poetically yet lightly. His descriptions of characters read fluidly and almost charmingly without becoming heavy prose. It’s easy to read and intrigues the reader, drawing them into the story. Yet there are still some incredibly long paragraphs that are difficult to get through. Some sections of the book are dull and seem to drag on forever. On one hand, it adds to the realism of Chief being mentally ill, as his mind constantly wanders. On the other hand, it can be a struggle to read.
The novel is unapologetically racist. The majority of the characters are white middle-aged men who don’t censor their thoughts. The protagonist, Chief, is constantly belittled for being half Native American. But even Chief himself has discriminatory thoughts throughout the story. As well as that, there are only three notable women, all of whom are treated horrendously. Nurse Ratched plays the role of the villain and yet still suffers. The only other female characters are two ditzy prostitutes whose names are unknown. As well as that, most of the characters are misogynistic at some point or another.
Overall, I’d give Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest a one out of five. Although a staple piece for the counter-culture movement, it’s difficult to read and not always enjoyable. If you are a school or college student reading this for class, then continue reading. If not, then I’d only recommend this novel to those with an interest in psychological suspense or the history of psychiatry.
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