One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey

I read this book when I was young, it was an amazing book back then but I totally missed the point of it. The fact that I think there are many possible points to it is rather irrelevant as I missed them all back then. I just knew it was an amazing and moving book with an accompanying movie starring Jack Nicholson.

One of the pieces of work we need to produce for English this semester is a piece of writing based on Whose Reality? We’re initially looking at Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller and while we have to write something about that play we also have the opportunity to freewheel and write an essay or a short story on anything else we desire so long as the basis is Whose Reality? My mind happened to focus on one particular character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey as I watched the movie a few weeks ago so I reread the book taking notes looking at Billy Bibbit. Today I’m scribbling a few words here about my journey and my discoveries about the book and movie.

The book is narrated by Chief Bromden, a half native who has everyone fooled into thinking he is both deaf and dumb so he’s mostly ignored by staff and inmates alike and therefore manages to eavesdrop on some important conversations. The movie focuses much more on Randle McMurphy with Chief Bromden being a far smaller character. This is something I can understand although I don’t condone it. Being both deaf and dumb makes it much harder to be the central character in a movie but I do so love Bromden, his metamorphosis leads us through the story in such as a way as to show us how the rest of the group change and grow and become more emotionally healthy. Having said that I also love how Will Sampson portrays the Chief. It’s also awesome to see young men such as Danny de Vito and Christopher Lloyd.

 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

The story could be about many different things and I’m sure I can justify each one but that’s not what I’m doing here and now, I’m just going to lay the ideas out on the line. It could be the story of a mental institution and their inmates with the inmates growing understanding and coming to terms with their illness. It could be the story of men feeling overwhelmed by the women in their life and their battle to have control i.e. men’s lib. It could be about the story of McMurphy and how he tries to make life easy for himself until he can escape back out into the real world. It could be about Us and Them, the struggle for people on two sides of the equation to come to terms with each other, or even the fight between the emerging class and the ruling class with McMurphy being the catalyst. One of the things I find interesting is how we’re told the medical staff are there to make the inmates feel better and work out how to fit in with society but it’s the radical man, McMurphy, who actually does the work by rebelling against the system.

Whatever it is about it is an amazing novel and I think the fact that I can see so many possibilities within it is testament to the excellent writing and how good the novel actually is. It is not an easy novel to read and it’s taken me most of two weeks, the writing is fairly dense and you really have to pay attention to everything, most especially the Chief’s hallucinations as they are a good part of what is happening and you need to watch when they slow down and stop.

Just in case you don’t have it sitting on your shelf, as I do, here’s a link for you to buy it. This is the actual book, and there are a number of different editions but I’ve gone for the cheapest. Just to show how influential this book has been I’m also linking to a book that looks really interesting Mental Illness in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Next by Dedria Bryfonsky, it’s not entirely based on the Kesey book but does seem to be informed by it, just look at the listing and you’ll see what I mean.

2 thoughts on “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey

  1. Deborah

    Thanks for sharing Suzie. I’ve not read this and I’ve not even seen the film. My brother has a copy so I might see if I can borrow it because it sounds as if there’s lots of different textures there (and it’s deeper than I’d imagined it to be).


    1. mattling

      You’re most welcome. It’s incredibly deep, I think the more experience you have the deeper it is. I’m sure we studied it when I was young and I couldn’t see so much in it then. If you want to wait until we’ve finished this unit I’m sure I can send you my copy.

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