Monday, January 12, 2015

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

by Zane Cassum

When most hear the title One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, they aren’t quick to associate it with Ken Kesey; if anything, the first name to come to mind is Jack Nicholson, the actor who portrays the protagonist in the film adaptation of the novel. After seeing the movie, most would dismiss reading the book as unnecessary. Perhaps it’s because I experienced them in the opposite order, but I’m one of the few who will insist that the book puts the movie to shame. Kesey himself agrees with me; in fact he was so frustrated with the film that he walked off the set--and if you take the time to read and then watch, you’ll understand why.

But on to the book. The story is told from the perspective of Chief Bromden, a half-Indian man believed to be deaf and dumb by his fellow inmates in the mental ward in which he’s institutionalized (although early on, we find out it’s merely an act). Through the eyes of the silent Chief Bromden, Kesey paints the world with the images of a man brought to insanity by constant trauma and abuse from society, which he nicknames “The Combine”, from things like over-analysis of human tendencies to outlandish night time hallucinations.

The humdrum life of the mental institution is disrupted by the arrival of Randall McMurphy, a rowdy troublemaker who doesn’t appear to be insane as much as he does out of place. The challenges that McMurphy poses to the autocratic rule of Head Nurse Ratched, the director of the ward, are exactly the troubles that Chief Bromden wants to see the Combine face. Kesey uses Bromden to reflect his analysis of the systematic American society through the simple, mind-numbing procedures of the ward, while building a cast of characters in the institution that a reader can become personally invested in.

Apparently there’s all sorts of allegory between Kesey’s characters and psychological identity, but, to be honest, I don’t know about any of that stuff and I’m not going to act like I do. The book is great, the movie’s also worth a watch, and if it doesn’t make you think too much you’ll at least enjoy seeing the characters interact in the ward. I recommend One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to any reader, particularly those who feel like they’re having issues with their identity.

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