This book is one of those that had sat on my TBR list for about two years but for some reason every time I saw it in the bookshop I opted to buy something else instead. But what better time to catch up with the TBR list than during this big lockdown? And I have to say I regret not having read this book sooner. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest written by Ken Kesey is a story of a man in an Oregon psychiatric hospital with a narrative that serves as a study of the institutional processes that take place and how the human mind copes with it. It’s a study and critique of behaviourism and a tribute to individualistic principles.
‘Chief’ Bromden narrates the story, a giant yet calm half-Native American patient who pretends to be deaf and mute. The book mainly follows the antics of Randle Patrick Murphy who faked insanity to serve his sentence for battery and gambling in a hospital rather than a prison work farm. Murphy is the main focus of the story, with his arguments with the head administrative nurse, Nurse Ratched, invoking a sort of rebellion with the other patients. Throughout the novel, Ratched rules with complete authority and has become accustomed to not having any negative backlash from her patients, some of whom are entirely incapable of speech.
Most of the men in the psychiatric hospital are there because they are either a danger to themselves or the public. They are heavily medicated, which makes them more susceptible to control and so when a character like Murphy who in reality has no business being there can cause a lot of waves. Throughout the book, there unfolds a cataclysmic event which changes the perception of many characters and their behaviour.
One of the reasons that this book has been so popular was it was written (1959) and published (1962) during the Civil Rights movement, where there was a spotlight on how psychology and psychiatry in America. Kesey had worked as an orderly in a mental health facility in Menlo Park, California, which I think heavily influenced his writing of this book.
Though the book is centred around a sad topic of the treatment and life of people living inside a psychiatric hospital, I found the book enjoyable to read. The character development was perfect, and I didn’t feel that characters were over or under-represented in their importance to understanding the story. In some books, I have found that there is a large concentration of the story on a character who ends up being unimportant to the story itself, whereas I didn’t experience that in this book. I highly recommend that anyone read this book, and I’m wondering if anyone has seen the film and whether it’s worth a watch.
Until next time,