Monday, August 30, 2010

# 32 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Penguin Classics)So last week I headed down the path of mental illness with Slyvia Plath's The Bell Jar. I decided I would head a little further down that path and started One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey.

For those of you who haven't read or heard of the book or seen then the movie, this book is about the residents of a mental health facility. The residents in the ward have a fairly structured existence ruled by the iron-fist of Nurse Ratched. Of course, this is only the case until a new patient by the name of Randle Patrick McMurphy arrives. McMurphy is a big, brawling, drinking, gambling trouble maker. Almost as soon as he arrives, McMurphy sets about shaking things up and declares war against the domineering Nurse Ratched.

This book took me much longer than I anticipated to finish, though I'm not sure why. It's a good story, very funny in many places. It's compelling as well, I spent most of the book wondering if McMurphy is really crazy. They hint at the fact that he may be faking it to get out of working but that begs the question. If you'd rather be locked up than go to work, isn't that a little crazy? Sometimes I thought McMurphy was a psychopath and other times, I thought he was just an asshole. In fact, by the end of the book you start questioning whether the rest of the inmates are really crazy or just misunderstood, especially the supposedly mute narrator. Maybe I was just drinking the kool-aid.

I did feel a little bad for Nurse Ratched. I know she's supposed to be a massive dictator but I saw her a woman just trying to do her job. She's just trying to keep order and keep everything under control, something that is rather important for someone in her position.

Overall, it was a fun read and I rather enjoyed it. I've never seen the movie, with Jack Nicholson, and I was lucky enough that Netflix has it available to watch instantly, so I am watching it as I type before I move on from the crazies for awhile.

5 comments:

Roof Beam Reader said...

I absolutely loved this book; I probably prefer it to The Bell Jar, not that they can be compared. Both have been listed on the ALA's banned books list, which is a huge plus for me. :)

I have to disagree with you on this:
I did feel a little bad for Nurse Ratched. I know she's supposed to be a massive dictator but I saw her a woman just trying to do her job. She's just trying to keep order and keep everything under control, something that is rather important for someone in her position.

I don't feel sorry for her one bit. She's quite sadistic, from what I can recall. Sure, she's dealing with difficult people, but where's the compassion? I think the point of the novel, really, was the utter dysfunctionality of the mental healthcare facilities and treatments in the U.S. at the time. It wasn't until around this time that mentally ill/challenged people had even begun to be treated as people with rights, rather than as test dummies.

My opinion, anyway. I don't think I've ever written a proper review for this book, though. I might have to go back and re-read it so I can review it.

Reading Rachel said...

I see your point but we see Nurse Ratched from the point of view of a patient, which makes me wonder if it's not skewed a little bit. It reminds me a bit of listening to my 13 year old niece complain about what an awful, unfeeling, un-understanding man her dad is. Yet, someone removed from the situation I can see that he's just trying to keep her out of trouble.

Also, like you mention, this is the way it was done in that time. Not saying that's ok because it's not. I agree that the purpose of the book is to illustrate the awful treatment of mental patients up until recently. However, in that time the Nurse was using the training and tools she had been given. I didn't see her as really sadistic though. The shock treatments, lobotomies and what not are seen as inhumane now but then it was standard procedure. I didn't get that she was enjoying that, it's just what you did when a patient got out of line. Thank God we've moved on from that line of thinking.

Perhaps she could have used a bit more compassion but it points out that she's been there a long long time and I could see how dealing with those types of individuals day in and day out would just desensitize you after time. She's not a perfect woman for sure but after all the talk I've heard about the evil, sadistic Nurse Ratched (the character is a bit infamous) she really didn't live up to that reputation for me.

Roof Beam Reader said...

We'll have to agree to disagree on this one. Until I re-read the book and can make a more compelling argument when it is all fresh in my mind. ;)

Pat Tillett said...

This is one of my favorite all time books. The movie was pretty darn good also. Part of what made it so good, is the time frame in which it was release. Kesey has some other works (off the list) that are also very good....
good review. I agree with you about Ratched, I viewed her as a victim who was trapped just as much as the patient.

booksploring said...

I really should read this book! It's one of those ones I've been meaning to read for years and start kicking myself for not reading it every times someone brings it up in conversation!

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