one flew over the cuckoo’s nest by k kesey


How do you define normal behavior?  What standards do we rely on to judge between normal and abnormal?  I feel as though centuries ago, our civilization had a shorter list of psychological diagnoses.  As society evolved and modernized, people began to dub new “sophisticated” terms to issues and people that deviated from what was believed to be the “norm”.  Even just a few decades ago, people were involuntarily admitted to mental hospitals if they displayed any kind of unusual behavior that could not be clearly understood or academically addressed.  Unfortunately, many of the patients taken to mental wards were misconstrued as having mental disabilities.  Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was written in 1962, in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement.  It was also during the time when new psychiatry methods, particularly lobotomy, were becoming more widespread as alternative treatments to medicine.

The book must have been an alarmingly loud wake up call to the American community; it was banned in the early 1970’s due to its supposedly violent expressions and behaviors displayed by the characters, or perhaps for its brutal truth as it accurately mirrored the society at the time.  Cuckoo’s Nest follows the voice of a half-Native American inmate, “Chief” Bromden, who is thought to be mute and deaf.  His big physical features fail to camouflage his rather docile personality. He diligently cleans the hospital floors while staying completely off the radar for trouble or animosity… Until Randy McMurphy self checks-in to the ward, refuting his sanity to avoid a jail sentence.  Bromden, then,  almost immediately is hypnotized by McMurphy’s rebellious and aggressive character, which shakes up the entire institution as he challenges the entire psychiatric system by antagonizing the head nurse, leading a constant struggle between her and the inmates.  Soon, McMurphy befriends Bromden and other inmates and they delve into a sequence of rambunctious behaviors.   When even electro-therapy sessions fall short to restrain McMurphy, he is sent to the Disturbed Ward, where is undergoes lobotomy.  And it is McMurphy’s vegetative state following the lobotomy that converts Bromden from being submissive to becoming revolutionary…

The entire book overflows with details of thoughts and actions of all the characters.  At times, it is a bit slow to read but once the inmates join forces to defy authority and institutional expectations, the story goes quickly.  Reading this book has reminded me that an issue is only an issue if one makes it an issue.  Cuckoo’s Nest is a great example of suggesting how we should learn to contain certain situations than to create unnecessary problems.   Not a light summer read but definitely a read-before-you-die recommendation!

dee’s recommendation: 4/5