Do you know the feeling when you finish a book and then it stays In your head for a very long time? The answer is probably positive. The book that literally changed my life is “One flew over the cuckoo’s nest” by Ken Kesey. If you don’t read it, you may have seen the movie based on this story with the same title with a brilliant role of Jack Nicholson. You may see his speech while receiving the Oscar – click here. No more digressions, let’s start!
In 1962 Ken Kesey published his first book and thereby changed the history of an American novel. The book has been included on the list “100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005” published by Time Magazine. It was also adapted as a play in 1963 by Dale Wasserman.
The story is set in a psychiatric hospital with the narration of Chief Bromden who has been a patient for ten years. He wants bo invisible so he presents himself as deaf and mute. He tells the story of a normal routine on the ward that changes with Randle McMuprhy. The rebellous man decides to fake insanity to avoid a prison work farm. Unaware of the rules of Nurse Ratched he thinks that can spend his time mainly gambling with patients. Chief describes exactly what happens when two different characters meet. McMurphy understands very well that every single move against Nurse Rachted Is a sign of rebellion, not only for him, but also for the others. At the very beginning patients are afraid of loosing their daily routine, but then, Randle shows them that he is not afraid of being sent to the Disturbed Ward. He does whatever he can just to upset Big Nurse. She knows that patients should obey the rules. This is the main rule. What to do with somebody who doesn’t cooperate and ruins her work? The rest of patients seem to be normal. They are aware that they need to well behave. If they don’t there are many different ways to make them obedient like shock therapy. Big Nurse realizes that McMurphy rebels against her iron fist by having no use for her. He is different. He doesn’t follow the rules. What’s more, other patients treat their encounters as a kind of entertainment and that’s something she can’t stand.
I don’t want to reveal all mains events in the story so that you can read the book and see what happens on the last page. The story seems to be simple, one man spends some time in a mental hospital and tries to deal with the daily routine. This is just a surface. Ken Kesey’s novel is full of symbols. That’s what I really love in it – its multi-layers context. Chief sees the whole society as the Combine. He seems that he doesn’t fit so he needs to spend the rest of his life on the ward. But thanks to McMurphy he starts to treat himself as an individual. After Nurse Ratched’s therapy he can’t be cured, but after spending time with McMurphy Chief regains his faith in his humanity. In addition, the image of women presented in the book is extremely sad. We can only take to prostitutes, except for them, women are presented in a very unattractive way as a overpowered and threatening figures.
To read this book is not enough. To truly see what the author meant You need to understand it. To achieve that You need to read carefully the title. Ken Kesey took it from a nursery rhyme:
Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn,
Apple seed and apple thorn,
Wire, briar, limber lock
Three geese in a flock
One flew East
One flew West
And one flew over the cuckoo’s nest
Have you ever seen the cuckoo’s nest? Well I guess nobody has. Even if you are not an ornithologist you may know that cuckoos don’t build their nests. Their children are raised by other birds. It must be read as an allegory, McMurphy is the one who flew over this nest. He passes the border and does something that seems to be impossible.
The most beautiful thing about this book is the fact that you can read it many times and every single time you can go deeper and deeper. You can spot the power of laughter in the book and than you may focus on the sexuality issue. Every single dialogue is powerful. There are plenty of symbols that you may undertsnad in many different ways – like for instance the white whale on the McMurphy’s boxer shorts. Does it sound to you like Moby Dick?
This novel will stay in your mind for a very long time. It will – trust me. So powerful and up-to-date. The story of our live in a modern society, roles that we need to play and punishments for those who refuse to do it. This novel is also about humanity, our treatment of mentally ill people, and about our fight for our own freedom and our dignity.
Don’t wait – read it. Fly into the Cuckoo’s Nest!