One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, written by Ken Kesey in 1962, is a book about a lively con man that turns a mental institution upside down with his rambunctious antics and sporadic bouts with the head nurse. Throughout the book, this man shows the others in the institution how to stand up for themselves, to challenge conformity to society and to be who they want to be. It is basically a book of good versus evil, the good being the con man R.P. McMurphy, and the bad being the head nurse, Nurse Ratched. McMurphy revitalizes the hope of the patients, fights Nurse Ratched's stranglehold on the ward, and, in a way, represents the feelings of the author on society at the time.

Before R.P. McMurphy arrives, the ward is your basic average mental institution. Men line up to receive their medication, they do puzzles and play cards, and the evil head nurse and her muscle, a group of big black fellows, carry patients off to be shaved or for electroshock therapy. The people can't do anything about it, though. After all, some of them are vegetables, and according to society they're all nuts. Then one fateful day, McMurphy blows in and breathes some fresh air into the ward. He's loud, he cracks jokes, and, as he said of himself, "I'm a gambling fool…and whenever I meet with a deck of cards I lays…my money…down." Nobody was sure whether he was crazy or he was just acting like it to get out of the work camp he transferred from. Soon enough people realized that either way, he had it out for Nurse Ratched.

At first, the head nurse Nurse Ratched, tries to ignore him. After all, plenty like himself had come and gone. Most of them had been treated with a little electroshock and they were down to normal, or as normal as someone in a nuthouse could be. She tried to get him to the shower, a cleaning process all incoming patients have to go through. He says that he's plenty clean. Soon it became clear he had to be dealt with. He taught the patients how to play blackjack, and he even had a deck of cards with pictures of naked ladies on them. He also tried to teach a large Indian man (who was the narrator of the story) to play basketball.

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He tried to get the work schedules changed so the guys could watch the World Series, and he snuck into the nurses' station to turn down the loud waltz music they always played. Basically, McMurphy was the protagonist who would screw up Nurse Ratched's perfect system, which seemed almost automatic and robotic at times. The patients and nurse have a group therapy session. This is where everyone can talk about things they've done that bother them. McMurphy points out that Ratched is controlling them, and he has her all figured out. He says that they are like a bunch of chickens, pecking out the weakest one. Ratched uses divide and conquer to keep the patients under control. He also said of his fellow patients, "Jesus, I mean you guys do nothing but complain about how you can't stand it in this place here and then you haven't got the guts just to walk out? What do you think you are for Christ sake, crazy or something? Well, you're not! You're not! You're no crazier than the average [explicit] out walking around on the streets." This signified that he believed they could be cured. Later on in the book, a patient named Billy Bibbit regained his masculinity after he had sex with a woman, but soon after Ratched cut him back down and he committed suicide. This also shows the nurse's power over the ward. The nurse was like the mongoose to McMurphy's snake, or the snake to his mongoose. I don't know animals. Either way, the clash between the two was a metaphor for the society author Ken Kesey was living in.

McMurphy's rebellion against Nurse Ratched is a metaphor for the counterculture movement of the time. He represented the free spirited hippies who believed everyone deserved a shot at happiness, while the nurse represented the man, corporations, those who wanted everything to be uniform and nothing to be spontaneous. McMurphy slowly converts everyone to his side. They've hated the big nurse for so long, but they never had a leader to help them become vocal until now. Kesey had plenty of experience with this counterculture. The Chief, the narrator of the book, was actually inspired by LSD. Ken Kesey had himself worked at a hospital as an orderly, and his experimentation with drugs led to a hallucination of a large Indian man sweeping the halls. Many of the characters in the book were inspired by his old job. He was even sued by a lady who believed Nurse Ratched was based off of her and made her look bad.

McMurphy gave hope to the patients by fighting against the nurse-tatorship of Nurse Ratched, which symbolized the fight between corporate America and the hippie counterculture. In a way, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest influenced society as much as society influenced it. College students everywhere read it just as they were beginning to rebel, and it is considered a masterpiece. It was even transferred to the silver screen, with Jack Nicholson starring as R.P. McMurphy. I felt this was an excellent book. It was humorous, but it also represented the great struggle of good versus evil, and the worth of self-reliance, independence, and courage.
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