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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Mass Market Paperback – February 1, 1963
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“A work of genuine literary merit...What Mr. Kesey has done in his unusual novel is to transform the plight of a ward of inmates in a mental hospital into a glittering parable of good and evil.”—The New York Times Book Review
“[A] brilliant first novel...a strong, warm story about the nature of human good and evil...Keysey has made his book a roar of protest against middlebrow society's Rules and the invisible Rulers who enforce them.”—Time
“The final triumph of these men at the cost of a terrifying sacrifice should send chills down any reader's back....This novel's scenes have the liveliness of a motion picture.”—The Washington Post
“An outstanding book...[Kesey's] characters are original and real....This is a tirade against the increasing controls over man and his mind, yet the author never gets on a soap box. Nor does he forget that there is a thin line between tragedy and comedy.”—Houston Chronicle
About the Author
Ken Kesey (1935-2001) grew up in Oregon. He graduated from the University of Oregon and later studied at Stanford with Wallace Stegner, Malcolm Cowley, Richard Scowcroft, and Frank O' Connor. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, his first novel, was published in 1962. His second novel, Sometimes a Great Notion, followed in 1964. His other books include Kesey's Garage Sale, Demon Box, Caverns (with O. U. Levon), The Further Inquiry, Sailor Song, and Last Go Round (with Ken Babbs). His two children's books are Little Tricker the Squirrel Meets Big Double the Bear and The Sea Lion.
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McMurphy was at a work farm prison. He arranged to have himself transferred to the asylum - supposedly because it was easier and had better food than the work farm. Miss Ratched is the nurse who runs the ward. She is powerful like a dictator. She represents the System. She demands conformity and submission from her patients and will use evil and fear if she doesn't get it. The men on her ward are cowed by her - like rabbits. McMurphy is a loud, laughing (sort-of-con-man) who organizes card games and other activities for the men. She wants McMuprhy to conform but he refuses - even when he knows he will suffer at her hand. She has power over McMurphy because she determines when he may be released and what treatments she will give. She can order electric shock treatment and lobotomies if she wants.
This is tragedy - there is no happy ending. It is not an entertaining escape. This was assigned reading for my teenage son, and I read it out of curiosity. I'm glad I'm not in high school anymore and forced to read things like this. Unfortunately I regret my curiosity. It was no fun, but I can see value for classroom discussion with topics such as: the all-powerful system - you can't win but you can effect changes for others - although you may suffer or die as a result. All choices represent loss.
During the first half of the book my reaction was dreary. The second half was better. There were some interesting characters. There were some interesting events.
One interesting scene had a patient observing "Never before did I realize that mental illness could have the aspect of power." Gas station workers were making fun of the patients until McMurphy told them (a lie) that these patients were murderers which frightened the gas station workers. The patients then began "hard staring" at other people in nearby cars which frightened the other people.
One line that stayed in my mind (I don't know why) was on page 67. McMurphy says "As near as I can tell I'm no loony. Your nurse don't know this; she's not going to be looking out for somebody coming at her with a trigger-quick mind like I obviously got."
I wanted to know more about McMurphy's background, why he got arrested, and why he went to the asylum.
For me I couldn't get past the tragic ending. Yes a few good things happen to a few people, but too much bad happens which depressed me. The evil power continues to thrive. There was no justice. Sure the evil one suffered a couple of minor wounds, but evil wins in the end which depresses me.
Story length: 279 pages. Swearing language: strong, including religious swear words. Sexual language: moderate. Two sex scenes were referred to but not shown. Setting: around 1960 Oregon. Copyright: 1962. Genre: mental hospital tragedy.
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This book is shows that society doesn't change by itself.Read more