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on April 9, 2017
If you are intrigued by stories about the human condition, then you'll do no better than One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. This is an incredible story of how indomitable and influential the human spirit can be, even in the face of a manipulative and controlling system that cares little for anyone or anything beyond winning. An absolute must read!
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on June 25, 2016
Ken Kesey's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" was one of the most powerful books I have ever read. Although the story takes place mainly in a mental hospital, its ramifications can be felt in all of the broader society. The struggles depicted in the various characters, both internally and inter-personally, will give the reader pause and perhaps change your perception on life.

The story at its core encompasses the struggle between the individual (portrayed by Randall McMurphy) and the establishment (Portrayed by nurse Ratched.) It is told through the eyes of the schizophrenic half-Indian known as Chief Bromden. Bromden has pretended to be deaf and dumb for so long that everyone takes this fact for granted. It also allows him to overhear comments from the staff that others would not. The Chief is an interesting choice as narrator, and at times it seemed like he was rambling on about nothing. Unreliable narrators can be a touchy thing, but Kesey is able to navigate his way through the Chief's mind, and in time we find his ramblings have a purpose. He views the establishment as a machine, which he refers to as "the combine." He speaks of fog machines, wires in the walls, and robotic people, and views them as part of the combine. Even the name of the nurse, Ratched, sounds almost like "ratchet," which is a common tool. The Chief sees the struggle between the Big Nurse, as he calls Ratched, and McMurphy, and even though he has a sense right away that McMurphy is different, Bromden doesn't hold out much hope. After all, the combine is a massive machine and the Chief knows what it did to him. Bromden tells McMurphy he "used to be big," but not any more. The Chief's mother, a white woman from town, along with the government, broke down both he and his father and became bigger than both of them put together.

The antagonist is Ratched, an ex-army nurse who rules the ward with an iron fist. She preys on the weaknesses of the patients and attacks them in those areas. She is all about control and power, and over her long career has devised many ways of projecting this with a cold, machine-like efficiency. Ratched has hand picked her staff based on their cruelty and submissiveness. The Chief calls her "The Big Nurse," which reminds me of Orwell's Big Brother, and mentions early on that "The Big Nurse tends to get real put out if something keeps her outfit from running like a smooth, accurate, precision-made machine" (pg 24). Indeed the Chief sees her as a machine, part of the combine who's purpose is to make others small. Ratched represents the oppressive nature and de-humanization present in modern society.

And then there is Randle McMurphy. Sent to the ward from a work farm (because it's "easier" time), McMurphy comes in loud and confident. His singing and laughter are something new for the patients so used to suppressing their emotions. And he is definitely not the kind of patient the mechanical and repressive Nurse Ratched wants. It only takes McMurphy one group session to see Ratched's method of exposing the patient's weakest areas and pecking them into submission. Harding, the subject of the group meetings earlier frenzy, explains that it was all therapeutic. McMurphy, however, gives Harding his perception: "what she is is a ball-cutter. I've seen a thousand of 'em...people who try to make you weak so they can get you like they want you to. And the best way to do to weaken you by gettin' you where it hurts the worst" (pg 56). So McMurphy, ever the gambling man, makes a bet with his fellow patients that he would be able to make Ratched lose her composure, and he accomplished this by using her own tactics against her. As he pulls Bromden and the others out of the "fog" and makes them big again, McMurphy unwittingly becomes the savior of his fellow patients. It did not go un-noticed that the electroshock table was cross-shaped with the patient restrained by the wrists and feet and a "crown" placed over his head. When McMurphy rips Nurse Ratched's tightly starched uniform and exposes her breasts, he is symbolically exposing her hypocrisy and breaking the power she had once wielded over the patients. Chief Bromden's final act of mercy cemented Nurse Ratched's fall as well as giving McMurphy the dignity that he had earned.

Perhaps the largest piece of advice I pulled from this novel is to never let anyone or anything take your individuality. Society in general would like to have everyone fit into the same mold because then the people are easier to predict and control. However, we all need a McMurphy in our lives to show us that we can still be individuals and fit into society. And when The Combine tries to weaken you and make you conform, just throw your head back and laugh like McMurphy, "because he knows you have laugh at the things that hurt you just to keep yourself in balance, just to keep the world from running you plumb crazy" (pg 233).
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on February 4, 2016
Only half way thru the book and 'One Flew...' isn't what I expected although it's written fairly well. Written from the Chief's perspective most of the time, I guess I find it sometimes difficult to get what he's saying, maybe because it's the dialect or the choppy way he thinks. But then I refer back to the movie to see if I can put the book and movie together to picture what's going on. Frankly I'm amazed how Hollywood takes a book like this and makes a memorable classic movie that sticks with us and possibly changes the way we look at the world.
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on June 29, 2015
This is an amazing book. I didn’t read this until I hit thirty; the reason for this being I thought less of it due to having seen the film. The film is not bad, but for me One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest was its film version, full stop. I eventually decided to read the book after learning about the interesting life its author Ken Kesey lived, including that he wrote much of this book while working at a mental hospital.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest deals with the relationship between freedom and power, and about how mental illness develops when the power of others dominates an individual to such a great extent that he/she can no longer act free. The individuals in the hospital are shown by Kesey to be lacking in courage and self-belief, and demonstrate an unwillingness to act without permission and approval. While the hospital should be making patients better it actually makes them worse by actively discouraging attempts to be assertive and by labelling any attempt to act free from the constraints of institutional power as symptomatic of a worsening of the underlying disorder.

The book is told through the eyes of Chief Bowden: a part Indian man that has spent a long time in the hospital pretending to be deaf and mute. Through the subjective experiences of the Chief, Kesey presents the actual experiences of mental illness. Kesey in doing this dismisses the notion that mental illness is unreal but reveals how its treatment is sometimes abused to keep people in line. Chief Bowden experiences things through metaphorical hallucinations. For example, when speaking of the power held by the Big Nurse, he literally sees wires running from her office into the bodies of those that she controls. This conception of mental illness is similar to that found in R.D Laing’s book the Divided Self: the mentally ill person is someone that cannot face the pain of reality and retreats into their own realm, but reality still intrudes via metaphorical representations.

Throughout the novel Chief Bowden focuses on the power struggle taking place between Randle McMurphy and the Big Nurse. McMurphy is not in hospital voluntarily but has committed an offence which landed him on a work farm. He is transferred to the mental hospital partly of his own design to escape drudgery. McMurphy immediately emerges as a threat to the Big Nurse due to his willingness to question process and act without fear. He is not scared of authority and does not censor himself when confronted with the subtle shaming techniques of the Big Nurse.

The Big Nurse effectively runs the hospital. She is shown through the subjective eye of Chief Bowden to be solely concerned with maintaining her grip of power over the hospital. She is obsessed with process; she pretends to enforce process for the therapeutic value that the processes have on the patients, when in reality she loves the process because it is her process and provides her with a sense of security and power.

The interactions between McMurphy and Big Nurse question the extent to which people can be free. Sartre once argued that individuals are totally free so that even if facing the death penalty we are free to defy the executioners by mentally not accepting their interpretation of events and the descriptions placed on them. McMurphy is a Sartrean hero as he does not allow the views of others and the subtle attempts to shun and devalue him dictate how he behaves. However, as the book plays out Kesey demonstrates that living in this manner may not lead to a life of pleasure or fame but may involve the free person being crushed by power structures and processes that do not appreciate the questioning of where power lies.

I would argue that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest offers a modern presentation of the story found in the New Testament. Like Christ, McMurphy questions the powers of his time: in this case psychiatry and bureaucratic process rather than the Jewish religious leaders. Like Christ he questioned the intentions of the powers that be and acted as a free human rather than someone embarrassed by their true nature. Moreover, like Christ, McMurphy suffers at the hands of an authority that pretends to be in place for the concern of the many when in reality it gives power to the few, and in suffering on the Cross gives the weak a lasting sense of freedom.

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on May 18, 2013
Unlike most of my reviews, I really don't have a lot to say about this one. Most people have seen the awesome movie made from this book, starring Jack Nicholson, playing probably is most famous role, so I don't need to recount the details of the plot, which are nearly identical. Where the movie shines, and where the book doesn't is in the characters. The characters in the movie were much better than the book, they seemed stale and flat, even McMurphy and the Nurse in the book just didn't have half the impact that Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher hit you with in the movie. In the end, what this book really needs is a serious editing, because many of the chapters just drone on and on long after the author has made his point. He doesn't just beat the dead horse, he mangles it. However, fans of the movie will still see many of the great scenes in this book (which, like I said, are nearly identical in parts), and that at least has some appreciation value. I'm not sorry I read it, but the movie was just much better, and I can only truly say that about a handful of books.
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on October 6, 2016
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest takes place in Oregon. The title comes from a children’s rhyme: "One flew East, One flew West, One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest." Also, cuckoo means crazy, like the mental patients in this book.
Written in the 1960's, Kesey offers an excellent look of what it was like to be in a mental ward. He wrote the harsh and awful truth and doesn't try to make it seem like a pleasant place; There are many plot twist and turns, keeping one interested and wanting to read further. In brief, the plot involves the conflict between patients and ward staff. This conflict between Big Nurse or the ward is seen through the eyes of many characters, namely Chief and RP McMurphy. R.P is a small-time criminal who thought life in a mental ward would be easier than hard labor in prison. He soon learn that isn't close to what he anticipated; it's a lot more daunting The characters are each distinctly different and full of personality. Chief quiet and meek, pretends to be deaf and dumb, but later learn how deeply his stay in the ward has altered him. RP is loud, unexpected, and commanding. He has silent standoff with the nurse to see who is really in charge of the ward. With a captivating plot and outlandish cast of characters this book is definitely a read.
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on August 24, 2011
Everyone must be familiar with the movie based on this novel by now. It's one of the very few cases where both the novel and the movie (while differing in places) are excellent. I've read this book a number of times, and each time I find it just as enjoyable.

It's written from the viewpoint of Chief Bromden, who seems to have a paranoia that given many of the circumstances of his life, have a basis in reality. He's witnessed the crushing subjugation of his people to powers beyond control, his father formerly a strong native American Chief bent and twisted under the weight of it and reduced to alcoholism. Bromden is physically large and powerful, but his beliefs have seen him put away in a mental institution, where he does not speak or give any clues of his intelligence. He appears to be deaf and dumb, but these are his defences against what he calls the Combine.

The mental institution however has become a microcosm of his fearful perceptions of the world at large. Presided over by a nurse (Nurse Ratched) who to all appearances is there to help, but whom exercises a dominating control over the inmates and if anything, contributes to their mental health problems.

A new inmate comes to the institution, who is everything Bromden is not. McMurphy is loud, gambling, womanising .. a fist-fighting free spirit. He's no hick however, as the Chief sees glimmers of another side to him. McMurphy takes on the nurse, and so directly challenges the Combine.

This is tremendous writing. The characters are rendered deeply and convincingly. I would rate this novel as one of the best of all time.
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on January 22, 2013
I am a true science fiction and fantasy fan. I don't do a whole lot of reading, but when I do, it's almost exclusively in that genre. However, I reluctantly purchased this book for a college literature course (which I put off until my last quarter of my senior year in college, too) and it just surprised me how much it sucked me in.

I couldn't stop reading it. There are no discernable chapters, so I kept going and before I knew it, I was 1/3 the way through.

This book is definitely worth a read. There is definitely an underlying message, but I'll leave that to you (or your literature teacher) to decide. It's funny, entertaining, exciting, and sad all at the same time.

There is also some language in there; be aware this book was written in the 60s. You have to look past the "bad words" of the narrator and see the book in the cultural context in which it was written. That's the only way you'll enjoy the book.
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on April 4, 2015
Funny, poignant, and tragic portrayal of life in a ward of a psychiatric hospital some decades ago, when an all-powerful member of staff, in this case Nurse Ratched, could use ECT and lobotomies as punishment for anyone who dared challenge her authority. It is a complete abuse of her role, and of ethics, and she is ultimately responsible for two deaths near the end. McMurphy took her on and lost more than just his freedom, while Bromden, who had seen himself as a lifer and who was so much helped by McMurphy - far more than he ever appeared to get from the so-called treatment he had been in for so many years - experiences a sufficient degree of recovery that he can flee captivity and try to restart his life. The reader can see, for so much of the book, the inevitability of McMurphy's fate, but is powerless to prevent it.
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on June 23, 2017
This is the absolute best version of Kesey's ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST. Mark Hammer not only narrates it, he performs it. From his heart to the listeners.
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