One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962) is a novel written by Ken Kesey. Set in an Oregon psychiatric hospital, the narrative serves as a study of the institutional processes and the human mind as well as a critique of Behaviorism and a celebration of humanistic principles. Published in 1962, the novel was adapted into a Broadway play by Dale Wasser
Kesey's specialty at the time was green Kool-Aid laced with LSD. In 1964, promoting his new book, Sometimes a Great Notion, he and his friends, dubbed the Merry Pranksters, drove from San Francisco to New York in a psychedelic painted bus (paid for with the proceeds of Cuckoo's Nest.) His bus, Further, was immortalized in the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and On the Bus. Kesey hid 6 months (with his bus) in Mexico to avoid imprisonment for possession of marijuana, then gave himself up to authorities, and was jailed for 5 months. His writing changed from fiction to autobiographical prose, although in later years he returned to fiction with Sailor Song and Last Go Round. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest may have had more influence on society than society had on Kesey. The book was widely read by college students just as the baby boomers began to challenge authority. It is considered a masterpiece. Until his death in 2001, Kesey resided in Oregon where he had been active in the PTA
After bringing Candy and one of her friends in for a late night party on the ward. Randle Patrick McMurphy plans to escape. However at the last second Billy Bibbit begs McMurphy for a date with Candy. McMurphy makes Candy sleep with Billy. While their waiting, all of the patients fall asleep and when they wake up Nurse Ratched and the black boys have discovered the mess and are going to punish everyone. Nurse Ratched finds Billy and Candy asleep in a closet and threatens Billy that he will tell his mother. Billy commits suicide by slitting his throat. McMurphy ignores his last chance to escape via an open window and attacks Nurse Ratched. He chokes her within inches of her life before she is taken away. The movie shifts to a few days later. Nurse Ratched is in a neck brace and can barely talk. This means that the patients can't be intimidated by her comments. Later that night, Chief Bromden sees Randle Patrick McMurphy being wheeled into the Ward. Knowing this is his chance to escape the Asylum like McMurphy always promised, he sneaks over to McMurphys cot and tells him hes ready to leave. Bromden notices McMurphy has a vacant stare on his face and suddenly realizes that McMurphy has been lobotomized. He gives him a long hug before stating "I'm not going to let you live like this." and smothering him to death with a pillow.Chief then heads into the tub room, picks up the Hydro-Therapy sink (he was the only one in the Ward big and strong enough to pick it up) and throws it through a window. He climbs out and runs into the night as the patients cheer for him. Chief Bromdens escape is related in the title because "one flew over the Cuckoos Nest"
The steel control panel in the Nurse Ratched’s office symbolizes control over the people. In the novel, Nurse Ratched uses that control panel to control everything in the ward including the TV, lights, music, etc. It’s just like in outside society how the media controls what the people can see on TV because they have the power and authority to censor and display whatever they want. At the end of the novel, Chief Bromden heaves the heavy panel and destroys the steel window and escapes. Chief Bromden destroying that control panel destroyed the Nurse’s control agents and without that control, the chief is free.
Not only is society depicted as hypocritical in this book, but it is depicted as extremely controlled. Within the hospital, the nurses control everything that the patients do, eat, see, etc. This can be compared to the way government controls our lives in society. They control the media, food products, and much more. Without the control of the government, society would be much much different.
Kesey uses the specific setting of a fictional mental asylum to represent the non-specific realities of the real world. The literary term for such a technique is the use of a "microcosm" - a small universe representative of a larger one. Kesey uses the environment of the mental asylum to demonstrate just how hypocritical society can be.
Kesey's use of setting in this book was very smart. Society tends to view hospitals as beneficial-helping the "sick" to "get better". In this book these sick people are seen as not very sick, but are just treated as so, and in the end, they end up being harmed. In this way, society can be viewed as hypocritical and harsh.
Conformity plays a large part in this book. The attendants are forced by injections, shocks and other various physical and emotional punishments to present themselves in a deemed appropriate manner. Attendants are expected to act appropriately so that they may fit into society. They must lock away any feeling of individuality. The "machine" takes under its wing a few false diagnoses of insanity and creates a finished product of a perfectly functioning being who will think, feel and act the same as everybody else (ex. Maxwell Taber). It is shocking how much power the hospital has over it's patients. To me, most of the men appear sane while the hospital is what appears insane.
The main action of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest consists of McMurphy's struggles against the strict rules of Big Nurse Ratched. Her ward at the hospital is a society in itself, for it has its own laws and punishments, both for the inmates and for the orderlies and nurses who watch over them. McMurphy challenges the rules from the time he arrives, from upsetting the supposedly "democratic" procedure of group therapy to brushing his teeth before the appointed time. By having McMurphy question and ridicule Nurse Ratched's ludicrous, controlling rules, Kesey portrays the individual's struggle against a conformist society as a noble, meaningful task. McMurphy's fight within the small world of the hospital can also be extended to the outside world during the time Kesey was writing the novel, society emphasized conformity as a means of upholding law and order.
The world portrayed in the hospital ward is one of sexual repression and inhibition. This is exemplified in the Big Nurse as well as in Nurse Pilbow, who is frightened of the patients’ sexuality. It is frequently emphasized that the Big Nurse has large breasts, the mark of her femininity, but she tries to conceal them. Everything about her and the ward is sterile, cold, and lifeless, from the Big Nurse’s manner down to the white starched uniforms of the staff. The first thing that McMurphy notices about the ward is that the Big Nurse emasculates and weakens the men. He calls her a “ball-cutter” (p. 58), and Harding agrees. In other words, the ward is like a matriarchal society which castrates men. This is graphically symbolized by the death of Rawler, who commits suicide by castrating himself and bleeding to death. In a less literal manner, this is what is happening to all the patients.
Not only is this hospital denying the patients freedom of expression, but these people are denied sexual freedom as well. The male patients do not feel like men anymore after being admitted. In this way, this environment is exactly like a prison where forced sexual relations between men is not uncommon due to prisoners' lack of sexual freedom as well.
The psychiatric ward where the novel takes place can be seen as a microcosm of society. Society is presented as a ruthlessly efficient machine (the Combine) that makes everyone conform to its narrow rules. All individuality is squeezed out of people, and the natural, joyful expressions of life are suppressed. In the hospital ward, the representative of society is the Big Nurse. She embodies order, efficiency, repression (including sexual repression), slavery and tyranny. She fulfills the need of society to somehow “repair” those who do not fit into its model so they can be sent back to take their places as cogs in the great machine. If they refuse or resist, they are destroyed by invasive, abusive treatments such as electro-shock therapy and brain surgery.
In many famous novels, society is analyzed in some way. In this novel, Kesey describes society as this prison-like environment where one is always looked upon as needing to fit a certain criteria. Anyone who appears or acts "different" needs to be corrected. The process of "correcting" this person can be very harsh. Even in society today, when someone is robbed of their personal freedom of expression, the feeling can be as bad as going through electr-shock therapy.
McMurphy places a bet with the other men on the ward that he can break Nurse Ratched without: a) getting sent to the Disturbed Ward, b) getting treated with electroshock therapy, or c) being lobotomized. Slowly, McMurphy undermines Nurse Ratched’s system of control while remaining Mr. Nice Guy. She’s no fool, however. What McMurphy doesn’t understand is that Nurse Ratched has a lot of control over the situation. Since he’s a patient in the asylum, she can keep him locked up as long as she wants. As long as he’s under her rule, she has the power to send him for electroshock therapy or a lobotomy. The question is simply whether she’ll utilize her power against him or not. When McMurphy figures this out, he steps back and begins to behave – but not for long.
"Chief" Bromden, a schizophrenic Native American man who pretends to be deaf and dumb so that everybody ignores him, narrates One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The novel begins the morning that a new "Admission," Randle McMurphy, is introduced to an insane asylum where Chief is the longest-residing patient. McMurphy is larger than life, intelligent, and observant. He stirs up the ward immediately by introducing friendly competition – gambling – and encourages the men to rebel against the petty rules created and enforced by Nurse Ratched (often referred to as "Big Nurse").