One Flew Cuckoo's Nest is a set text in the 'Villainy' module, in the preliminary HSC English course. I needed to read this text for work. Like The Fiftieth Gate I read this novel as a teacher, looking for connections to the syllabus.
Year Published: 1962
Chief Bromden, half American-Indian, whom the authorities believe is deaf and dumb, tells the story of a mental institution ruled by Big Nurse on behalf of the all-powerful Combine.
Into this terrifying grey world comes McMurphy, a brawling gambling man, who wages total war on behalf of his cowed fellow-inmates. What follows is at once hilarious and heroic, tragic and ultimately liberating.
I must admit, I prefer to read novels for pleasure than for work. When I pick up a novel for pleasure it is purely that, I enjoy it. When I am reading for work, however, I need to look for links to the syllabus, I need to look for literary technique, for themes, for structure, for purpose and audience. I need to analyse the characters and think to myself "does this scene best display the theme of power in the novel? would this paragraph be a good example to use in an essay? wow, that character just died! that's so sad... this is the perfect example of how the suppression of individuality can result in tragedy!"... you see what I mean?
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a novel about an asylum. There are many characters in this novel but it is primarily about McMurphy, the protagonist, who gets committed to the institution after having many run ins with the law. He is sentenced to 4 months at a work farm, but not being one to warm to hard labour, he pleads insanity in order to sit out his sentence in the comfort of the hospital. Little does McMurphy know that once you are involuntarily committed, it is up to the nursing staff and doctors to release you when they feel you are ready.
Then we have Nurse Ratched. An ex-military nurse who runs her ward like she would have for the soldiers. She is big, mean, calculating, and basically the perfect villain. She takes away not only privileges if the patients do not bend to her will, but also basic human necessities. She also does not hesitate to send patients to the outdated shock therapy room if they become too disobedient, or in extreme cases, to surgery for a lobotomy. Not only do all the patients fear her, but so does the rest of the hospital staff.
McMurphy loves a good challenge, so in an effort to make some money and bring some fun into the ward, he makes a bet with the patients that he can make Nurse Ratched lose her temper. This is something which she always refrains from doing as she prefers to wield her power with a calm,cold demeanor. This results in some funny scenes where McMurphy does all he can to anger the nurse and cheer up his fellow inmates.
Through this, McMurphy becomes a symbol of hope and freedom for the patients. He unwittingly helps them in ways that the medical staff can not. But he also makes an enemy out of Nurse Ratched who is willing to bide her time and do what she must to reassert her power over the ward.
Chief Bromden makes a good narrator because he sees things in the hospital that others do not. Lucky for him, because he did not respond to anyone when he was hosiptalised, they figure him deaf and dumb. This means that the doctors, nurses and other hospital staff do not hesitate to discuss other patients in front of him. He knows everything that is going on in the ward.
This novel is at times funny, difficult to read (due to the narrators mental health problems and ways he sees the world) and sad. It gives a good look at the problems facing patients in mental health facilities, the loss of freedom, the struggles to make amends with ones past and the ability to look forward to the future.