One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

Although only a quarter into the book, Kesey has already presented an interesting scenario. The narrator is quite unreliable, and there are many times that I cannot tell what is really happening and what Chief thinks is happening. He does, however, create some amazing metaphors. It becomes confusing sometimes, but it offers an intriguing perspective on how some actions may be interpreted by those with a mental disorder. The book is in first person, and the narrator sometimes goes on and on about barely relevant subjects, and goes off on tangents quite a bit. However, he is a good narrator in the sense that he is quite an observer. Pretending to be deaf and mute allows him a better chance at observing the going-ons at the asylum. There are some points, though, where I have to reread a section to understand what is going on.

The characters all have some sort of mental affliction, but it is not enough to make them unrelatable. Most of the disorders are simply exaggerated emotions, reactions, or habits that many people have. I don’t understand why Randle Patrick McMurphy is in the asylum. He appears to be the most sane of any of them. I suppose he has a gambling addiction and is always cheerful, but those don’t seem like reasons why someone would be in a mental asylum.

The novel does not deal with anything outside the institute, so everything Chief describes is in the building. He mentions a few locations outside the asylum, before he was admitted, most of which are recognizable, at least to me, due to the fact that it is set in Oregon. Characterization and setting descriptions are amazing, albeit being a little hard to understand. The plot, so far, has moved fairly slowly, but the descriptions are engaging to read, and I cannot wait to continue this intriguing, and mildly confusing, novel.



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11 responses to “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

  1. I agree with you that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a rather eccentric novel. The narration is rather unclear and strays away from the point at hand, and I don’t really like that it diverts your attention so much. On the other hand, I also appreciate the unique narration style, so I’m stuck at a crossroad there.

    As for why McMurphy might be in the mental asylum, it is mentioned that he is charged for a few crimes, such as statutory rape, so perhaps that might be why as well? Or, he also mentioned that he faked being insane as to escape his previous line of work. Regardless, it is rather evident that McMurphy is there to counteract the personalities of Nurse Ratched and the narrator, Chief. I’m not sure how I feel about McMurphy at the moment. He seems too… happy and relaxed for someone in a mental asylum, for lack of better words.

    Speaking of Nurse Ratched, I think she is an interesting character. It’s uncommon to see female antagonists and/or female characters that possess an authoritarian aura. I thought it was weird that Kesey described her as nearly perfect, besides her behind and chest area. I think that it makes her seem human, as opposed to being portrayed as completely inhuman. Nonetheless, I’m interested to see how the rest of the plot plays out with her against McMurphy, so to speak.

    I feel as if the plot drags on as of now, and I don’t enjoy it too much. It makes it hard to get through the pages, so hopefully it’ll begin to pick up soon! It is a very original concept, so it should in theory be a good read.

  2. tiffanithomason

    This novel has been quite a trip so far despite the fact that I have only been able to read the first small section. Since it has already been such a large and exciting trip filled with disturbing and interesting scenes, I can only imagine what is next to come.
    I’d like to begin by addressing Rachel’s confusion as to why Randle Patrick McMurphy has been admitted to the asylum. As you said, he seems like a pretty normal guy, and that is because he is. The only reason he has, that I can see, for his being in the asylum is that he got into trouble with the law and whomever was representing him convinced him to plead insanity, and therefore he got sent to the asylum. That is what I think, but maybe you have different ideas on the matter?
    I think that the narrator for this novel is a pretty brilliant idea. Who better to show what the asylum life is like other than the one who has been in it the longest? He knows each patient and the day they came in, and he has been so quiet, people don’t mind if they slip secrets out in front of him. I must admit that it can be confusing at times for me as well, but that just makes me think more about how confusing life must be for the poor Chief. We have to reread passages, he has to rethink complete situations of his life. The confusion and other sensations that are presented to the reader all seem to be manifestations of what it would be like living in the mind and body of a clinically insane person, a very interesting way to have approached writing this novel.
    So far, it is a wonderful novel, and I would suggest it to anyone that likes mind bending plots. I would say it is a book that should be read in schools because of all the fantastic uses of literary elements, and the fact that it is of such quality writing that you can feel what it is like to be insane, however I would also advice of crude language and scenarios that most schools look down upon. Despite these few traits, I would still think it would be a great book to read in classes, and it would be discussion and thought provoking. I can not wait to continue this amazing novel!

  3. rachelmichtom

    I am now about half-way through this book, and I am enjoying it. It is still confusing at points, but I am now used to how the book works. The plot is still a little unclear to me. It seems to me that McMurphy’s goal has been accomplished, and I do not know where the novel intends to go after this. That does not mean I’m not interested. Kesey has a way of writing that makes me want to continue, even if there isn’t a clear storyline.
    I really enjoyed reading about the baseball game. Clearly, no one really cares that much about baseball, except for McMurphy. Even so, I think at least one reason why he put up such fuss was because it annoyed the Big Nurse. It was a good plot point though, and sort of a turning point because it changed the dynamic of the ward. Instead of Big Nurse being in charge, and everyone listening to her, McMurphy brought the power to them, and brought Big Nurse down.
    I don’t understand the fog, though. I’m not sure if it’s Chief’s mind, real, or some combination. I’m pretty sure it’s not real, but it clearly represents something and I’m not sure what.
    This is one of those books, at least to me, where I enjoy the story and may develop some attachments, but I don’t get physically invested in the story. I don’t laugh out loud, or gasp, or anything of the like. I am looking forward to the second half of the book, however. I am curious as to what is going to happen to McMurphy and Chief.

    • After reading half-way, I’m a little bit more interested in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I’m still not totally bought into the whole mysterious, straying narration from Chief, I do appreciate his keen observing skills that add much more detail into the narration. I’m beginning to sort of like Chief, although how fond I like him is still to be decided.

      The baseball scene was a little bit confusing to me, and your post cleared it up. I did know that it had something to do with McMurphy gaining power but I didn’t connect the dots, so thank you!

      Another part that confused me was when McMurphy let go of his towel and revealed his whale boxers. I don’t understand what the importance of that situation was or what the whale boxers represent.

      I think the fog represents a way out of reality, especially for Chief. I’m almost positive that’s it’s imaginary, and adds to part of the reason as to why he also inhabits the insane asylum. Fog is also seen another way: through Big Nurse. I think it was mentioned that she played overbearingly loud music, and I thought that related in a way to Chief’s own fog. It replaced one’s own thoughts and puts Big Nurse’s ideas and implications into their mind. It’s almost like the patients of the asylum are brainwashed by Big Nurse, and the “fog” is part of the reason why. As seen in the baseball scene, I think McMurphy’s role is to snap the patients of the asylum out of their mindless fog and to allow them to create their own real persona.

      Overall, while I’m not in love with the book, it still provides thought provoking scenes and passages, and there is certainly much depth to the story to discuss.

  4. tiffanithomason

    The half way point of this novel really is a phenomenal point. The vivid descriptions and characterization have really captured my attention, as has the complexity of the plot. I love that it takes me forever to read it, reading a passage many times over, just trying to make sense of it.

    That, I believe, incorporates authenticity. Though it may be fiction, I think authenticity is important in any novel, and “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest” does a fantastic job of it. How hard to read and complex it is really lets us feel what Chief feels on a day to day basis, confusion, not knowing what is real and what isn’t.

    The point in this story that exemplifies this the most for me is the scene, I have determined it to be a dream of Chief’s, when the asylum workers are hanging workers by the tendons in their feet. The descriptions in this section, though horrific, are a thing of beauty. They let the reader feel what is happening, rather than just reading about it. This scene also clued me into how the tenants view the asylum and its workers. Not only that, but once again it made me feel this hatred and disgust towards the workers.

    I believe that in the hands of the average person, this plot and story idea in general would be insignificant and poorly crafted. Because of this fact, I have come to the conclusion that there is no way this author an average or ordinary person. I have become quite attached to this author, loving her character development, descriptiveness, and ability to transport the reader into the story. I am very excited about reading the rest of the book, and I can already tell it will be one of my all time favorites!

  5. rachelmichtom

    Three quarters of the way through the book, and I am still intrigued, despite the lack of an over-arching plot line. Each new story that Chief describes captivates me and makes me want to learn more about the asylum and it’s inmates.
    I especially enjoyed the fishing story. It seemed more personal than the other anecdotes Chief has shared. I loved the little story he told about not being heard, as well. It made a point, and also seemed to me to show a little bit of recovery.
    McMurphy’s behavior also sparks my curiosity. He was very active in protesting rules and fighting back, until he realized that Big Nurse could change his commitment. So he backed off, until fishing came up. He started really pushing for it, despite the Big Nurse’s protests. His behavior on the boat, however, confuses me. Why didn’t he fish, after all that pushing? And why didn’t he help the doctor or anyone else with the fish? Why all that laughing? Why was he so exhausted when they came back?
    I am still enjoying this book, despite (or perhaps in spite) of the questions it raises and level of thinking to which I have to go to to understand what is going on.

    • I think the book is finally beginning to pick up in terms of interest for me here. The most probably reason why is because I finally get to dig into some more personal and I suppose “action-oriented” scenes. I enjoyed Chief’s childhood story, and just like you, I think it represents part of him getting rid of the “fog” clouding his brain from staying in the asylum for too long. The fishing trip also helped him to get out of the asylum and rid of some of the fog.

      Speaking of the fishing trip and McMurphy, I was kept interested through reading that. It really characterizes McMurphy. It helped to show that McMurphy wasn’t just this loud, boisterous character; he is actually a relatable, down-to-earth person, even to this quiet, mysterious narrator of Chief.

      In regards to his role during the actual trip, I think McMurphy wanted to allow the men to feel a sense of freedom, instead of having someone of higher authority control them or manipulate their individual actions. Possibly, McMurphy felt a sense of pride for both himself and those men that he brought onto the boat. He had allowed them to escape the asylum for a bit and attempt to clear their mind of “fog” created by the Big Nurse. It could take a toll on some to watch twelve (?) or so men out on a boat to make sure they don’t cause too much trouble.

      Something else I found surprising was how kind McMurphy actually is. It’s easy to get caught up in his gallant and heroic persona as mentioned earlier, so I thought it was rather sweet when he set up Candy and Billy on their own date. Hopefully, more of this “other side” of McMurphy will be shown in the ending of this book, and I look forward to reading about it.

  6. tiffanithomason

    What intrigues me most about this novel thus far is the lack of attention that is put into Chief. Yes, I understand that he is the one telling the story and that may be a factor of this, but I would have thought that after having let on that he could understand what others were saying, others would have been more intrigued by his character. I find this lack of information to be unrealistic, and while I love the complexity and lack of realism in this novel, I think that is one piece of information that should have been kept realistic. I think that Kesey has done a wonderful job in his character development, but with a few more interactions between characters with Chief to show that Chief is actually real, the character development and plot could be incredibly more in depth.
    I would agree with you Rachel that McMurphy’s behavior seems extremely odd and at the present moment I do not understand it. He seemed so hell bent on defying the system before, and it seemed as if he was even succeeding. It makes me wonder if McMurphy either has someone he cares about a lot on the outside waiting for him, or maybe some out of the world thing will happen such as he falls in love with Big Nurse. Though that second option seems less likely, I ave come to realize that anything is possible in this book.
    I am very excited to see what the last section of this book has in store for me. I am sure there are many more surprises that will make me question not only the author’s sanity, but my own as well.

  7. tiffanithomason

    One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest has been a very odd experience that I will never forget. Every section of this reading has changed how I feel about the book, something I did not realize until reading my previous comments. I went from believing that the main character was interestingly crafted, to well crafted, to badly crafted, and ended on a note of pure brilliance, This is just one of the many examples of this changing mindset. The plot changes from full of sorrow, to jubilee, back to pain. The efforts of the Big Nurse and of McMurphy also follow this pattern.
    Because of this eccentric approach in novel writing, to be able to fully appreciate the book, you need to keep an open mind to something more than happy endings and everything being perfect all the time, aside from the one trying conflict in the middle of the story. With an open mind when reading this novel though, there are so many things that your mind may see.
    The most prominent aspect that sticks with me at the end of this novel is the sense that all is lost. Total hopelessness. This novel does a very fine job of showing that no matter what we do here on this planet, in this life, we can be ended in a snap. Almost like we were never here, like we never mattered. Death is the ultimate end all for us humans, and we try to ignore it because we can do that and live in the moment. This novel shows that that moment may not matter.
    This book isn’t all sadness and despair in the end though. Even in this utter hopelessness, you can see the hope. While it shows us that death is the ultimate end all, it also portrays that that end all is just for those that died. The living can still live. I find this to be amazingly important in life, and this novel did a very nice job with that.
    I would suggest this novel to those who are ready for what may not be an extremely challenging read, but is a life changing one. It is filled with vulgar scenes and content, so for those of you who don’t approve of that,please don’t read this novel. When it comes to reading, you shouldn’t get held up on the little things such as vulgarity, but with the things that matter. Connecting to the characters, laughing, crying, experiencing life lessons. It is those matters that are important, and as a book that has all of that, I would give One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey a 9 out of 10 rating, and a suggestion for all to read it.

    • rachelmichtom

      Although this is not a book I would have picked up on my own, I did enjoy reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The plot was hidden under many descriptions and tangents that added much to the story, as I realized in the end. The characters were all unique, and all were well written. I enjoyed that fact that Chief was, the main character, was not the central focus of the story, and for a good while, he seemed to be a passerby and that was it.
      I did not find the book to be as depressing as Tiffani did, although there was hopelessness throughout. I found the end to be very hopeful, and leaves the reader with a sense of relief that things can and will change, even if it seems unlikely at the beginning.
      I struggled a little at the end to comprehend what happened, but eventually it all made sense, and I found myself cheering for Chief, but at the same time feeling pity for Nurse Ratched. Ken Kesey has done a wonderful job of twisting your emotions and sympathies as you read, while still keeping it focused.
      The writing at times is confusing, and that is why I give this book an 8/10. The imagery and the story are quite good, but understanding what he is saying may require you to reread a section once, or twice, or ten times to really comprehend it.
      I would recommend this book to people who are serious readers, and will take the time and energy to sit down with this book and read through it thoroughly.This is not a light read, and requires much focus, but it is very rewarding.

    • Overall, One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest by Ken Kesey was definitely not a book I would have read on my own, like Rachel had said. Kesey did a fantastic job crafting characters vastly different from what I have read before. As Rachel said, I thought it was interesting how Chief, although the narrator, was not necessarily the focus of the novel. Instead, he was an acute observer of the world around him, which allows the reader to get a proper scope of the ward’s environment. This is not a perspective I have encountered very much, if at all.

      Regarding hope and despair, I thought the novel was more hopeful in general. McMurphy himself acted as a symbol for hope and change in the ward, while Nurse Ratched was the seemingly powerful, oppressive force. It was a nice change of events when Chief took control of the situation at the end and stepped himself back into the novel. Chief’s role as a dynamic character was definitely highlighted at this point; from a quiet, unsuspecting “deaf and mute” janitor, to someone who is able to step a little bit out of their comfort zone, and finally escaping the asylum.

      The whole novel itself is a bit unrealistic though. The setting of the insane asylum is definitely rare, because it seems rather plain and uneventful on the outside, but Kesey diligently fleshed out the asylum to add some fitting details to the plot. An asylum provides for plenty of different characters and “cliques” to be created, and allows for Kesey’s creativity to run rampant. The plot line of Nurse Ratched vs McMurphy is also a bit unrealistic, but again, it was interesting and eventful with its ups and downs throughout the novel.

      Overall, I give One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest a 8.5/10. The only things that detracted from the novel was the confusing and/or unclear narration, which resulted in one having to read each section more than twice. This novel would not be too popular as an assigned reading; it does not draw one in from the get go and requires careful, lengthy reading.

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