The novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey was a very intriguing book
to me. My first impression of the book was curious since I had heard about the movie that was
made prior to the publication of the book. I had knowledge that the book was about patients in a
mental hospital but that was about the extent. As I opened up the book, I became very intrigued
about the story. It’s plot and characters were enjoyable and I grew to love the book more as I read
on. My love and intrigued impression for this book has not changed since I first opened it. I
believe I will love this book more as time goes on, as it has become one of my new favorites.
My first reaction to McMurphy was excitement. I knew right away that this big,
red headed man with wit and humor was going to trouble for the Big Nurse but fun for
the patients on the ward. McMurphy was instantly a loveable character to me and he quickly
became my new favorite as he gave the Big Nurse a hard time. The fights between the Big Nurse
and McMurphy were entertaining and thrilling yet enjoyable. I loved reading about how
McMurphy, as they would say in the book, “get the Big Nurse’s goat”. Even the final battle
between the two on page 267 where McMurphy tries to strangle Ms. Ratched to death is
Enjoyable. The scene shows how fed up McMurphy is with Ms. Ratched’s injustices against the
patients that he is willing to sacrifice everything for them and their freedom.
My predictions about the book based on my early reading was quite perfect. One
prediction of mine about the book’s plot was that the longer McMurphy stayed on the ward, the
more he would stand up for the patients. He became such close friends with Billy, Harding, and
the Chief that he wasn’t going to let them, as well as the other Acutes and Chronics, get pushed
around by the black boys and, more importantly, the Big Nurse. He taught them how to stand up
for themselves, but, more significantly, he taught them how to laugh in the face of pain. On page
212, in the middle of chaos on the fishing boat, Chief Bromden notes that McMurphy, while he’s
laughing at the scene, “won’t let the pain blot out the humor no more’n he’ll let the
humor blot out the pain”. The bad side is just as important and meaningful as the good side and
McMurphy, in this instance, teaches his friends this. Another prediction that I had about the book
was that something was going to happen to McMurphy. My prediction was correct
because in the last chapter of the book McMurphy, after attempting to murder the Big Nurse,
receives a lobotomy that leaves him in a vegetable state. Even though this event is heartbreaking,
it does give the characters a new found confidence to live their own lives since McMurphy
shaped them and helped them to be strong new men.
I have a deep connect to this book since I have a mental illness of my own. I can relate to
all the characters in ways such as Harding’s insecurities, Billy Bibbit’s nervousness, and Chief
Bromden’s mute nature. I had to struggle through my own problems and overcome them such as
the patients did. I had to be my own McMurphy, and help myself out of the dark spot I was in
since nobody else could do it. This book, even though fictional, proves that people in dark and
hopeless places can come back into the light by standing up for themselves and conquering their
adversities. Another connection I have to this book is how society perceives mentally ill people.
In many parts of the book, the characters are seen by society as dangerous, ill, or aborornal. The
characters don’t fit in society like everyone else. On page 257, Harding talks about how he
become sick by saying that he was “different” and how society regarded this as “shameful”. I can
relate to this as society today shares a similar view. As someone with a mental illness, it can be
hard to hide it sometimes. Many times I have a nerve racking fear that people are or
society is watching me and that makes me feel uncomfortable. Just because I am mentally ill
does not mean I am a menace or a lunatic. The characters in the book learn to deal with society’s
view of them by no longer caring and being themselves. I wish I had the strength to be like them
but with society’s eyes always watching someone like myself, it is a daunting task that I can not
Two rhetorical devices I found in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest are metaphor and
symbolism. From pages 61 to 63, McMurphy and Harding are arguing about how the patients
resemble rabbits compared to a wolf like Ms. Ratched. Harding says that the patients are like
rabbits because they are cowardly yet wise when dealing with the Big Nurse, acting meek and
hiding to defend themselves instead of fighting. He goes on to compare McMurphy to a wolf. Harding points out that McMurphy is more masculine than any of the other patients on the ward, and when McMurphy denies this in a boisterous manner, it only further proves Harding’s claim of him being a wolf. Since McMurphy is such a strong and driving force he is able to be a wolf among the rabbits, protecting them from the other wolf, Ms. Ratched. Symbolism in the book can be explained by evaluating one of the symbols, laughter. Laughter in the book is completely foreign to the patients at first until McMurphy comes into the ward laughing. “At first, I see that he’s making everybody over there feel uneasy, with all his kidding and joking…and especially with his big wide-open laugh of his”(22). McMurphy’s laughter is a symbol of the nonconformist movement he sparks within the ward and patients. Laughter allows the patients to break free from the chains of Combine or society which try and make them the same as everyone else. It is also a symbol for McMurphy’s power, strength, and sanity he maintains throughout the entire story. McMurphy inspires and encourages others with his laughter to stand up for their freedom and break away from conformity. These devices helped me to understand the characters and situations in a different perspective than my own. Harding’s metaphor allowed me to perceive the other patient’s through his eyes. He saw the others as weak and inadequate rabbits that couldn’t stand up for themselves. With this comparison, I understand that the patients on the ward are afraid to speak up for themselves because they fear defying the Combine and the Big Nurse. McMurphy’s laugh is a constantly seen through the entire book. With the knowledge of what his laugh symbolizes, I understand that every time McMurphy laughs he is inspiring his friends to flee from the Combine and live freely. Even when he is lobotomized, McMurphy still is a symbol of freedom and hope that a better life outside of Ms. Ratched’s ward can be lived.
A theme in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is freedom and confinement. Inside and outside of the ward, these two opposing forces are constantly seen throughout the entire book. Outside of the ward is seen as freedom; however, inside the ward there is confinements. To go deeper into this concept, the ward has its own opposing forces of confinement and freedom. The patients want certain freedoms and liberties even though they are confined by the ward’s policies and the Big Nurse. The patients are confined by various methods such as pills, electroshock therapy, and lobotomies “This morning I plain don’t remember. They got enough of those things they call pills down me so I don’t know a thing till I hear the ward door open” (14). At the end of the book when McMurphy is lobotomized, Chief Bromden sees what the Big Nurse did as confining McMurphy to his body and decides to free him by smothering him to death. “The big, hard body had a tough grip on life. It fought a long time against having it taken away, flailing and thrashing around so much I finally had to lie full length on top of it and scissor the kicking legs with mine while I mashed the pillow into the face. I lay there on top of the body for what seemed days. Until the thrashing stopped. Until it was still a while and had shuddered once and was still again” (270). The clashing themes of freedom and confinement are a driving motivator to the patients and the plot. Without the taste of freedom, the patients would have never stood up for their rights and the plot would not the rich message it does now. In turn, without the fear of confinement, the patients would have never feared the doom of being confined forever by Ms.Ratched and the plot would not have the exciting events and characters it has today.
Two passages in the book draw a deep, emotional connection from me. One is Harding’s reason as to why he is crazy on page 257. His last sentence is: “it’s society’s way of dealing with someone different”. This sentence is explaining how society shames the different for being who they are and doing what they do. This is very impactful to me because I have a mental illness of my own and if I show this illness to society they will shame me, ridicule me, and try to conform me. I fear what society might do to someone like me but Harding’s passage as to society’s view of people with illnesses and his reason for becoming crazy is something that gives me comfort and safety. Another passage is on page 22 when McMurphy first arrives onto the ward. One sentence about him really strikes me: “he’s trying to get them to loosen up…”. McMurphy notices that nobody laughs so he tries to get everybody comfortable and joking with him. I do this a lot with my friends and acquaintances; however, I like to do with with other mentally ill people. One thing about me is that I have an odd habit of helping people with more severe mental illnesses than my own. Just like McMurphy, I use jokes and humor to “break the ice” between me and another person. I’m not sure why I like to help people with illnesses but after reading this book McMurphy has inspired me to keep going with my work and never stand down.
I had a few questions about my novel and the characters within it. One question was if the other patients even found out about what happened to McMurphy. On page 269, it says that “after Harding signed out and was picked up by his wife, and George transferred to a different ward, just three of the patients were left out of the group that had been on the fishing crew, Chief Bromden, and Martini and Scanlon”. Did Harding, George, and the other patients who left or transferred find out about McMurphy’s death or lobotomy? What would be their reaction if they did find out? I hope that they never did since McMurphy was a dear friend and a big inspiration to them. Another question I had was if Chief Bromden ever found his home? Page 272 states that the Chief wanted to check around “The Dalles to see if there was any of the guys he used to know back in the village…”. Did he ever find his tribe or were they all gone? Also, did he ever meet with Harding or George again, or did they never see one another since the ward? I predict that he did find his tribe but never saw Harding, George, Scanlon, or Martini again since they were all enjoying their new, free lives. Lastly, I was curious about if the Big Nurse ever gained back her original power in a new ward of patients? It states of page 269 that “she couldn’t rule with her old power any more, not by writing things on pieces of paper. She was losing her patients one after the other”. Since she was losing patients, was she ever fired? Was she sent to a different ward like Disturbed or sent to a different hospital all together? I would like to believe that Ms. Ratched was relieved of her duty as head nurse since she manipulated her patients and fellow staff into giving her power and privilege over others.
I thoroughly enjoyed my novel and would highly recommend it. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a fantastic book because challenges the reader’s view of freedom and conformity. These mentally ill men who were at first scrawny and defective learned through McMurphy that it didn’t matter how society perceived them. It mattered how they saw one another and themselves. This message inspires readers to be themselves when watched by society. I was inspired by McMurphy, Harding, Billy Bibbit, and Chief Bromden to not care about how everyone else saw me, but to care about how I saw myself. I recommend this book to people with mental illnesses or people who are looking for inner reflections. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest makes you reflect on yourself and your values as I have done already. With realizing that myself is more important than my normal image in society, I can gladly say that this book has taught me a very important life lesson and I hope it teaches others the same.
To analyze One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I decided to use Reader-Response Criticism. This type of literary theory focuses on the reader and their unique interpretations of the work. Reader-Response Criticism has many “lens” or types within itself. Transactional reader- response criticism is the transaction between the literary meaning of the work and the reader’s interpretation by emotions and knowledge. Affective stylistics is the view that a text can not have meaning without the reader. Subjective reader-response theory is the reader’s interpretation of the text’s meaning which is compared to other interpretations to find a continuity of meaning. Physiological reader-response theory is that the motive of the reader affects how they read a work. Social reader-response theory is that a group of readers with the same interpretation strategy share the same interpretation of the book. To make all this simpler, the types can be divided into three groups: individual, theories that focus on the independent reader’s interpretation, experiment, theories that were for conducting tests of a set of readers, and uniform, theories that states there was a uniform resonspe for all readers. From the view of this literary theory, I can use my own emotions and experiences to create my own interpretation of the book. I believe from my own personal preferences that the book’s meaning is about becoming a strong, free individual. Having a mental illness can be a struggle and create many insecurities like those the men had at the beginning of the story. However, when overcoming these situations, it is good to find inspiration in someone or something to help strengthen you as a person just like how the men found inspiration in McMurphy. “He’d shown us what a little bravado and courage could accomplish, and we thought he’d taught us how to use it” (203). With my former experiences in vanquishing my inner demons and growing to be a stronger person, I see this book as a lesson to fight the restrains that an individual and others put on themselves so they can become a wiser person. This may not be the actual message of the book, but throughout the Reader-Response Theory the message is personal and unique to myself and is fitting in my eyes.
The novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey was a very intriguing book