This book is the story of a psychiatric ward and its lively cast of patients, overseen by the ultimate of antagonists, the evil Nurse Ratched. Chief Bromden, who pretends to be mute and deaf, narrates the story of what happens when the animated Patrick McMurphy comes to the ward and shakes up the monotony of life in the hospital. McMurphy changes the lives of the patients he lives with and creates nothing but pure havoc for the strict and controlling Nurse Ratched. The Big Nurse and McMurphy butt heads and host a battle of wills until she ultimately conquers his fighting spirit.
I read this book for a college course in Banned Literature and Censorship. I’d never read it or seen the very famous film and was curious to see what exactly was so bad about Kesey’s novel that it might be banned or challenged. The answer is that I’m not exactly sure. The book is extremely well written and engaging an does not seem to touch on any real hot-button topics. There are some oblique references to incest an homosexuality, but nothing overtly offensive. My only thought is that the book’s central theme of the individual fighting against the institution might cause some concern for schools wanting to keep those ideas out if the minds of young people. In the end the individual’s fight overcomes the oppression of the institution but not without a very ugly fight.
I’m thoroughly terrified of Nurse Ratched and her hospital goons and am left questioning whether or not McMurphy started out his time on the ward insane, or if the institution itself made him that way. I loved the transformation he brought out in the men whose wills had been crushed and was saddened at the conclusion of the book. It seems to me that any hope for joy and lively spirit were quite literally snuffed right out of the ward when Chief Bromden smothers McMurphy in the end. The only thing making the untimely ending okay to me was the idea that Bromden was saving the dignity of McMurphy.
This was an excellent book. I’m planning on watching the film starring Jack Nicholson for another take on it, but I’m happy to have stumbled upon such a great story for required course reading. If you’ve never read it, check out One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.