One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I'm glad I finally got around to reading this. It's a counterculture classic that has touched many more people besides the ones that first got it in 1962. It's popularity nearly single-handedly drove Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters across so many parts of the world, bankrolling the freedom-loving iconic hipsters that quickly became the more obvious foundation for the flower children, the druggies, and the peaceniks.
But first, it had to get popular. And it really hit a nerve.
The most obvious clue is the battle between Freedom and Institution. Coyote VS the Man. Chaos VS Order.
Hell, Mice Versus Men.
Nurse Ratched embodies order and needless institutional brutality while McMurphy does all he can to liven the lives of the people of this mental institution. Some will be there for their whole lives while others might get better, but for all of them, Nurse Ratched rules with an iron hand. What's the point about preventing the inmates from having a little fun? Watching the World-Series? Nothing! And yet this and so many other great conflicts arise and we know there will be a showdown.
Most of the novel is quite funny and it's easy to root for the humorous trickster as he does everything in his power to suck the marrow out of life and sometimes even show the others that they HAVE THE POWER to live a good life despite their horrible situations.
See the sixties rolling in?
Well, this novel is also a tragedy. No matter how satirical and funnily moving, its end message goes quite a bit beyond the grand escape.
I honestly find it rather disturbing how Ratched treats Billy and what his fate is, but I find that McMurphy's revenge is just as bad. Is this the result of an immovable force versus an unstoppable object? Or is it a message of overcompensation in powerlessness? Or is it simply WRONG? As in two wrongs make nothing like a right.
Chief Broom is easily my favorite character, however, and his final mercy is true mercy.
What can we bring home from this, however? That everyone is wrong? That the only good we can expect is a clean death?
But that begs the question... what novel pulled this off so clearly that we can See and Feel so much after a single read?
To think at one point this was one of the most banned books in the world. Silly people. The divide is real, but the seeds of our reality lie in these pages. We STILL need to work it out. Now more than ever.
We are the nuthouse.
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