One flew east, one flew west
One flew over the cuckoo’s nest
This book is a classic by anyone’s standards. A powerful read that leaves you with a strange feeling and gave me at least, a whole lot to think about. Randle Patrick McMurphy is the cocky protagonist who has talked his way into a mental institution because he thought it would be easier than the forced labour in prison. Nurse Ratched is his nemesis. Chief Bromden is our schizophrenic, Columbia Indian narrator. The novel is an exploration of the relationship between those confined and those in authority, and how easy it would be in the setting of a mental hospital (and no doubt many other places) to just give up and become not just confined by the staff, but by your own institutionalization (a high majority of the patients are there of their own free will). They are just so conditioned that they believe anything that Nurse Ratched and her staff say to them and will not challenge it….until McMurphy comes along.
Chief Bromden believes in an elaborate conspiracy theory that society is a giant machine and an oppressive force which he calls the Combine. This mental institution is the Combine in miniature. The oppressors and the oppressed. But in our mental institution we also have hope. Randle Patrick McMurphy. He symbolises rebellion. Questioning Nurse Ratched. Acting out. Even making light of Electro Convulsive Therapy. Bromden admires how McMurphy claims he can lift a large hydrotherapy unit and when he fails, isn’t disheartened, instead saying “at least I tried, God damn it”. Nurse Ratched cannot control McMurphy, and oh how she hates it.
The other patients, but especially Chief Bromden, look up to McMurphy. He is just what Bromden has been waiting for – someone to challenge the Combine. Eventually, though, McMurphy goes too far. He invites 2 prostitutes to the ward and asks them to bring alcohol. Things get out of hand. The innocent and childlike Billy Bibbit sleeps with one of the prostitutes and everyone else passes out drunk. Nurse Ratched catches them in the morning and the chain of events that follows is devastating. Ultimately, Chief Bromden will find the rebellious spirit inside himself too, and make a stand.
That feeling this book leaves you with that I talked about. It’s sort of a mixture. The ending made me both sad and inspired at the events that occurred. This is a book that doesn’t leave you for quite a while after you put it down. This is a book that in generations to come, will still be having that effect on people.