Brad's Reviews > One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
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Jul 19, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: classic, one-of-the-greats, crazier-than-a-lobotomized-mcmurphy
Read from July 12 to 19, 2011 , read count: 1

i. Lost the damn book! Shit.

ii. Found it!

iii. Finished, but I need some time to let this sink in. The review is coming.

iv. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is about non-conformity. It is also about the horrors of the mental health system circa the late ‘50s & early ‘60s. I am sure it is about some other things I didn’t pick up this time around. But it is also about metaphor, and that was the theme in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest that most spoke to me.

Chief Bromden is the narrator, you see, and he is schizophrenic. Some would say he is an unreliable narrator because of his hallucinations. I think those people are wrong. I don’t see his opening statement as an admission or a warning:
I been silent so long now it’s going to roar out of me like floodwaters and you think this is too horrible to have really happened, this is too awful to be the truth! But, please. It’s still hard for me to have a clear mind thinking on it. But it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen.
I see this as a declaration that just because he is schizophrenic, just because he sees the world differently from you, doesn’t invalidate what he’s seen and what he’s been through. It is a declaration of his reliability, and one that I heeded throughout my reading.

Because, you see, like many schizophrenics, Chief is aware that all the things he sees may not be there, or aren’t there for everyone. He knows that people around him will call him crazy when he is fogged in or trying to clean the green filth from the walls of the meeting room. He knows that people will shun him for the way he sees the world, so he – or Ken Kesey – needs you to know that he recognizes your biases before he even starts telling this story, and he needs you to hear him despite that, not just listen with a condescending head pat for the poor crazy Injun. Some of the things he sees may intrude on what you call reality, but reality is still there amidst the "crazy" stuff.

And oh! what he sees. He isn’t just witness to a battle of dominance-submission-freedom. He isn’t just a witness to sadism and selfishness. He isn’t just a witness to hope. He isn’t just a witness to change. He is gifted the ability to see metaphor. For you, metaphor is a tool with which you understand the world. Your brain takes some input, filters it through metaphor, and out comes your meaning. But the Chief takes some input and that input suddenly becomes the metaphor and that meaning is the metaphor. Perhaps that’s what all schizophrenics see. Perhaps that’s their “illness.” Perhaps it’s their gift. An ability to see metaphor as a physical construct, for metaphor to cease being a filter and become reality.

And that was the book for me. Despite all the great characters, despite the battle for control that rages between Ratched and McMurphy, despite the damage done and the control won and lost and won and lost, I was totally focused on the journey through Chief’s mind. I get him. And I love him. And I still love Milos Foreman’s film of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest -- good thing too since I named my son after Foreman -- because the film and the book are two completely different works. They are akin. No doubt. And they are both beautiful. But they are too different (in delivery) to be considered the same.

My mind was blown.

v. I guess I'll have to add this to my "crazier-than-a-lobotomized-mcmurphy" shelf, even thought it isn't crazy at all.
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Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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message 1: by Joy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joy Another great, well written review Brad. It makes me want to read the book again (it's been a long time since I read it. I agree that the movie is a classic - Jack N. is the perfect actor to play McMurphy, isn't he?


message 2: by Christopher (new)

Christopher Chater could you read it without imagining Jack Nicholson playing the part?


Brad Yeah. He really is. Even though he's spent most of his career playing himself, and there are only a handful of his performances I like, his McMurphy makes me love him forever. It is one of the great performances ever by any actor. And I also love that Michael Douglas won his first Oscar for producing the movie. Not too shabby, eh?!

And thanks too ;)


Brad I was actually able to, Christopher, and I think that has to do with the different physicality of the characters. On the page he is very distinctly an Irish stereotype, which made it easy most of the time. There were two scenes, though, where Jack encroached: the first time he puts his hand through the window & his attempt to life the console. Everything else Chief told me what to see.


mark monday did you feel there were any issues around misogyny in the novel?


Brad The short and not very informative answer is, "Yes misogyny can be said to be present, but I am not sure that is a bad thing in context of the novel." Let me sit on that for a while.


Randy Bird Brian wrote: "I love the movie; I've never thought about reading the book, but maybe I will. Great review, Brad."

Getcha groove on BB!


message 8: by Joy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joy I think the book is definitely worth reading!


Brad Joy's right, BB. It is definitely worth the read. And thanks.


message 10: by Amber (new)

Amber Tucker "But it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen." That was my favourite quote, and message I took away, from the novel when I first read it a couple of years ago. That was prior to my having a Goodreads account, and I need to read it again before I review myself. Thanks to your beautiful and insightful review, Brad, I'm reminded that I need to do that. Thanks.


message 11: by Brad (new) - rated it 5 stars

Brad No problem, Amber. I look forward to your review.


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