One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest discussion


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racist or not?

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message 1: by Tom (last edited Dec 02, 2015 10:40AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tom George This is an amazing book. It's one of the few that have moved me to tears, but I have to say that the portrayal of the guards at the mental hospital strikes me as racist. You could argue that they are simply characters in a piece of fiction who happen to be black and happen to be evil, but it seems to me that Kesey is suggesting their race and their brutality is linked. The way he describes their skin tone, he clearly using their blackness to suggest malice and evil. They are not sketched out at all as individual characters, just one-dimensional tormentors, which would be fine, but their character (they are all the same) seems to be instrinsically connected with their colour. Has anyone else been disturbed by this aspect of an otherwise great book?


message 2: by Monty J (last edited Dec 13, 2016 05:58PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Monty J Heying Tom wrote: "...but their character (they are all the same) seems to be instrinsically connected with their colour. Has anyone else been disturbed by this aspect of an otherwise great book?"


A good observation, which comes up in other "period" books as well, where people of color are portrayed, Huckleberry Finn for example.

But the racism isn't Kesey's any more than the racism Steinbeck portrayed in Of Mice And Men is his. When an author accurately portrays the racism prevalent at the time of the book, he/she is bringing it into the light for scrutiny.

The porters in the passenger trains I rode during the 1950s and '60s were all black, dressed in white smocks and behaved in a deferential manner. Portraying them as such is not racist; it is showing the reality of the times.

I suspect the mental ward orderlies in Cuckoo's time were hired for their physical prowess and intimidating presence. I doubt Kesey made it up because he based the novel on his true life experience working in a mental hospital while attending Standford.

I have a friend who worked in a mental hospital during the '70s, and she commented on the realism of Kesey's portrayal.


Dale Pearl Monty J wrote: "Tom wrote: "...but their character (they are all the same) seems to be instrinsically connected with their colour. Has anyone else been disturbed by this aspect of an otherwise great book?"


A goo..."

Spot on. A writer must depict the pulse and feel of the times in which his writing occurs. Otherwise it is just a disingenuous work.


A.A. Freda Is it just me or is Kesey trying to point out that white men are giving in to minorities without a fight?


message 5: by J. (new) - rated it 4 stars

J. Dolan I wouldn't make too much of this black and white thing in Cuckoo's Nest. That most of the orderlies were black is because the job was at or near the bottom of the hospital's pay scale. Unlike today, there would have been fewer black doctors, nurses, etc. because there were fewer occupational opportunities for blacks back then. More often than not, the only positions open to members of that disenfranchised race were, sad to say, menial ones.


A.A. Freda It's not just the black thing. Their biggest tormentor is the Nurse a female dictating the men's every move.


Monty J Heying A.A. wrote: "Is it just me or is Kesey trying to point out that white men are giving in to minorities without a fight?"

I'm having trouble seeing it that way because of 1) how valiantly McMurphy fought against the intimidating orderlies and 2) his intimate friendship with Chief, another racial minority.

...Their biggest tormentor is the Nurse a female dictating the men's every move.
Agreed. The Nurse personifies the establishment machine that is systematically robbing humankind of our humanity.


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