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The Book-Club Books > July 2011 - One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

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message 1: by Michael, Mod Prometheus (new)

Michael (knowledgelost) | 1255 comments Mod
Jack Nicholson was the perfect choice for McMurphy.


message 2: by Kim (new)

Kim I really liked this book. Dark and disturbed with a bit of humour. Can't wait to see the film now.


message 3: by Parsa (new)

Parsa | 68 comments Havent seen the movie ever. I really liked this book when I read it but its been almost two years now.


message 4: by Jeni (new)

Jeni Jones Excellent book, well-written and thought-provoking. I'd be interested to see what people think of the Chief in the novel compared to the film adaptation - if I remember rightly, his part is much diminished? It's been a while since I saw the film.


message 5: by Michael, Mod Prometheus (new)

Michael (knowledgelost) | 1255 comments Mod
Yeah, I remember him only having a minor role in the movie


message 6: by Melki (new)

Melki | 205 comments If I remember correctly, Chief is the narrator? I read this once in 1976, saw the play in college and I've seen the movie countless times, but still better reread before I discuss.


message 7: by Michael, Mod Prometheus (new)

Michael (knowledgelost) | 1255 comments Mod
Melki wrote: "If I remember correctly, Chief is the narrator? I read this once in 1976, saw the play in college and I've seen the movie countless times, but still better reread before I discuss."

In the book Chief is the narrator.


message 8: by Kim (new)

Kim Who do you feel was more "in the right"?

McMurphy, who was really just an anti-authoritarian trying to rebel in any way he could whether he needed to or not?

Or Nurse Ratched, someone who was just doing their job to the best of their ability, albeit in a way we would abhor now but at the time was considered the correct way, and really thought she was working for the good of the patients?


message 9: by Michael, Mod Prometheus (new)

Michael (knowledgelost) | 1255 comments Mod
I think they both wrong, they were just taking it to the extreme, but I think McMurphy was having a more positive effect on the others


message 10: by Kim (new)

Kim I actually felt a little sorry for Nurse Ratched. I guess it's because I'm a very organised person and I can understand the frustration and annoyance of someone out to mess it all up simply for the hell of it.

I get that McMurphy was trying to help the others but only really to help himself. He was only working to gain for himself and to bite his thumb at authority.

(view spoiler)


message 11: by Melki (new)

Melki | 205 comments I agree - McMurphy is a great character. It's hard not to like him - heck, I named my dog after him!
BUT I gotta agree with Kim - he's really only looking out for #1.
Nurse Ratched (so tempting to call her by RPM's nickname...) is a collosal control freak, but sometimes we need those people in the world just to get the job done.

I was just flipping thru the book now - and despite the teeny-tiny print, I have got to read this again. I'd forgotten how good it is.


message 12: by Michael, Mod Prometheus (new)

Michael (knowledgelost) | 1255 comments Mod
While I agree that McMurphy was only looking after himself, he did help some of the patients; (view spoiler)


message 13: by Kim (new)

Kim I just don't see Nurse Ratched as a full-on villain, nor McMurphy as a hero.


message 14: by Melki (new)

Melki | 205 comments McMurphy certainly helped his fellow patients, but that was incidental to his main goal of getting the hell outta that place. Likewise, the sparring with Ratched started out as just a way of passing the time til he was free.

I'm shutting up now til I actually reread the book!


message 15: by Michael, Mod Prometheus (new)

Michael (knowledgelost) | 1255 comments Mod
Keep going


message 16: by Lou (new)

Lou Ureneck (louureneck) | 10 comments I remember reading "Cuckoo's Nest" when it first came out. The times offered a context for grasping the meanings of the book, I think. Control, conformity, questions about who was truly crazy.


message 17: by Sam (new)

Sam | 1 comments Kim wrote: "I just don't see Nurse Ratched as a full-on villain, nor McMurphy as a hero."

agreed but i guess thats why he is considered more of an anti hero, but yeah hes pretty morally ambiguous.


message 18: by Thomas (new)

Thomas Baughman Actually, i think you would find many guys like McMurphy at your nearest jail. Genial, yet really only looking out for themselves.


message 19: by Kim (new)

Kim Lou wrote: "I remember reading "Cuckoo's Nest" when it first came out. The times offered a context for grasping the meanings of the book, I think. Control, conformity, questions about who was truly crazy."

Thanks Lou. That was something I was thinking about when reading it. How my perspective, built on modern mental health knowledge and practices, influenced my understanding of the book compared to how it would have been received at the time it was released.

In this day and age half of the patients would probably never have been committed, certainly not McMurphy. Going the other way mental health issues weren't as understood as they are now and EST was considered an important medical procedure. It's even still in use, though to a much lesser extent. So the doctors and nurses were treating the patients to the best of their medical knowledge.


message 20: by Carycleo (new)

Carycleo | 28 comments Like Lou, I read this back in the 60's. There was no question in my mind then that Nurse Ratched and the whole hospital structure were the bad guys. (I was a teenager, after all. :)) The book (and the movie) was part of the force behind a movement to reform the mental health system in the U.S., which did happen. Nurse Ratched was such a reviled character in the popular culture that Louise Fletcher(?), who played her so convincingly in the movie, never got to play anything but a heartless villain for decades after, as I remember it.

It's so interesting to see the other posts above (from younger folks, I'm guessing), that approach the book as literature, rather than the call to rebellion and attack on social conformity that it felt like back then.


message 21: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca I've finished part one so far. I have been thinking about how I feel the characters relate to me. I can understand McMurphy's need to defy the authority (typed McMurry first on accident) but also Nurse Ratched's OCD need for order. I'll probably finish it tomorrow and watch the film to compare.

Carycleo, I approached the book as literature, but I find I want to fight the system during the day and rebel. Being told what to do is definitely more annoying than usual.


message 22: by Melki (new)

Melki | 205 comments Carycleo, you are so right. I also read the book as a teenager and at the time, there was no doubt in my mind that Ratched absolutely WAS the villain. From what I have read about Ken Kesey, a hero of the counterculture, I'm sure he intended her to be the villain.
Three decades later, I'm inclined to be a whole lot more sympathetic to her. (I now identify more with poor old Mr. Wilson than Dennis the Menace too, but that's another story...)

Here's a brief summary from Wiki I found interesting:

Kesey was inspired to write "Cuckoo's Nest" while working the night shift at a VA hospital.
He wanted the film to be narrated by the Chief character, and also wanted Gene Hackman for the role of McMurphy.

Hmm... still trying to imagine "Popeye" Doyle as McMurphy...


message 23: by Kim (new)

Kim I firmly believe the time a book was released can have a major impact in how it's perceived by a different generation, especially books portraying the real world like this.

Attitudes and perceptions change and being raised in a different era I approach things and see meanings in a different way. So some books have less impact, some more and some about the same.

I'm in no way saying that Nurse Ratched is a good person but that she is acting, in her opinion and knowledge, in a well meaning manner for the greater good.

I can't identify with McMurphy, a person who rebel just because he can. An anarchist with no understanding of the true situation or compassion for the impact on those around him.


message 24: by Lou (new)

Lou Ureneck (louureneck) | 10 comments Not long after I read "Cuckoo's Nest," I read another Kesey book, "Sometimes a Great Notion." At the time, of course, Kesey had a reputation as a Merry Prankster -- and everything he wrote got filtered (rightly or wrongly) through the lens of his rebellion against the conventions of the time. Then he did a piece for Esquire magazine, maybe in the early 70s, that set a different mood -- it was piece, as I recall distantly, about his marriage and life on the farm. He was older than I, but for many of us, he was a kind of forward-traveling shooting star.


message 25: by ♥Xeni♥ (new)

♥Xeni♥ (xeni) | 220 comments I read this book the summer I was 12 or 13. It was my "modern classics summer", I also remember consuming A Catcher in the Rye, so the two are inexplicably linked in my mind.

Anyway, reading this book for pleasure and as a sort of "need to read all these famous books" I really never considered the social impact and why the book was written. Thank you, some of you, for sharing your thoughts on that! These days the whole background story to a book interests me, which I'm glad for.

When I read it, I remember feeling very strongly for McMurphy, hating the nurse, and being utterly agasht over and over again. I think if I read the novel again now, a whole bunch of those first impressions might get ruined (I'm sad to admit to having become a sort of "jaded reader") so I won't be reading it again now.

P.s. The end still freaks me out when I think about it!


message 26: by Melki (new)

Melki | 205 comments Interesting point, Xeni. Now you've got me thinking maybe I shouldn't reread...


message 27: by Michael, Mod Prometheus (new)

Michael (knowledgelost) | 1255 comments Mod
To reread or not to reread is always a difficult question, I think there is enough in this book o make a second read through enjoyable and fruitful


message 28: by ♥Xeni♥ (new)

♥Xeni♥ (xeni) | 220 comments Mhh, just because I'm afraid doesn't mean you have to be!

For me it's more like this book is a childhood memory, and reading it again migh rewrite part of that. I always want to remember that feeling of icy shivers down my spine while lying on the grass in the burning sun and contemplating life as a mentally ill patient!


message 29: by Brad (new)

Brad (judekyle) | 19 comments Kim wrote: "I'm in no way saying that Nurse Ratched is a good person but that she is acting, in her opinion and knowledge, in a well meaning manner for the greater good.

I can't identify with McMurphy, a person who rebel just because he can. An anarchist with no understanding of the true situation or compassion for the impact on those around him...."


I really like what you've brought into the discussion here, Kim. And I feel similarly, but just slightly different (although maybe not different at all, come to think of it ... at least with Ratched).

I, too, see Ratched as acting for what she perceives is the greatest good, but then I can't help thinking of some of the nastiest "villains' in the real world who have done the same. Genocides, tortures, flat out murders have all been committed with the perpetrators really believing they are doing the "right thing" or doing what is best.

And with McMurphy, I agree with the fact that he's always challenging authority but I wonder whether it is so much because he can as because he has to. It feels to me like he is compelled to rebel because he feels injustice in authority and needs to fight it. And I do think that McMurphy genuinely cares about people (Bibbit and Chief specifically) and isn't doing things for purely selfish reasons, even though the personal, selfish motivations are undeniably there. I just think he's more complex than utter selfishness.

I started reading this yesterday, and then I misplaced the book. How annoying is that? That's twice in two months I've done that now. I am getting old.


message 30: by Melki (new)

Melki | 205 comments Brad - do you know where your car keys are?


message 31: by Brad (new)

Brad (judekyle) | 19 comments No! Really, truly no. I couldn't find them yesterday, borrowed my wife's, and then forgot to look for mine. Going to do that now.


message 32: by [deleted user] (new)

I read the book and saw the movie in high school, but that's been almost 8 years ago now, so I put in a request for the book at the library today so I can re-read.


message 33: by Michael, Mod Prometheus (new)

Michael (knowledgelost) | 1255 comments Mod
Miss placing books sounds worse the losing keys or your phone. I don't know how you could survive Brad


message 34: by Brad (new)

Brad (judekyle) | 19 comments I found it! Whew. It really does stress me right out, KL. I lose it. I was up for three hours last night haunting my house in the dark with a headlamp, trying to find it, and I finally gave in and started another book just so I could read before bed. It's an illness.


message 35: by Carycleo (new)

Carycleo | 28 comments I'd been waffling about whether to re-read this, but this discussion has convinced me to do it. Let these aging, "jaded reader" eyes re-visit a book that made a huge impression on me and my friends in junior high. :) And also see how much of the lasting impression has been colored by the movie.


message 36: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Just finished the book. My final conclusion (not anything stunningly new) on Nurse Ratched is that she could have stopped anytime and had the power to with McMurphy but she wanted to see the war till the bitter end. I feel so emotionally spent after reading it, need a nap.


message 37: by Carycleo (new)

Carycleo | 28 comments Re-reading this after so many years is a total surprise. What strikes me so strongly right now (at about the halfway point) is the choice of narrator: unreliable, mentally disturbed, and smart Bromden, who drifts from fact to metaphor to outright hallucination to total breakdown, and back.

Early on, he says (on p. 8 in my copy) by way of introduction, "But it's the truth even if it didn't happen." I love this aspect of the novel. Putting the narrative in the voice of someone incapable of reliably accurate perception forces the reader to take the role of the authority on what "really" happened. Which sort of makes us like the staff, judging the mentally ill people and the tales they tell. Which is very sly on Kesey's part.

(P.S. Melki - I hear you on the teeny-tiny print. :))

Also, maybe this is just my weirdness, but Bromden's descriptions of the complete surreal weirdness of life there made me think how cool it would be as anime. His perceptions, with the spider webs and force lines and all of that ..... nightmarish and cool.


message 38: by Brad (new)

Brad (judekyle) | 19 comments It would be awesome in Anime. What a cool thought, Carycleo.


message 39: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen (weishaark) | 7 comments Hi all. I just recently joined this group after a 'break' from the GR forum. With my own reading goals already established for this month, I haven't read 'Cuckoo', but I remember seeing the movie, likely in my 20's - but that's not what I want to talk about. What's important enough for me to share at this point is the sense of joy and gratitude this group is bringing me as I peruse the cogent and thoughtful comments of discussion participants. The effort to explore multiple themes; to think about 'context' - oh the pure joy of it makes me giddy. (I know, clearlly I don't get out much :-)@Carycleo - your observations about Kesey's choice of narrator and how it puts us in the role of a staff member is wonderful! Thank you all - you have restored my faith in my fellow readers - (a subset of them at any rate!)


message 40: by Iveta (new)

Iveta | 4 comments Hello everyone! I've just joined the forum and as it happens, was reading the 'cuckoos nest' (cool coincidence, huh?). It was my first time reading it, as I see a lot of you re-read it and have it linked with various times in your life and perceptions. Well, I cannot give a perspective link in that way, but right now I can say I really liked the book and was shocked by it. (Should warn of spoilers in my commentary).
I, like Carycleo, also wondered at the brilliancy of the choice of the narrator - Bromden seems a half-way point in describing the system from the eyes of real mental trauma in a person and mental coherency when watching and understanding events, people. He also carries a contradiction in himself - physically big and powerful he feels small and weak mentally, later on 'growing' because of McMurphy and, as I understood it, this referenced more to his own perception of himself and inner strength than actual physical strength. His surreal visions and descriptions of events add the feelings of mental patients through there own sensitive kind of way. So, as a narrator Bromden was something in between everything - a patient, but a coherent personality; a dis-balance (by the end, a balance) of physical and mental strength; the bridge of perception of the ward by the staff and the patients; McMyrphys' impact on Bromden seems to be the high point of his fight with the system - a complete understanding, a recurring strength and, at the very shocking end, a respect of mental personality that McMurphy becomes deprived of and given back by Bromden.
As for McMurphy, I do not think him as completely selfish nor necessarily going against the system. I think he was more against inhumanity and wanted these patients to be treated as people more that as mental loonies. His complete shock when arriving to the afraid bunch of people, not daring even to laugh, I think he tried to give them back a life of joy, needs and fulfilment - even the constant talks referring to male masculinity, women and so on seem to be there to wake up his friends to a certain vitality, the basic one at first - sexuality. At the same time, he himself does not consider certain viewpoints or consequences, nor is he reluctant to get money from his friends, so as a character he's neither wholly good, nor wholly bad overall, just very powerful.
As for Miss Ratched, I agree that she only acts as she seems right. Her basic fault seems to be her being too loyal to the general rules, not being able to re-think them or consider her patients as individuals. This establishment seems to me as a place to keep them instead of bringing the back to life.
There also comes the question of conformity overall - when the Chief describes people being 'cured' and going back to society, he feels it is all a working of the Machine that makes everyone the same. People in the ward, with their differences and peculiarities cannot live in the real world - the reason for voluntary staying in the place the hate so much; but as they still stay there - are they simply afraid to go out and face themselves as different from others, or can the outside world of conformity be w o r s e that Miss Ratched and her terrible system?
Seems to me that McMurphy is the vital force that brings these people back to life, on their own way. He takes them to the sea, to connect with nature again, he revives their manliness with women, beer, fishing and brings back a what seems to me a very important trace of a person who can live through anything - laughing (remember, by the end they laugh?).
That's just some thoughts about the book. I think it's not so much about how bad the mental system was then (even though it was), it's more about how people came to be there in the first place and what defines a human being (in this case is should say - a man).
I hope some of this is of use :] I just really liked the book.


message 41: by Iveta (new)

Iveta | 4 comments P.S. sorry for it being so long... I'll learn to speak more sufficiently with time :]


message 42: by Melki (last edited Jul 25, 2011 09:21AM) (new)

Melki | 205 comments Wow - Iveta! I am awed by your insights! Hope you're planning on reading "Book Thief". I look forward to hearing your thoughts on that title.


message 43: by Iveta (new)

Iveta | 4 comments Thank you! I'm glad you found my thoughts useful. I really want to read the "Book Thief", but the only copy in my University library seems to be taken by someone for the summer. But there are other libraries, to be sure, so I'll do my best (I feel like saying 'or dye trying!') :D


message 44: by Carycleo (new)

Carycleo | 28 comments Glad to see your take on the book, Iveta. (I don't want to be the only one who rambles on. :)) McMurphy's character haunted me, and your take on him as reintroducing the men to their "manliness" and sexuality reminds me of how he introduced himself to the ward and the staff's recitation of his past. He tells about how he always gets into fights, which is why he was in and out of jail all the time. At the first group meeting (I think), a staff member said that he had been accused of rape (a 15 year old girl?), but that the witness seemed to have been intimidated into refusing to testify. McMurphy perhaps embodies both the best and worst of masculinity and sexuality, or a complex tangle of all that. A very powerful character and a force for change, as Iveta said. Bromden, at least, comes away empowered, for now.

On the other hand, I kind of share Thomas's view that "you would find many guys like McMurphy at your nearest jail. Genial, yet really only looking out for themselves." Jail is where he came from after all, looking for an easier sentence in the psych ward. McMurphy shook the place up, but primarily to entertain himself and make him feel powerful rather than out of compassion, is my take.
My local libraries catalog this book as Teen Fiction, which surprised me. The themes seem very adult to me. I totally identify with Rebecca saying she was "emotionally spent" when she finished it.

What do you folks think was Kesey's main point in writing this book? Part of me thinks it really is about mental illness being a kind of prison in and of itself, but I'm pretty waffley on that. The intro in the edition I read said Kesey had worked in a psych ward and also been a kind of occasional, temporary patient through volunteering for drug experiments, so he would have had a pretty up close and personal experience to draw from.


message 45: by Mary, Quiet Observer (new)

Mary (fruity) | 128 comments Mod
I still haven't finished the book so my feelings could change before the end, but it seems to me as though mcmurphy is helping the men to feel empowered again after they have been torn down by the disrespect of women in their life. The nurse uses disrespect as a way to hold power over the men, and perhaps harding's wife does the same. And mcmurphy has come along and tries to help them reclaim the respect they feel they deserve. He helps them to grow as big as they used to be. I love that metaphor from the chief, although for him it's more reality than metaphorical, that he has been made small compared to what he used to be, just like his dad was made small by his mother. It makes me reflect on the damage that women can do to the men in their lives with their disrespect.
Anyway , I'm sure to have some more thoughts when I actually finish it


message 46: by Brad (new)

Brad (judekyle) | 19 comments I think there was definitely a thread of that in the book, Mary. Another case is Billy Bibbit and his mother. I wondered in that relationship if there was more than mental abuse going on.


message 47: by Emily (new)

Emily (robinsonem) For me, the heart of the book is summed up near the end when Harding says, "'I can't speak for them. They've still got their problems, just like all of us. They're still sick men in lots of ways. But at least there's that: They are sick men now. No more rabbits, Mack. Maybe they can be well men someday. I can't say.'" Despite McMurphy's faults, he gave the men back their dignity. That is no small thing. Every morning I go to work, caring for those whom Bromden would describe as "Chronics", and I see from them and hear from them, how important this is. To me, and to his friends, McMurphy is a hero, albeit an atypical one.


message 48: by Victoria (last edited Jul 29, 2011 06:53PM) (new)

Victoria | 107 comments Carycleo wrote: "Part of me thinks it really is about mental illness being a kind of prison in and of itself, but I'm pretty waffley on that..."

(Hi, I'm new, but I read this at the end of 2010, loved it, and thought I might try diving into the discussion)

I think Kesey was less concerned about the threat that mental illness represented than the threat that the machinations of society pose. From McMurphy's perspective, many of the patients on the ward were not so much irredeemably crazy, as suffering the effects of marginalisation and emasculation. Chief Bromden refers to society as The Combine- an industrial social machine which chews you up and spits you out if you don't fit within a predetermined definition of 'normal'. I think for Kesey, it was conformity to a bland model of behaviour and the medicalisation of abnormality that was the truly scary prison.


message 49: by Melki (new)

Melki | 205 comments Kesey sure did have issues with conformity. I think he saw it as the death of creativity. Never thought about it before, but you're right - being forced to be like everyone else IS like being in prison.


message 50: by Viktor (new)

Viktor Depends on what kind of prison. Some are pretty bad out there...


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