Friday, April 3, 2009
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
After reading The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, I was intrigued and persuaded to read Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Since Kesey is the central character in the first novel mentioned, I really wanted to see what this guy's writing was all about. And, since they were touring for that book, I wanted to see if this book lived up to its reputation.
Kesey was portrayed in The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test as that leading hippie who eventually cools it down a bit. He leads a group of hippies across the country to do drugs and promote his book. It was even reported that he was doing drugs as he wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. This is apparent when you look at some of the crazy scenes in the book, like when Chief is having these intense made-up dreams.
It wasn't a terrible read, but I thought I might be more hooked on it than I was. I really like the idea of the insane asylum and how they are kept in their like prisoners almost. The idea that a non-insane person would come in there and spice it up a little, kind of remove everyone from their happy little routine existence, is a pretty radical idea. I like it.
Kesey creates the character of Randall McMurphy, an extraodinary character for classic fiction. I loved his character. He's a likable rebel who befriends these troubled men who are in this psych ward. He stirs things up and makes them feel alive again. All the meds, the repetition, the belittling, the loss of power--these men needed someone to rejuvenate them and make them feel like actual people again, not patients.
McMurphy should have went to jail but was deemed insane instead. This is a crazy idea too for the time since more people do this nowadays. Maybe it started to become more popular after this book was published. Anyway, McMurphy committed statutory rape even though he says she wanted it. I just loved his connection with the other characters. He has no prejudice; he just wants to have a good time.
I also really enjoyed Chief's character. He is considered to be deaf and dumb even though he is the narrator of the story. I like that Kesey had Chief be the main character, not McMurphy. Before I read this, I thought that Jack Nicholson's character from the movie would be the main character because he is the dominant image when you think of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Wrong. I like that the reader gets the perspective of others who view McMurphy. Chief is a great character to do that to since his thoughts are always to himself and he never communicates with anyone else.
McMurphy slowly wins over Chief so that he slowly talks to him and builds his confidence. It was so interesting that such a powerful man (tall and strong) could be held captive with no power the way he was in that asylum. McMurphy gives him the courage, like he does to many others, to break out of there and have a life. I like McMurphy's purpose in this way.
I was a little shocked and concerned about the ending though. It really built up to this very large last scene, which took forty minutes in the movie version. McMurphy brings two girls to the ward at night; he wakes all the patients who drink, party, and dance. In the morning when the place is trashed, the tyrannical Nurse Ratched is very angry and out to punish. Billy, a character who stutters, is found with a girl. They had slept together. Ratched insists she will tell his mother. Billy is so upset that he kills himself. Out of fury, McMurphy tries to strangle Ratched but is taken away. He is subdued and drugged for months, even given a lobotomy. He really has no brain activity going on whatsoever. Ratched's vocal chords never were the same again. Chief is so upset with McMurphy's state that he suffocates him with a pillow, throws a heavy object out the window, and escapes, just as he promised McMurphy.
The ending was troubling to me. I didn't see McMurphy as being caught by the system. I would have liked it if he beat the system and escaped. I didn't like that they got the best of him. It was good that Chief got away, but I was surprised he would even strangle him too. I know he was doing the best for him, but he loved him. Or maybe it's like Of Mice and Men--George killed Lenny because he loved him and did the best for him. Interesting connection.
I also think it's interesting to note other characters in the book. Nurse Ratched's character was very interesting to analyze. The woman is the power force. She is mean and wants the men to be miserable as well. She likes control and likes to take pleasure away from these men. Then the orderlies are all black. I know it was the 1960s, but even so, the way they were mentioned seems to be saying something.
Jack Nicholson plays a great McMurphy too. He's everything I pictured when I read the book. Kirk Douglas was originally cast, but that would've been no good. Nicholson is crazy like that. Christopher Lloyd even makes it in there. The film was put together pretty well, just like the book.
Overall, not a bad piece of work. Both the movie and the book were both enjoyable. They are definitely both worth checking out.
So, what do you think of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest?