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100 Banned Books Series: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

on July 9, 2013

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest   100 Banned Books Series: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey


What is it about?

A classic from the 1960s, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey is a novel set in a mental institution run by the infamously strict Nurse Ratched and her loyal staff, as they hold control over the patients there, all of which suffer from some sort of mental illness. The book focuses on two patients in particular: Chief Bromden, the narrator of the story, who is huge, but very timid, Native American man who has convinced the staff that he is deaf, and therefore not worth noticing.  The other is the hero of the story: Randle “Red” McMurphey, a man committed for statutory rape, and dedicates his time at the asylum to helping the other patients against the tyrannical Nurse Ratched.

The novel mostly tells of the war between McMurphey and Nurse Ratched, and the consequences that come from it. At first, it simply  comes from McMurphey’s reluctance to adhere to Nurse Ratched’s rules, though eventually, he gets several of the other patients on his side. Throughout the novel, McMurphey learns more about the power system in play, and what exactly can drive a man crazy.


Why is it controversial?

The main reason for this book’s controversy comes from the fact that it’s use of course language and unsavory themes that many parents would rather not have their teenage children reading about.  Also, there is much talk of sex, since a major theme of the book is how sexual repression can damage a person, using Billy Bibbit (whose overbearing mother kept from reaching sexual and emotional maturity) as the main example. There is also some crude language, including derogatory terms for people of color.


My thoughts?

The thing I find most interesting about this book is that there doesn’t seem to be a true good guy in it. Though, McMurphey does do things that helps the other patients, it’s implied that he’s only really doing it to help himself, and that he is a narcissist.  We never really find out whether or not this is true.

Also, though I wouldn’t call Chief Bromden an unreliable narrator in the traditional sense, one should note that, because of his mental illness, he does not see the world the way regular people do, and because of that, it is up to the reader to interpret what is really going on.

While I do think that this is a very good and important work, I feel the need to point out that this book is at times very misogynistic. The main theme of the story is what makes a man go insane, and apparently a woman being in power is one of them.

Granted, Nurse Ratched is a terrible human being, but still, there are many instances where male characters treat female characters as sex objects and attempt to use sex as a way to overpower them. Hell, the reason Red is in the asylum at all is on a statutory rape charge.

That being said, it is an important read.  Like many of the other books in this series, there’s a reason this book is considered a classic. It’s a great read, has compelling characters, and really helps with getting into the mind of the mentally ill.


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