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One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Book Review Example

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Book Review

The plot of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by the American author Ken Kesey involves mental patients housed in psychiatric institution. But this is only the surface story. The story is in more depth a critique of these type of institutions, in which those who live on the margins of society or who are differ than the norm are subjected to cruelty. Kesey therefore through his stories tries to make the reader think and reflect about the state of such institutions as psychiatric institutions and the inhumanness that exists within them.

The story is told by a Native American patient at the institution. The narrative revolves around his friendship with the patient McMurphy, who has pretended to be mentally ill so as to avoid a term in prison. The two characters are constantly tormented by the cruel figure known as Big Nurse. Big Nurse can be said to symbol the institutional cruelty that Kesey wishes to communicate in his work. There is a constant tension between the main characters and Big Nurse, with Big nurse the symbol of institutional control and the dehumanization of those in the hospital. For example, Kesey writes about Big Nurse when discussing the antics of the patients and the punishment the patients will get for crossing her: “Big Nurse could use it as an example of what can happen if you buck the system.” (177) Big Nurse is a figure of authority and control, who punishes the patients for their breaking of the systems law. Big Nurse is the symbol of the law-giver, the systematic control.

The key problem in the novel is not the system itself, but what happens when a system is inhumane in character. Kesey does not criticize all forms of rules and relationships. Instead he attempts to show the monsters created when a system and law comes into place without any ethical center. This is the ultimate conclusion of the novel, with McMurphy ordered to undergo a lobotomy. “The ward door opened, and the black boys wheeled in this Gurney with a chart at the bottom that said in heavy black letters, MCMURPHY, RANDLE P. POST-OPERATIVE: And below this was written in ink, LOBOTOMY.” (176) The lobotomy produces what Kesey terms the vegetable. Those who are unable to think, to feel, to be human. When the system can not make someone conform, they destroy the spirit of this person.

This is the fundamental message of Kesey’s text. A system in this case the psychiatric system exists so as to isolate all those who do not fit into the mainstream system. In the case when they attempt to protest their treatment they are further punished. The institution of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is an institute of punishment, cruelty and ultimately dehumanization. By showing us the terror of this world Kesey forces reader to think about the structure of society and the institutions that make us society. Kesey demands the reader ultimately to be critical of this structure, bringining us close to the main character’s world so we feel empathy, and then having the reader watch this world shattered.

Works Cited

Kesey, Ken. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

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