"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Thursday, September 7, 2023


Cover of the original 1962 paperback

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

Book Beginnings: 
They're out there.

Friday 56:

Instead of rising to the argument, McMurphy just keeps on looking at Harding, finally asks in a level voice, "And you really think this crap that went on in the meeting today is bringing about some kinda cure, doing some kinda good?"


You've never met anyone like RANDLE PATRICK McMURPHY.  He's a boisterous, brawling, fun-loving rebel who swaggers into the ward of a mental hospital and takes over…. He's  a lusty, profane, life-loving fighter who rallies the other patients around him by challenging the dictatorship of Big Nurse. He promotes gambling in the ward, smuggles in wine and women. At every turn, he openly defies her rule. The contest starts as sport but soon it develops into a grim struggle for the minds and hearts of the men, into an all-out war between two relentless opponents: Big Nurse, backed by the full power of authority and McMurphy, who has only his own indomitable will. (Publisher)

Review: I've carried my very own 1962 paperback copy of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest around with me for several decades. I don't remember where or when I got it but it is likely that I bought it used when I was in college in the late 1970s in Eugene, not far from where the author, Ken Kesey, lived. I, like most people I suppose, became aware of the book because of the movie starring Jack Nicholson as Randle McMurphy and Louise Fletcher as the Big Nurse. Both won academy awards for their performances. The movie won a total of five academy awards in 1975, including Best Picture. Everyone I knew at the time had seen the movie, not once but many times. And it wasn't as easy to see movies-on-demand in those days! In addition to seeing the movie, many people had to read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in high school or college English classes, catapulting the book into the status of 'modern classic.'

Certainly there is something very classic about One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. We could say it is a twist on the theme of good verses evil; big vs. small; powerful vs. powerless. Big Nurse rules her ward at the Oregon State Mental Health Hospital in Salem. If her patients don't behave, she has them overly sedated or sent for electroshock therapy (fortunately that doesn't happen any more today.) Many of the men have chosen to be in the mental hospital and could sign themselves out any day. When McMurphy swaggers onto the ward, he not only finds himself at odds with Big Nurse and her rules, but at the passivity of the other patients. He is completely flummoxed why anyone would want to be in the hospital voluntarily.

The narrator is a half Indian, Chief Bromden. His role in the book is much larger than in the movie and the reader is allowed to see his growth as his head clears from the sedatives he is given to keep him calm. In the beginning he spends quite a bit of time in his mind trying to determine reality from fantasy. Everyone assumes he is deaf and mute, so he is allowed to eavesdrop on critical conversations. As he and McMurphy become friends, Chief describes himself as getting bigger. Which is a wonderful metaphor for what is happening.

Unfortunately racism was also written into the novel, making me wonder if most schools have or will soon remove the book from the curriculum.  The orderlies are two Black men who are called "boys" and they always do the bidding of Big Nurse, but are also working deals on the side. At one point, when a particular nasty treatment is prescribed by Big Nurse, these orderlies are gleefully torturing the patients and McMurphy comes to their defense by not only physically standing up to the orderlies but also calling them by racists and horrible names.  As I read this I had to remind myself that 1962 was before the Civil Rights Act and it wasn't as shocking in those days to hear such horrible names in books. But today we have different sensibilities. Although the formula for why a book becomes popular or many even a classic is an impossible mystery to solve. It's popularity may also fade as culture changes. I guessing that is what has and should happen with Cuckoo's Nest.

Ken Kesey, a famous hippy of the 1960s penned one of twentieth century's most popular books. Today as culture shifts it will likely have to shift over for other books that fit our expectations and today's struggles, but I would argue that there is always room on the shelves for books which show the little guy making more room for everybody in the world. In the end McMurphy's biggest accomplishment was he taught not just Chief, but all the patients, how to live like men again.

A review found in the Houston Chronicle at that time of publication in 1962.

Post script to my review: After writing the above review I found a review written for the LA Times by  Carolyn Kellogg (Feb. 2012) on the 50th anniversary of the publication of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. She initially asks the question, is the book worth reading? She answers her own question this way:

As the culture changes, some books that appear significant for a time may fail to endure. I had feared “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” would be one of those books. But it isn’t. In it, a stranger walks into a closed environment and subverts the rules, asking all along why anyone would passively live that way. This was a message embraced by the hippies of the ‘60s, but it resonates just as strongly with those who occupied Wall Street; two copies of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” are in the Occupy Wall Street library. Fifty years later, Kesey’s work is still great.

This shocked me a little bit since nowhere in the review did she mention the racism. Giving one more chance to stop and review history. Ten years ago George Floyd hadn't been killed for all of us to see by a police officer with a grudge. The Black Lives Matter movement wasn't up and running. See what I mean about culture changes?

Later in the day I read a comment on my Goodreads account from a blogging friend who used to be an English teacher. He said: 

I taught this book for years and enjoyed helping students see its literary aspects. Then it dawned on me how it was portraying women, and I lost faith in it. (Gary)

Egads. I was so focused on the negative stereotypes of Blacks in the book I didn't even think about the anti-feminism messages. 

Time to call it. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a book which had value for it's time. But culture has moved on. Let's leave this popular book to the 20th Century and move on from it in the 21st!

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City Reader. First Line Friday is hosted by Reading is My Super Power. Share the opening quote from current book.The Friday56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56 to share. Visit these two websites to participate. Click on links to read quotes from books other people are reading. It is a great way to make blog friends and to get suggestions for new reading material. 


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