I make a “not bucket list” every year of things I’d like to do in the upcoming year and read/watch “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” made the cut, so it was the perfect thing to tackle during a mini Spring Break-staycation.
Randle Patrick McMurphy is a gambling con-man in the 196os who trades a stint on a prison work farm for a stay in an asylum. The men’s only asylum has a rich cast of characters who are battling their own personal demons, but no personal demon in worse than Nurse Ratched, head of the ward, who has managed to turn her floor of the asylum into a purgatory for frightened and weakened men. McMurphy is a real character but for me the real hero of this tale is Chief Bromden the towering Native American quasi-narrator. We learn about Bromden through his own voice, at times in present day, wrestling with his demons, but at other times clearly reflecting on his past. He has an interesting trajectory in this novel because he is presumed to be deaf/mute by the other patients and asylum staff, when in fact he just hasn’t spoken in so long, he doesn’t quite know where to begin. Until McMurphy comes along.
Not only the patients, but the ward doctor and the rest of the staff are merely existing in an almost static state, firmly under the thumb of Nurse Ratched. McMurphy shows up to shake things up, and bring life and hope to men who have shrank under the pressure of the calculating and emasculating nurse. The question to be answered is in the end, who will come out on top in the end?
This is a captivating and engaging book and I immediately understand why it is such a classic, and why it was adapted for both film and stage. Somehow, even though the novel and its adaptations are fairly culturally ubiquitous, I was able to go into this read relatively blind, which is my preferred way to absorb literature. The only inescapable fact is that I knew that McMurphy was played by Jack Nicholson in the film, so I would picture him throughout the read, which anchored my experience in absolutely loving this book. It is hopeful, heartbreaking, thoughtful, and I am very glad I have finally checked this one off of my “to read” list.