One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey is one of the few fiction books I have enjoyed from beginning to end. From the moment I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down. Kesey’s compelling and detailed description of the ward and each of its patients is well described. His choice of narration, Chief Bromden, is well thought out as for nearly the entirety of this book he claims to be deaf and mute however, he really is the eyes, ears and voice through this entire novel. This narration creates a certain sense of irony which drags the reader in even more.
The introduction of the incredibly good-natured, happy-go-lucky, protagonist Randle McMurphy perfectly contrasts the nastiness and devil-like persona of Nurse Ratched. McMurphy is everything a teenager wants to see in a rebel. He is funny, sarcastic and never backs down from something he believes in. However, his relentless attack on Nurse Ratched, and his goal to inspire the other patients in the ward are eventually what leads to his downfall. After bringing in alcohol and girls into the ward, McMurphy is given shock therapy until he is basically brain dead. Despite Kesey’s incredible detail and description about the characters, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” contains many themes relatable to people of all ages.
One of the most obvious themes of the novel is madness or sanity versus insanity. It’s ironic that despite being the head of a psychiatric ward, Nurse Ratched seems to be one of the craziest people in the entire ward. It shows that to draw a conclusion that someone is not normal or not sane is very subjective and there is no real answer. Throughout the novel we aren’t told whether or not Randle McMurphy is really in fact “crazy” however, he seems to think more clearly than any sane person in the novel. Another prominent theme in this novel is one that can very easily be translated into modern days. The judgement and treatment of people in the outside world can sometimes be too hard to handle. Many of the patients in the ward are there out of choice which shows the true, hurtful reality of outsiders. The fact that people would rather be ruled by the cruel, immoral Nurse Ratched over being free in the outside world because they are afraid of judgement highlights a harsh reality that has been around for decades. This idea can be represented by the character Dale Harding, a patient in the ward who chooses to live in the ward instead of being free because he is homosexual. Although this book is realistic fiction, the themes implemented in this novel by Kesey are anything, but fictitious.