One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Book Review

Rachel Lindof, Assistant Head Editor

Ken Kesey’s 1962 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest tells the story of a fictional psychiatric institution in Oregon in the 1950’s. The story, told from the point of view of the seemingly deaf and mute “Chief” Bromden, a patient in the institution, follows a new patient and the power struggle that ensues between him and the head nurse, Miss Ratched. This new patient is Randle Patrick McMurphy, a hot headed man only residing in the mental institution to evade a prison labor sentence. Nurse Ratched is depicted as an uptight tyrant who runs the ward just to her satisfaction.

The novel follows the relationship that forms between McMurphy and the other characters including Nurse Ratched, Bromden, and other patients. Throughout the story, McMurphy is responsible for many incidents within the ward, including taking the patients on a fishing trip, sneaking women into the ward, and more. This leads to a constant power struggle between McMurphy and Ratched who tries to keep the ward in order. This struggle concludes at the end of the book in a way the reader does not expect.
After reading the book, I found the message of Kesey’s novel to be one that still holds true today. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest illustrates the importance of being able to challenge social and group norms and dynamics when they don’t align with one’s values. “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 … Fifty years later, Kesey’s work is still great,” said Carolyn Kellogg of the Los Angeles Times.  The book also sheds light on the interpersonal relationships between nurses and patients within many psychiatric institutions, an often overlooked subject.

However, while the book has a good take-away message and gives insight into important aspects of healthcare facilities, the characters are greatly one-dimensional and lack any real development or purpose. The only character I feel I was truly able to experience the development of was Bromden, the narrator of the story. As the book progresses, his narration becomes increasingly unreliable and confusing, and the reader is able to tell he is increasingly suffering from his mental disorder. He also develops as a person through the help of McMurphy. “Chief is the most dynamic character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Nurse Ratched is still miserable, the other patients are more or less in the same predicament, and McMurphy was forced into a non-responsive state, but Chief is different, inspired, and ready to take on the world” said Shea Vassar in her article about the story last year. It seems as though most of the other characters in the story were only present to represent different stereotypes instead of contributing anything to the story.

Though the novel could have expanded more on all of the characters, the story is one that is still definitely worth listening to, in any form. Keseys debut novel is far from perfect, but the message has lived on since. I think that the story of One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest is one that people should know, and despite some minor issues, its an amazing book. Since the storys debut in 1962, it has been adapted into an academy award winning film starring Jack Nicholson, and just recently a spin-off Netflix series titled Ratched starring Sarah Paulson.