Returning to classics
Obviously, I like reading. A lot. But sometimes I love reading short, young adult books. I love that feeling of starting and finishing a book in one relaxing afternoon.
But then I feel that, as an English major, the things I’m reading aren’t English-majory enough. So I looked through a list of proclaimed classics and realized I hadn’t read Ken Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. While many people read this in high school, I somehow made it through all 17 years of school without reading it.
Written in the early 60s, the entire novel takes place in a mental institution. Back then, mental health problems were not understood. Many homosexuals were put in institutions to be “cured.” People with a wide spectrum of disorders were clumped together, doctors not understanding how to help them. This was the time of lobotomies and electroshock therapy.
So the dynamic of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest is very unique. There is a wide range of characters, some who don’t belong there and some who suffer from severe mental disorders.
The protagonist is a tall, broad Native American man named “Chief.” He’s the main character, so we want to believe what he says. But no matter how many times he announces he shouldn’t be at the mental hospital, we’re not sure we can trust him.
After the arrival of McMurphy, everything spirals out of control. He introduces the other patients to gambling and questions their trust in authority. I’ll stop there because I don’t want to ruin it in case you also finished school without picking up Kesey’s novel. But stuff happens. Lots of stuff.
Throughout the book, I found myself sympathizing with Chief. Kesey gave him such a distinct and powerful voice. I knew he was an unreliable narrator, but I also believed in him.
I’ll warn you. The end is very shocking. I had come to sympathize with “Chief,” but I’d also known all along that he was mentally unstable. So which world does Chief belong in? The life in the mental institution, or the life he remembers outside.