We, being members of society do not have the authority to judge whether people are sane or insane. Some may say that others are insane but we are all a little bit crazy. One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, a novel written by Ken Kesey deals with these topics and is a well-written piece of literature that will be enjoyed by generations to come. It will become a timeless classic simply because of the great combination of the setting and the characters and how they both support the themes found throughout the story.
The setting of One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest is a backdrop which makes it easy to see the wickedness of the world and people in general. The hospital, Dr. Spivey says, is a little world inside that is a made-to-scale prototype of the big world outside. Most of the action in the novel takes place in a world that is indeed limited and specific. It is but one ward of one hospital in Oregon. The world of the Cuckoos Nest is in many ways a cartoon world that is filled with colorful characters and laughs, in which good and evil are clearly defined.
Far from being a place of healing, the hospital is a place of fear where patients do not laugh and fear the consequences of anything they speak of. The setting of this novel allows the characters to develop freely and they are even a little off the wall which is a good attribute that will be admired by future readers. McMurphy teaches the rest of the patients how to be sane. Above all, this sanity consists of the ability to laugh, to laugh both at your self and at the world that is often ludicrous and cruel.
Chief Bromden says, He knows you have to laugh at the things that hurt you just to keep yourself in balance, just to keep the world from running you plumb crazy. As McMurphy is strapped to the treatment table (shape of a cross), a parallel is drawn between him and Christ, both sacrificed themselves for the good of others. His sole reason for living has been the other patients need for him. His example has given the patients enough courage to brave the outside world, but he returns from a lobotomy a ruined man.
One of the most important clues to the character of Nurse Ratched is that her name rhymes with ratchet, which is a piece of machinery. Nurse Ratched (whose name also carries the echoes of rat and wretched), has transformed herself from a human being into a machine that demands complete control and order of everyone. The Chief describes the nurse as, a mechanism of terror, able to control the hospital with her beams of hate, which shows the Nurse as the embodiment of pure evil. She represents forces that influence us all.
The Nurse and her new patient (McMurphy) are in every way opposed to each other; she demands control, while he seeks freedom. She is the voice of common sense but McMurphy never lets rules or common sense stand in the way of good fun. This ongoing conflict symbolizes the struggle between good and evil. Our guide to the world of the Cuckoos Nest is the towering Chief Bromden. The Chiefs seemingly random and irrational hallucinations, confusing at first, gain clarity when we see they are carefully organized to give us an understanding of the hospital we would never receive from a traditional narrator.
He has convinced everyone around him that he is deaf and dumb, he tries to flee reality by thinking back to his happy childhood but in moments of great stress, a dense fog engulfs him. He sees his father shrink in his mind, the diminishing is a literal and physical one, from a proud Indian Chief to a man stripped of his name. The Chief has always possessed his own reserves of courage; it just took McMurphy to remind him that he did. One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest is as much the Chiefs story as it is McMurphys and it is only because of his final victory that we are able to hear the story of the Cuckoos Nest at all.
The hidden meanings and representations of characters is definitely one of the reasons why this is such a great book. Ken Kesey displays many themes in, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, to help the reader gain a greater understanding of his message. The biggest being: What is craziness and what is sanity. The patients in the ward have been declared mentally ill by society and in some cases even by themselves. However, Dr. Spivey and the residents display no more courage or rationality than do their patients Nurse Ratcheds devotion to rules above all else can be seen as some kind of illness, one she shares with much of society.
Unrestrained sexuality is a big part of McMurphys (and Keseys) idea of sanity. Where sane men and women are not afraid of sex, many of the patients are in the hospital at least in part because their sexuality has been devastated. The Chiefs return to sanity is signaled in part by an erection. Billy defeats his controlling mother and Nurse Ratched when he loses his virginity to Candy. Even Nurse Ratched hides her sexuality by trying to hide her large breasts with her heavy white uniform. Kesey seems to share the same point of view, which the author of the Rocking Horse Winner had. That was, we do not pay enough attention to our sexuality.
These themes and may others are consistent and scattered evenly throughout the story, which again emphasizes the quality of this novel. The setting was explained with the greatest of detail, the characters were always true to their nature and the themes dealt with in this novel were in fact very real. A quite disturbing piece, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, makes you think about how people in such institutions live. However, as grim as his descriptions of the hospital may be, Kesey is not simply writing a book that criticizes such mental health facilities, for we realize that the outside world is not much better.