Saturday, February 11, 2012

I could lift it alright

I have never seen or read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest but I knew that it was one of those classics and frankly after drowning myself in a lot of science fiction I threw this little paperback in my bag and tore through it.

The book takes place in the 1960's in mental institution. We see this world threw the eyes of Chief Bromden, a Native American who is a giant of a man and yet pretends to be deaf and mute to get through life in this institution ruled by Nurse Ratched, who is a horrible as her name sounds. A new, and presumably mentally stable, man named McMurphy comes into the ward and proceeds to turn things on it's head. He fights against the system, and yet the deck is so stacked against him that we know he will not succeed.

"He's shown us what a little bravado and courage could accomplish, and we thought he'd taught us how to use it. All the way to the coast we had fun pretending to be brave. When people at a stop light would stare at us and our green uniforms we'd do just like he did, sit up straight and strong and tough-looking and put a big grin on our face and stare straight back at them till their motors died and their windows sunstreaked and they were left sitting when the light changed, upset bad by what a tough bunch of monkeys was just now not three feet from them, and help nowhere in sight."

Bromden sees society as a great Combine that chews up those that do not function as "normal" people. Through him we see the way that other patients were unable to fit due to a myriad of issues and who have their spirits raised and dashed by the coming of McMurphy. McMurphy uses them at the same time tries to help them, and although his motives seem to be almost all selfish, he does seem to be working for the good of those on the ward. In the end McMurphy cannot escape the Combine now that he is in the ward anymore than the rest of them can.

"Yes. This is what I know. The ward is a factory for the Combine. It's fixing up the mistakes made in the neighborhoods and in the schools and in the churches, the hospital is.When a complete product goes back out into society, all fixed up and good as new, better than new sometimes, it brings joy to the Big Nurse's heart; something that came in all twisted different is now a functioning adjusted component, a credit to the whole outfit and a marvel to behold."

I really, really enjoyed this book. I think that I like most books about how society treats those that are mentally unbalanced (the Bell Jar, Girl, Interrupted, Fingersmith, and others) and this one had me right there with the patients. Nurse Ratched is so realistic that she could be prowling the wards today, albeit she would have to use much more tact to not get caught condoning orderlies raping patients. The lack of control of the patients and the absolute tyranny of the staff makes for a fascinating and terrifying environment.

There is a reason this book is on lists of great books. I highly suggest it. I really want to check the movie out and see how it compares up. Has anyone seen it?

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