Has there been a film version?
Yes, starring Jack Nicholson, and was also made into a Broadway play in 1963.
Who are the important characters?
Chief “Broom” Bromden – a schizophrenic who pretends he’s deaf and dumb, he is the largest man in the ward and is half Native American
Randle McMurphy – a convict who worked to get himself transferred to an asylum believing the life to be easier there, he is confident, a compulsive gambler, he decides to buck the system by starting a war of wills with the Head Nurse
Nurse Ratched/The Big Nurse – the head of the asylum wing, a woman obsessed with a sadistic type of control – she rules through manipulation and fear
Billy Bibbit – a suicidal young man who is afraid of women
Dale Harding – a man who institutionalized himself because he is a homosexual and is ashamed of it
Scanlon – a violent inmate who is friends with McMurphy, he’s obsessed with blowing things up
What’s it about?
This is the story of an epic battle waged between the patients at Pendleton Asylum and the head nurse – Nurse Ratched. The war is started when Randle McMurphy, a convict, shows up and organizes the patients against her. The story is narrated by Chief – who is fascinated by McMurphy, and also recognizes that McMurphy is helping the men to live the lives they’ve wanted but cannot because they’re dominated by Nurse Ratched.
Why is this book a bestseller/classic?
It was a banned book.
Do you recommend I read this book?
Yes – it’s excellent, although disturbing at times.
How did this book make your list?
I added a lot of the banned books to my list.
Has it won any awards?
“Looking down the canceled row of faces hanging against the wall across the room from me, my eyes finally came to McMurphy in his chair in the corner, concentrating on improving his one-handed card cut…and the white tubes in the ceiling begin to pump their refrigerated light again…I can feel it, beams all the way into my stomach.” – p 164
“The metal door looks out with its rivet eyes.” – p 267
After reading this novel, I can understand why it’s been banned. There certainly are some horrible things which the men go through and it doesn’t paint a very positive picture of the mental health system. I thought it was interesting that Kesey opted to make the narrator mute for most of the story and someone who pretended to be deaf. Very clever. Some of the battles fought between McMurphy and the nurse were hilarious – but sad. You always knew what Nurse Ratched held in reserve – EST or a lobotomy – and it’s not hard to see why she was voted one of the top 10 literary villains of all time. She was absolutely horrid. But the battles were also encouraging because you knew some sort of healing was occuring within the patients’ minds that hadn’t been allowed to happen before. And everyone loves it when the underdog pulls through, even if it’s just a little bit. One thing I so appreciate about Kesey’s writing is how easy it is to pick up on the themes. He isn’t as blatant maybe as C.S. Lewis, but he’s definitely not as hard as Toni Morrison or the like. He just puts it out there, with likeable but controversial and realistic characters (at least for the time period).