One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest


One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Ken Kesey

50th Anniversary Edition, Viking Penguin, 2012; first published in 1962

In the past The Board has said that we don’t necessarily like to read books written entirely in first person; this is an exception to that rule. The story is told through the eyes of Chief Bromden, an American Indian who appears to be a deaf-mute, bearing silent witness to the lives of a group of patients in a 1960s-era mental ward. In the beginning the former Army nurse, Nurse Ratched, has everything under tight control. Into the world she rules comes one Randall P. McMurphy, an inmate from of a prison work farm who moves onto the ward. He brings new life and trouble to everyone he comes into contact with. And that is something Nurse Ratched won’t stand for.

Main Characters:

Chief “ Broom” Bromden, born of an Indian father and white mother, the Chief is pulled into McMurphy’s orbit like many of the residents and out of the “fog” he finds himself in most of the time.

Randall “Mack” P. McMurphy, as brash and bold as his red hair, Mack walks into the ward and immediately takes over. He leads the residents on a fishing expedition, a wild night of partying, and to rebel against the rule of Nurse Ratched.

Nurse “Big Nurse” Ratched, a tyrant if there ever was one, rules her ward with a tight fist and a no-nonsense attitude. She and Mack clash from the very beginning and the power struggle between the two is epic and the main focus of the novel.

Secondary Characters

Mr. Harding, a voluntary resident, is the unofficial head of the residents.

Billy Bibbit, another volunteer resident, is a severe stutterer who is afraid of the world.

Written in the early 1960s while the author worked as a nurse’s aide in the psychiatric ward of a hospital, the book gives some insight into that era’s viewpoints toward mental treatment. Although electroshock therapy was on its way ‘out’, it was still used in extreme cases. Also used was the brutal and inhumane lobotomy procedure. Whether the mental health treatment of that era was beneficial or not is for loftier minds to decide.

I found the book to be both funny and sad, a ‘tragic-comedy’. I sort of knew how it would end from watching snippets of the movie (starring Jack Nicholson) but that didn’t lessen my enjoyment (and sadness). The antics of Mack and the residents were laugh out loud funny, but always in the back of my mind – and in the back of the narrator’s mind – were the less than pleasant consequences meted out by Big Nurse. I really liked the way the author put words to the madness of Chief’s mind and the way he interprets the world around him. Very disarming at first, but also really creative.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Paws; the book is well written and thought provoking but it is not one I will be rereading any time soon, if ever.

jack 071115aaReviewer: Jack (normally it would be Toby but he is still recovering from reading 1984 and couldn’t stand reading another ‘heavy’ book.)

Banned & Challenged 

1972, Strongsville, Ohio; 5 residents sued the board of education to remove the novel. They labeled it “pornographic,” they charged the novel “glorifies criminal activity, has a tendency to corrupt juveniles and contains descriptions of bestiality, bizarre violence, and torture, dismemberment, death, and human elimination.”   (I missed the all of that – maybe I read a different book then they did.)

1975, Randolph, New York & Alton, OK, removed from public school libraries

1977, Westport, MA , removed from required reading list

1978, ID, Banned from the St Anthony Freemont High School and the instructor fired.

1982, NH, Challenged at the Merrimack High School

1986, WA, Challenged as part of the curriculum in an Aberdeen High School honors English class because the book promotes “secular humanism.” The school board voted to retain the title.

2000, CA, Challenged in the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District after complaints by parents stated that teachers “can choose the best books, but they keep choosing this garbage over and over again.”

Other Covers

 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey    


One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)  HERE for movie info

2 thoughts on “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

  1. Summer October 2, 2015 / 11:28 pm

    This is actually one of my human’s all-time favorite books, and she read it before she saw the movie, so the movie paled in comparison to it for her. She says one of the reasons it works as a first person narrative, even for people who don’t like that style, is because Chief Broom isn’t actually the main character, McMurphy is, so technically it’s written through the unique eyes of a supporting character. I think she likes it so much because it’s a true writer’s writer type of book. It’s storytelling at its most creative.


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