Ken Kesey’s Wars: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” at 50
One of the triumphs of Ken Kesey's novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, is its ability to provide an inside view of a mental institution free from the stigma that such a facility almost always invites. The first-person narrative of a patient, Chief Bromden, makes the asylum setting ordinary, and encourages the reader to invest in the personalities of its inhabitants instead of perceiving the characters as mere stereotypes of disability. Kesey's inclusion of Bromden's delusions within the narrative itself, which are at first a disruption to the reader used to linear narratives of the real, become merely another narrative norm for the reader as the novel progresses. Retrospective thought allows the reader to discover that while Bromden's disability makes him different, it is not debilitating for him as a narrator, nor, more importantly, as a man. Such insights into Bromden and the others initiate in the reader a reassessment of potentially unexamined perceptions of mental institutions, their inhabitants, and lead the reader to review the origins of concepts such as disability and normalcy. Yet the text is not without its problems: the most significant of which is the portrayal of gender in relation to disability. The text's depiction of this relation is more problematic: It could be suggested that the link goes some way to undermine the success of the novel's individualistic approach to, and questioning of, disability. This is seen especially through the novel's reinforcement of the long-standing and stereotypical dialogue between disability and emasculation, a connection so engrained in society that it can be described as a "cultural script," which Rosemarie Garland- Thompson describes in "The Politics of Staring" (66). In crude terms, it could be suggested that while the novel breaks down prejudices regarding mental disabilities, it builds upon prejudices regarding gender.
One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest: Ken ..
The last voice the audience hears before theater lights dim and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" begins is that of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Based on a novel by the free-wheeling Ken Kesey and fashioned into a play by Dale Wasserman, "Cuckoo" is an iconic American tale, made memorable to multitudes in the 1975 film starring Jack Nicholson as McMurphy, the savvy and unpredictable minor felon who convinces authorities he deserves mental help rather than time on the work farm.