One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962) by Ken Kesey
Ken Kesey’s hero is Randle P. McMurphy, a boisterous, brawling, fun-loving rebel who swaggers into the world of a mental hospital and takes over. McMurphy rallies the other patients around him by challenging the dictatorship of Nurse Ratched. But this defiance, which starts as a sport, soon develops into an all-out war between Nurse Ratched, backed by the full power of authority, and McMurphy, who has only his own indomitable will.
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“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” Show Notes
- What this book is about
- The story of a group of men in an insane asylum and a new patient named McMurphy who sets out to convince the men they deserve a better life
- What Kesey sets out to do / Purpose of the book
- To teach people how to be more courageous and overcome fear, to offer insight into the fine line between “sanity” and “insanity” and to demonstrate what sacrifice looks like
- The intended audience of the book
- Who will benefit most
- Anyone who is curious about the inside of a mental institution
- Anyone who loved the movie and wants more detail
- Anyone who thinks they might be crazy
- Who probably WON’T like “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”
- People who only watch the Hallmark channel
- People who need the world to have a strong sense of order and structure
- Who will benefit most
- How easy is the book to read?
- Very easy reading wise
- Print: ~80 pages (90 minutes)
- Audiobook: 90 minutes
Reviews and significance of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”
- Fairly easy reading wise. Although Kesey has a somewhat abrupt and abstract style, his writing is often poetic and is enjoyable to read. Some of the subject matter is troubling, especially as the story progresses.
- Print: 332 pages (about 8 hours to read)
- Audio: 10 hours 32 minutes – 50th Anniversary edition read by John C. Reilly (highly recommended)
- Amazon Reviews: 4,578 reviews — 4.7 Stars
- #138 in Literary Satire Fiction
- #271 in Classic American Fiction
- #92 in Classic Literature
- #110 in Psychological Thrillers
Book-to-Movie / Book-to-Play Translation
- All translations of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest have been highly successful. The book came first (1962), then it was made into a popular stage play (1963) then the movie with Jack Nicholson (1975). The stage play has been produced successfully multiple times over the last 50 years. The movie version in 1975 won all five major academy awards (Actor, Actress, Screenplay, Director, Producer) and was the biggest movie of the year.
Bio of Ken Kesey
- Kenneth Elton Kesey (1935 – 2001) was a novelist, essayist, short story writer, college professor
- Kesey was a champion wrestler in high school and college in the 174-pound weight division. He almost qualified to be on the Olympic team, but a serious shoulder injury stopped his wrestling career. He remains “ranked in the top 10 of Oregon Wrestling’s all time winning percentage.”
- In 1956 he eloped with his high-school sweetheart Norma “Faye” Haxby. They had known each other since 7th grade. Ken and Faye had three kids and were married 45 years until his death in 2001.
- Additionally, with the blessing of Faye, Kesey fathered another child Sunshine Kesey with one of their friends Carolyn “Mountain Girl” Adams. Sunshine was raised by Carolyn and Jerry Garcia, Sunshine’s step-father.
- For several years Kesey tried – and failed – to be an actor in Los Angeles
- In college he often clashed with professors and was rejected or kicked out of many programs for his “unstable” personality. But Kesey was relentless and talented and he soon ended up living and writing at Stanford with multiple grants and scholarships.
- While at Stanford, Kesey volunteered to take part in what turned out to be a secret, CIA-financed study called Project MKULTRA at the Menlo Park Veterans’ Hospital where he worked as a night aide. The project studied the effects of psychedelic drugs, particularly LSD, psilocybin, mescaline and cocaine on people.
- His drug experiences and time at the veteran’s hospital inspired him to write “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”
- Kesey had various run-ins with the law during his life. In one famous incident in 1965 he was arrested in California and in an attempt to mislead police, Kesey faked suicide by having friends leave his truck on a cliffside road along with an elaborate suicide note. Kesey fled to Mexico in the back of a friend’s car. He eventually returned to the US and was caught by the police and sentenced to 6 month in jail.
- Kesey wrote in every medium, including five novels, a play, many short stories, a children’s book and dozens of essays and articles for magazines like Rolling Stone and Esquire. He was also one of the first famous authors to write and publish a “blog” in the early 90s.
Major Themes of the Book
- Sanity v. Insanity
- Institutional Control vs. Human Dignity
- Social Pressure and Shame
- The Combine: Machine, Nature, and Man
- Emasculation and Sexuality