One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a very enthralling book. It has many strengths and few weaknesses. Its major strengths are the unique viewpoint of the narrator; the vivid personality of the characters; the many scenes that are often humorous and highly dramatic at the same time; and the struggles and major changes that occur for most of the characters. The weaknesses of the book are its slowness of pace in part and the black and white comparison between the protagonist, McMurphy and the antagonist, Nurse Ratched. One strength and probably the most interesting aspect of the book is the point of view from which the story is told. In most books, the story is told from the point of view of the main character, a narrator, or an omnipresent point of view.
Instead, we see this story through the eyes of Chief Bromden, nicknamed Chief Broom. Chief Broom is a paranoid schizophrenic who suffers from fear of technology, women, and blacks. These three fears are represented by the staff of the ward. Technology and women are both represented by Big Nurse also known as Nurse Ratched, who, in his mind, manipulates the ward through the use of machines and his fear of blacks is represented by the three black orderlies whom Chief Bromden refers to as the black boys. Chief Brooms distorted perspective provides a truly unique point of view as we see his delusions intertwine with reality in such a way that it is not always obvious what is reality and what is part of the Chiefs delusional system. Chief Broom is helped by McMurphy to grow and change so that, near the end of the book, he has a less distorted view of reality and sees through Nurse Ratcheds manipulations.
Another strength is McMurphys character. McMurphy is a con man and a gambler, who fakes he is psychotic in order to leave the work camp for someplace easier like the mental hospital. McMurphy possesses a very strong personality that falls in direct contrast with the other patients on the ward because their personalities have been made weak by struggles with their internal demons and by their being manipulated by Miss Ratched. McMurphys will is too strong for Miss Ratched to manipulate and instead she reveals what she is to McMurphy; namely, an extremely controlling, manipulative person. McMurphy decides to take it upon himself to disrupt her attempts to have total control over the inmates and to challenge her at every turn. On the one hand, McMurphy is a con man and a gambler and, on the other hand, he is extremely compassionate and generous toward the other inmates.
One of the great strengths of the story is the incredibly humorous way in which McMurphy irritates and demeans Big Nurse. A great example of this is when he accidentally broke the window to the nurses station multiple times. A weak point of the story is when the Chief is working through some of his demons. The descriptions during this time are very lengthy and they slow down the pace of the story quite a bit. However, this weakness is minor compared to the strengths of the story. Another great strength of the book are the many scenes with great dramatic impact.
An example of this is when McMurphy accuses the other patients of being too scared to stand up for themselves. To prove his point, McMurphy appears to change the subject to gambling. He bets that he can lift this colossal steel and concrete control panel. It is obvious that he cant do it so they accept the bet. With all his strength, he strains to pick it up and fails. As he walks away, hands bleeding, from his effort he says, But I tried, though. Goddamnit, I sure as hell did that much, now, didnt I? Another strength is the evilness of Big Nurse.
She uses her power in every way she can to try to break the spirit of McMurphy even at the cost of hurting the mental health of the other patients. Her evilness is so complete that it makes McMurphys efforts to break down her iron clad control enormously enjoyable to observe. While Nurse Ratcheds evilness serves as a clear focal point for the story line, it does have a weakness; namely, that she is presented as a one dimensional character. While she is portrayed as totally evil versus McMurphy representing the good and the free, he, at least has some complexity to his character. Another strength of the book is the Chiefs perception of size. He perceives peoples size as increasing with their psychic power and, conversely, his size diminishes as his own fear increases.
Many times, he says he is small compared to McMurphy despite the fact that Chief Broom is six feet seven inches and McMurphy is only five feet eight inches. An example of this is when they were swimming, the Chief says, McMurphy must of been standing in a hole because he was having to tread water where I was just standing on the bottom. Another strength is the ending of the book. In the ending of the book, the inmates have a big party at night with girls, alcohol, and drugs and they are caught. Billy Bibbitt, one of the patients had sex with one of the girls and, after he is caught, Nurse Ratched shames him and tells him to wait in the doctors office.
When she returns, she finds he has committed suicide. Nurse Ratched blames it on McMurphy when it is obvious she drove Billy to commit suicide. This is too much for McMurphy and he attacks Big Nurse. After he is pulled off her, he is taken away and given a lobotomy. After the lobotomy, Chief Broom smothers McMurphy with a pillow to put him out of his misery and so that Nurse Ratched will not have McMurphy as a trophy to say that she won.
Chief Broom then escapes into the night and the book ends. This whole sequence of events was very powerful. While in one respect, it appears that Nurse Ratched has won, Chief Broom prevents her victory over McMurphy by killing him so that he wont be a vegetable under her control. The Chiefs escape is very hopeful in that he symbolizes the quest for freedom that McMurphy was trying to instill into the other patients. Indeed, the character, McMurphy, is a metaphor for the freedom of the individual and the character, Nurse Ratched, is a metaphor for state control over the individual.
One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest brilliantly combines metaphor with a compelling story. The narrator has an interesting point of view. Many of the characters are complex. The story line is often amusing. There are many memorable lines.
The slowed pace at times and the lack of a gray area between good and evil are weaknesses that do little to take away from One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest being a thoroughly enjoyable book.