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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

I've said before that I don't like reviewing books that are considered classics. I've also said that I would try as I read them. However, instead of writing a review for this book, I'm going to show you the essay I wrote  for a prompt in one of my classes. For the record, I thought this book was beyond amazing. I would have never picked it up on my own though. So, here you go: a little piece of my interpretation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey.

Ken Kesey’s remarkable writing in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest lends suspense and firmness to the strange out-of-place moments happening in the mind of the narrator Bromden. The voice of his prose gives a strangely normal feel to dreamy things. The events adding up in Bromden’s head as he relates the illusionary things happening around him build up excitement like carbon dioxide builds up, ready to explode in a shaken Coke bottle. Only after the explosion can you truly see where the line between reality and dream is drawn.

The most striking scene in the novel is a scene in which Bromden is relaying what is going on in the meeting room, but he is also relaying his own specific reality. He is not entirely conscious at the beginning of the scene but at the end is pulled out of the fog by McMurphy. It is the last time he will allow himself to be pulled into and lost there in the fog. It is a turning point, a psychological breakthrough for the character. It is also a beautiful example of Kesey’s way with words when relaying things that aren’t entirely there and yet feel not only to the character but to the reader that they are concrete.

“I’m not cold anymore. I think I’ve about made it. I’m off to where the cold can’t reach me. I can stay off here for good. I’m not scared anymore. They can’t reach me. Just the words reach me, and those’re fading.”

Kesey shows dream-like illusions in Bromden’s head as he loses himself in the fog. Just when he thinks that he’s so far gone he’ll go from being a “Chronic” to a “Vegetable”, he feels someone’s voice tugging him out of whatever state he’s in.

“ That’s that McMurphy. He’s far away. He’s still trying to pull people out of the fog. Why don’t he leave me be?”

“ Just by the way the nurse is staring at me with her mouth empty of words I can see I’m in for trouble, but I can’t stop it. McMurphy’s got hidden wires hooked to it, lifting it slow just to get me out of the fog and into the open where I’m fair game. He’s doing it, wires. . .

“No. That’s not the truth. I lifted it myself.”

Bromden’s near constant association and metaphors to mechanics add a sort of suspense to the inner workings of his mind, making something simple seem far more momentous and complex than it really is physically. This lends itself to the idea that there was far more going on here than Bromden simply raising his hand. In a way, this scene shows the effect McMurphy’s strong and unbroken will power has over Bromden, how it helps him win back his own force of will that we see later has been broken--in part--by electroshock therapy.

While there were external events during this part of the story, as in most of Bromden’s dreamy parts, the central focus is on what’s happening inside his mind. What’s happening around him, but at the same time isn’t really there. Previously, he had explained quite thoroughly his theories behind the “fog machines” and how the nurses used them to put them in a sort of altered state. He compares them to things he saw when he was in the Army and thought he had it figured out how they worked. After this climactic scene, he believes that the fog machines are broken, however, it can be deduced that the fog wasn’t real to begin with. It is more of a way to show Bromden’s gradual disassociation with the world around him with something that feels more real. His getting lost in the fog (and thinking others had also) is more suspenseful than if he had just stopped noticing what was going on.

Kesey’s overall work in writing a story from the point-of-view of someone who had extricated himself from the outside world was light and natural, yet at the same time held a very real, concrete feel. His use of metaphors and allusions throughout the work help to create suspense. His way of turning psychological things into things that seem physical and external give a better feel to the internal events happening in the story and make it easier to understand their import. The simple things in the outside world are far more complex within the working of the mind, but it is only ever after showing the real picture, such as Bromden raising his hand, that this becomes obvious.


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