Staff Review: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Order and routine are the two main tenets that keep the Salem State Hospital running smoothly. Under the strict control of Nurse Ratched, members of the ward (comprised of “acutes” and “chronics”) have a set schedule, know their limitations, and stick to the rules. That is, until R.P. McMurphy arrives.
McMurphy is an unruly, insubordinate inmate transferred to the ward from prison, where he was serving time for battery and statutory rape. McMurphy orchestrated the transfer, believing that serving out the rest of his sentence in a psych ward would be a breeze compared to prison. However, he quickly finds out that living under the thumb of Nurse Ratched is worse than any prison guard or warden, and that he can’t be released until she says so.
Throughout his stay, McMurphy constantly butts heads with Ratched, questioning her authority, upsetting the ward’s routine and convincing the other acutes to regain control of their lives. The more McMurphy rebels, the more Ratched tightens her grip on power, until the two have an ultimate showdown the morning after McMurphy throws a party in the ward, complete with alcohol and prostitutes.
Though this book was originally published in 1962, this was my first time reading it. I found it intriguing to think about how much things have changed in the world of mental health since then and how, in some ways, certain things must’ve stayed the same. I also found it interesting that at various points in the story, I alternated between rooting for McMurphy and for Ratched. Both had their redeeming qualities and faults, which made their continuous power struggle seem all the more real.