McMurphy is a free spirit and gambler who manages to get transferred to a mental asylum to escape the work unit in prison. But he finds that he’s bitten off more than he can chew when he takes on Nurse Ratched.
Written in the 60’s and set in Oregon, the book says so much about the changes in society the time, from the straight laced and government abiding 50’s, to the swinging 60’s, with it’s hippies and Korean war vets. A time when the older generations were seeking to maintain control of movements that could not be stopped and everyone wanted to be free.
When McMurphy hits the ward, he starts bringing everyone out of their shell and challenging ways of doing things that seem more cruel or controlling than helpful. But what he hasn’t realised is that in taking on the wrath of Nurse Ratched, he may ensure that his release is never signed. Or they may be even worse consequences.
Told from the perspective of a Native American who has pretended to be deaf and dumb, and therefore hears and sees everything on the ward, the book contains moments of triumph, hilarity, tragedy, and surreal episodes as the narrator, Chief, struggles with his hold on sanity and reality. It’s sometimes a hard read, because Ratched is so truly awful and being about people struggling with mental illness means that there’s a lot of sadness and struggle here. But it’s a beautiful book too, and well worth the read.
Read It If: you’ve ever had a controlling or sadistic teacher, or struggled to feel like a free spirit.