Every era has a handful of books that perfectly captures the socio-political climate of the time. Those books are more than just page-turners; they’re the type of books that completely change your perspective on certain people and places. They make you reconsider what you’ve been taught, and perhaps sending you into a bit of an existential crisis too. That’s okay because those kinds of books make you question the importance society places on certain values and behaviors. These questions often prompt us to ultimately change our belief system. There’s no better example of such a literary masterpiece than One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey.
Published in 1962, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest came right when the deinstitutionalization movement was gaining traction in America. Psychiatric facilities were being exposed for the way they mistreated patients and clamped down on ‘misbehavior,’ which prompted changes to the way psychiatry and psychology were being approached. Not only does Kesey’s novel give readers fascinating insight on psychiatric institutions, it allows them to go inside the minds of admitted patients with first-person narration of the novel from Chief Bromden.
Ken Kesey’s Inspiration
Kesey’s choice of characters were inspired by his real-life interaction with patients while working at a mental facility. His conversations and observations led him to create complex characters who execute the main plot of his story incredibly well. Although the book can be difficult to follow, especially for younger readers, it is undoubtedly one of the best pieces of modern-day literature; poignant, hilarious, heartbreaking and eye opening all at once.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Legacy
As the reader, we are prompted to reflect on themes of Individual vs Establishment, and the desire for control and conformity by certain groups in society. More than 60 years on, this book carries themes and messages that remain relatable to readers even today. While the main theme of this book is centered around celebrating individuality, it helps destigmatize mental illnesses and change the approach taken to helping those suffering from more severe illnesses.
Unsurprisingly, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is one of America’s most banned books, with several states removing it from high school Required Reading lists and citing the novel as too graphic.
On the other hand, the novel has been adapted into a play, a movie, and a Netflix series recently. The complexity of the characters and depth of the novel remains unparalleled in the literary world, and that is why this book will always remain a classic.
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